Best Practices for Warehouse Loading and Unloading


Best Practices for Warehouse Loading and Unloading

The rest of the warehouse operations grind to a halt if the loading and unloading docks experience delays. Making this portion of the warehouse more efficient improves productivity throughout the facility. Put safety and speed at the forefront of planning dock operations to unlock greater productivity from this part of the warehouse. 

Looking to improve the efficiency of your loading dock? Contact VPS now to learn more about how our distribution center canopies can protect your workers and goods.

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The Value of Optimizing Warehouse Loading and Unloading Procedures 

Operations at the loading dock set the tone for warehouse and logistics efficiency. Streamlining the loading and unloading process reduces the time wasted by workers, drivers, and products waiting in the area. 

Reduce delivery times

When truck drivers arrive at a prepared loading dock, they don’t spend as much time waiting for their vehicle to have products unloaded or loaded. With less time to wait for warehouse employees to unload and load their trucks, the drivers can return to the road and reduce delivery time to the customer. Starting the delivery trip with faster loading minimizes the chances of trucks leaving the warehouse late.

Dock operations impact the warehouse operations just as much as they do the truckers’ schedules. Unloading times set the pace for products moving around the warehouse. Delays in getting products off the truck can create additional setbacks in sorting and stocking the goods. During hectic times when products take a through route from the unloading directly to the loading docks, delays at either location can prevent timely order completion. 

To support faster turnaround times, the crews working at the loading and unloading docks need to operate at peak efficiency and have support from a perfectly orchestrated team inside the warehouse.  

9 Loading and Unloading Best Practices 

Adopting the best practices in loading and unloading areas reduces wasted time from inefficient operations. These practices address how workers move around the docks, communicate with drivers, and safety measures to reduce injuries and setbacks. With highly efficient docks, the entire facility can become more productive. 

1. Examine Inventory Flow Around the Warehouse 

Evaluate the efficiency of product movement around the docks. Workers must prepare loads for shipping by having the products picked and prepared before the truck arrives. Good inventory management in the warehouse means pickers will find the products they need in their proper places, reducing delays in fulfilling orders. Faster order fulfillment prevents problems such as trucks waiting at the loading dock for goods from shipping to complete preparation for loading. 

Inventory management also impacts how quickly goods get off the dock and into the receiving area. If workers cannot get products stored swiftly, the receiving part of the warehouse may fill with inventory and back up into the unloading docks. This excessive volume of inventory awaiting storage can prevent employees unloading trucks from working efficiently or finding space to put the products. 

2. Implement Safety Measures to Prevent Incidents 

The docks present many worker hazards not found elsewhere in a warehouse. Keeping this area safe includes preventing trailer creep, trucks driving away, slips on water, and falling cargo. To control for trailer creep — when trucks move forward without warning due to movement in the trailer — restraints provide a better solution than chocks. The former lock down the trailer into place and can connect to a control panel for release. Using restraints protects workers from the hazards of placing chocks under the wheels. Both tools prevent trailer creep and the potential injuries that can result. 

Drivers should turn their keys over to someone in charge at the docks to prevent driving off before the loading and unloading crews complete their jobs. Covering the area prevents rain from causing slipping hazards, and barriers and warnings protect against falling cargo. 

With these safety features in place, the number of incidents that cause injuries or delays reduce. 

3. Install Dock Lights for Communication 

Install dock lights

Quickly and accurately communicating with workers on the dock saves time. Dock lights alert workers to approaching trucks. They also let workers know when to safely open the trailer door because the truck has its restraints in place. The lights also alert drivers when they can safely drive away after the crews finish their work. 

Digital signs convey even more specific information about incoming trucks. These signs can show the time of arrival and load contents. Crews will know before the truck arrives what to expect when they need to load or unload the trailer.  

4. Put Barrier Gates Around Docks 

Barrier gates prevent fall injuries around the docks. These gates keep workers from accidentally stepping off elevated platforms or falling onto equipment operating below. Some types of gates will connect to lights for better communication of hazardous areas outside the barriers. 

5. Improve Lighting Around Docking Areas 

Road conditions or other delays may prevent a truck from arriving on time. Late-arriving trucks may require unloading during dimmer hours around and after sunset. Providing workers at the unloading dock with bright lights illuminates hazards in the area. The workers will be able to see potential tripping or slipping hazards at the dock to avoid them. Lights also show drivers  where pedestrians are in the area, which may reduce collisions. 

Bright lights at the docking areas also allow for extending warehouse operating hours to increase the number of trucks loaded and unloaded. By processing more inventory, the warehouse may boost profits, depending on other expenses. 

6. Protect the Loading Area From Hail and Extreme Heat 

The weather can thwart even the best efforts to quickly and efficiently load and unload trucks. Protecting the area from rain and hail minimizes the chances of slip-and-fall accidents. Protecting workers from falls can also prevent harm to cargo that could sustain damage as a result. 

Aside from slips, precipitation can damage cargo, especially if the products have humidity or moisture exposure maximums. Cargo damaged by rainfall, hail, or snow may not cause immediate delays, but it may later create problems in profits, customer satisfaction, and final deliveries when products need reordering. 

Extreme heat from working under the direct sun puts workers at a higher risk for heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Even heat stress requires workers to slow down their efforts and take breaks in the shade before returning to their jobs. These breaks, necessary for worker health, still cause inefficient operation at the dock. Preventing extreme heat conditions by using dock canopies can reduce the number of breaks workers require. As with all situations where workers could experience heat stress, they need access to fresh water and locations to cool themselves if they begin to feel sick from the heat. 

Canopies that reduce heat at the dock for workers also protect any loads in the area from sun damage. Areas under direct sunlight can reach much higher temperatures than the protected spaces under canopies. Installing protective hail and sun canopies over dock loading and unloading areas preserves efficiency by protecting workers and products. 

7. Regularly Clean and Maintain the Dock Area

Keeping the docking area clean and well-maintained reduces clutter that could slow down workers’ efforts to load or unload trucks or create tripping hazards. Maintenance tasks should include clearing away debris and unnecessary items, checking the integrity of all equipment, and verifying that communications lights work. A cleaner dock area reduces slowdowns that harm efficiency. 

8. Train All Employees Working in the Area on Dock Safety and Operations 

Workers need to know what their jobs require and how to do them safely. Training includes information on safely working around the loading and unloading areas, correct lifting and moving procedures, equipment use, communicating with others, and properly securing cargo. 

When workers know exactly what to do and how to do their jobs safely, they waste less time asking for guidance and more time getting to their assigned tasks. By working with safety in mind, they also reduce their chances of injury from strained muscles, falls, or other accidents. 

9. Always Use Dock Levelers for Enhanced Safety 

The trailer and loading dock height do not remain uniform throughout the loading or unloading process. As the trailer takes on more weight through loading, it will sink lower. When unloading goods, the trailer raises. 

To prevent the change in height from creating a tripping hazard, use dock levelers. These pieces create a smooth transition that covers the gap between the dock and the trailer, regardless of how the trailer moves. 

Benefits of Warehouse Efficiency

Warehouse efficiency supports the operations of a productive docking area. When workers are ready to accept new inventory, they reduce the buildup of products in the docking area. Quickly getting the products to the shelves keeps the facility more organized and goods easier to find for pickers. 

Warehouse workers who pack orders for shipping must also have good coordination to prepare products for loading with as little time wasted as possible. Waiting for one pallet of goods or one shipping order can significantly delay a truck from leaving. When trucks leave late, the deliveries risk not arriving on time. Customer satisfaction may suffer from the delayed receipt of shipped products. 

The loading dock should have a protected area where prepared orders await a truck’s arrival for immediate loading. In warehouses with separate loading and unloading docking areas, each dock should have its crew to expedite the movement of goods onto or off the truck. 

Efficient operation throughout the warehouse reduces the total number of people needed to keep the facility operating. For the docks, more efficient warehouse workers lessen the need to take away dock workers from their jobs to fill positions in the receiving, stocking, picking, or receiving portions of the facility. 

To improve efficiency, a warehouse should automate as many operations as possible. Examples of automation include providing workers with barcode readers to verify picked orders, installing conveyor belts to reduce travel for order retrieval, or using automated vehicles to deliver products to the shipping area. These examples reduce the number of people needed for jobs and lessen the wear those workers experience while doing their jobs.

Benefits of warehouse efficiency

Highly efficient warehouse operations reduce delays in removing products from the unloading dock and getting them to the loading area. Wasting less time in moving products to and from the docks prevents trucks from needlessly waiting at the docking area and losing time en route to their delivery destinations. 

How Loading Dock Canopies May Improve Efficiency 

Improving efficiency during loading and unloading includes keeping those working in the docking areas protected. Safety is an essential part of efficiency because sick or injured workers require time off, and a facility may not have extra people to fill in for them. The reduced staff members at the loading and unloading areas face potential delays due to their lower numbers. 

Another concern for safety at the loading dock involves investigations into injuries or illnesses. The time and space needed for dock operations instead go toward those looking into the incident and why it happened. The facility operator may need to make changes to improve safety at the dock, which can also contribute to delays. 

Dock canopies can prevent safety issues. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, those working in strenuous, physically demanding jobs have the highest risks of developing heat-related illnesses. The effort these workers put into their jobs raises their core body temperature, which combines with outdoor weather conditions to elevate the risk of illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. 

Components of the environment that contribute to heat illness risk include effort, outdoor temperature, humidity, radiant heat from direct sunlight, and air movement. By keeping the docking area covered, dock canopies control outdoor heat by lowering temperatures by up to 30 degrees and reducing radiant heat from the sun. Lowered temperatures at the dock help keep workers better protected from heat illnesses.

Heat may cause damage to products, especially those that require temperature-controlled environments. Goods sitting on the dock may experience heat damage. Weather is another issue. Hail and snow can physically harm products on the docks. Hail and snow protection with dock canopies can prevent this type of damage. 

Loading dock canopies are not the same across the industry. For example, only VPS has snow-loading structural covers that include 30psf and greater. Other options include solid membranes that use various patterned fabrics for hail protection and solar hail protection that generates power through solar panels while protecting docks from the elements.

Safer docks where workers have lower chances of heat illness and products have protection from hail can work more efficiently without delays during loading and unloading. 

Contact VPS to learn more

Contact VPS to Learn More About Loading Dock Canopies for Distribution Centers 

Keep workers and goods in the loading dock protected from heat, hail, and sunlight. At VPS, we have distribution center canopies to dramatically reduce the temperatures under the direct sun by up to 30 degrees and protect goods from hail damage. With our hail and sun protection shade structures, distribution centers can have more efficient loading docks. Contact us at VSP to learn about the many types of shade structures we offer for loading docks and to get a customized quote.