Preventing Forklift Trailer-Loading Dock Separation Accidents

What is a Trailer-Loading Dock Separation Accident?

A trailer-loading dock separation accident is an accident that occurs when a forklift operator attempts to load/unload a truck trailer and it has moved away from the dock so that the forklift falls in the space between rather than passing smoothly from the dock to the trailer. They are often caused by trailers drifting away from the dock or driver’s pulling away without checking.

How Trailer-Loading Dock Separation Accidents Happen

Imagine being a forklift driver unloading an 18-wheeler. You drive in, pick up your load and as you go to back out, the loading dock is not there. How can this happen? There are a couple of ways this can happen:

  • The truck driver mistakenly believes the forklift operator is done and fails to get out and double-check before he goes to pull-away.
  • An unsecured trailer drifts forward due to the vibrations of the loading process.
  • The truck driver failed to properly back and park the truck
  • Faulty ramp placement and/or securing of the ramp.

Approximately 7% of all forklift accidents involve the forklift falling from the loading dock.  When a piece of large machinery with a driver inside drops like that, there can be very serious injuries, not to mention the damage to the equipment.

How Do You Prevent Trailer Drifting and Other Forklift Accidents?

Every company whose employees work in and/or around areas where forklifts are operated should adopt forklift safety training and procedures for all employees, whether they drive the forklifts or not. Moreover, these procedures must be enforced. Proving liability for a forklift accident often hinges upon the following or failure to follow safety procedures.

What Safety Steps Can Be Used to Prevent Dock Separation?

There are 6 steps that should be followed to prevent dock separation accidents. These include using wheel safety chocks, using dock communication systems, requiring mandatory visual inspection, mandating check and recheck systems, enforcing rules to minimize distractions, and educating the truck drivers in writing.

Using Wheel Safety Chocks

First, wheel safety chocks should be required before a trailer can be unloaded or loaded. Most importantly, the warehouse or facility where the trucks are making deliveries should provide these and not simply rely on truck drivers to supply their own.

Dock Communication Systems

Ad for a smart chockSecond, dock communication systems should be employed. There are a number of LED lighting systems available that help to communicate when it is safe to load/unload or drive off from a dock. Some are automated while some are manually operated. The Smart Chock had a sensor on the chock that communicates with a light on the dock that tells the forklift operator when the vehicle is safely choked.

Mandatory Visual Inspection

Third, mandatory visual inspection and “lock-out” procedures should be adopted and employed to force the truck driver to get out and check that the chocks are in place, the parking brake is set and the trailer is in the correct position before any loading or unloading is allowed.  The truck driver should further check to see that any loading ramp used is properly secured and the door(s) of the trailer is properly secured open or shut as required.

Check and Recheck

Fourth, there should be a double-check system in place. Whether it is a manager or a site inspector, someone with the receiving company should be required to inspect the trailer and chocks before loading or unloading takes place so as to prevent forklift accidents.

Rules to Minimize Distractions

Fifth, distractions should be minimized. Job sites are often noisy. But, forklift operators should have as many distractions removed as possible.  Listening to music and wearing headphones by forklift drivers should never be permitted. Cell phone use while operating a forklift should also be forbidden and enforced.

Written Truck Driver Education

Sixth, the company where the loading and unloading occurs needs to communicate its own proper procedures to all drivers. Whether it is done via a checklist or instruction manual, the rules for each dock should be communicated effectively to all drivers. One should simply never assume that the truck drivers know or understand your requirements.


Preventing trailer-loading dock separation accidents requires a concerted effort from all persons involved in the unloading process. There need to be set policies and procedures to ensure that the trailer remains in place and cannot be moved during the loading and unloading process. The proper equipment to prevent drifting and/or drive-off need to be provided, explained, and required. The rules need to be observed and enforced. Distractions must be minimized. Lastly, the truck driver needs to be properly advised of and trained on the warehouse unloading procedures. Doing these things can make the loading dock a safer work environment for employees and delivery drivers. To speak to a forklift accident lawyer, call Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. at (713) 932-0777.