Preventing Forklift Trailer-Loading Dock Separation Accidents

Forklift accidents can result in very serious injuries if certain safety guidelines are not followed. One of the most preventable yet still very common forklift accidents our Houston forklift accident lawyers see involved the forklift falling off the dock while trying to unload a trailer. This happens all too often when the truck driver moves or the trailer rolls back from the dock while the forklift operator is still in the process of loading or unloading the trailer.  To prevent these accidents, truck drivers and forklift operators both need to know how and why they happen. They also need to be trained on what procedures and tools can be used to prevent them from happening.

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 drivers 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 catastrophic injuries, not to mention the damage to the equipment.

Another factor can be unfamiliarity with a particular location’s loading and unloading procedures.  Interstate vs intrastate drivers may be less familiar with the forklift driver and other dock workers because they drive over the road to more unfamiliar locations. This unfamiliarity can play a role in accidents too  If the expectations of the driver and forklift operator are not aligned communication may break down resulting in one not understanding the expectations of the other.

How Do You Prevent Trailer Drifting to Avoid a Forklift Falling of a Dock?

A forklift falling off the dock can cause serious injuries to the forklift operator. 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?

6 steps 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 a forklift from falling off the dock due to trailer-dock separation.

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 so the forklift does not fall from the dock and cause serious injuries. 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.




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Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., rooted in Christian values, exclusively handles personal injury cases, advocating for the rights of accident and negligence victims. Our Houston-based team, dedicated to compassion and excellence, handles cases across car accidents, motorcycle accidents, truck accidents, slip and falls, dog bites, and other types of cases with a commitment to personalized care. Upholding integrity and client-focused service, we strive for impactful legal outcomes. For a detailed understanding of our approach and team, visit our attorneys page.

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