Loading Dock Security

Any facility with a loading dock is susceptible to security threats if docks are left unchecked. The right dock equipment enhances security.

SAFETY managers are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to security, which is why more and more decision-makers are taking another look at the loading dock. Fact is, loading docks now play an important role in helping to ensure the security of virtually any facility--as well as the flow of incoming and outgoing trailers. Here are the critical issues that make it necessary to view the loading dock from a new perspective and a few guidelines for ensuring the dock equipment specified contributes to an operation's overall security.

Buttoning Up the Loading Dock
For decades, facility decision-makers have worked to make the loading dock a safer and more efficient component of their shipping and receiving operations. Today, however, it's not enough. Instead, numerous factors have combined to make dock security a top priority for companies throughout North America.

The primary force behind the renewed emphasis on security is the terrorist attack that occurred on September 11, 2001. In the world of materials handling, the terrorist attack has accelerated and amplified the need for security throughout the supply chain. At the same time, traffic managers continue to report thefts of semi-trailers from their yards. But rather than react to the potential terrorist acts or theft, a growing number of companies have implemented security measures to protect their operations. They range from more fenced-in areas to extra measures being taken to protect ventilation systems from chemical, biological, and radiological attack.

Companies also are paying close attention to initiatives launched by the federal government and the impact these have on the supply chain. Among others, federal agencies homed in on the issue include the Department of Homeland Security, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The agencies' guidelines and programs are designed to protect the public from both intentional and unintentional harm as products make their way to consumers.

The FDA's program that affects the supply chain is Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). The food safety program was adopted 30 years ago. However, FDA now is considering developing regulations that would establish HACCP as the food safety standard throughout other areas of the food industry, including both domestic and imported food products.

USDA's FSIS guidelines, meanwhile, are aimed at the distribution of food products. For the "cold-chain," the agency has published guidelines for loading, unloading, transportation, and in-transit storage of meat, poultry, and egg products. In the transportation industry, FMCSA has specifically designed programs to protect the transportation of hazardous materials.

The bottom line is that companies, along with various government agencies, are convinced of the need to button up areas of the materials handling industry that are susceptible to security threats.

A Closer Look at the Loading Dock
One area that requires close scrutiny is the loading dock, based on the simple fact it is an entry point into a facility. What's more, a theory is gaining acceptance among many decision-makers that the loading dock is more than just another doorway to a facility.

Instead, many view it as a Material Transfer Zone (MTZ). The distinction is important because the MTZ is where critical exchanges of raw materials and finished goods take place. It's also where security becomes a key issue because the MTZ involves a larger area than the dock alone.

Technically, the MTZ reaches from a company's drive approach well into the shipping/receiving/staging area. What's particularly important is this: The area that stretches from the exterior of a facility to the drive approach is also the area where raw materials and products are exposed to terrorist acts and theft.

The level of exposure is evident when viewed in the context of government-issued guidelines. Under HACCP, the MTZ is considered a critical control point and clearly a vulnerable link in the distribution chain. In the transportation industry, meanwhile, FMCSA's guidelines provide a number of methods to ensure vehicle safety and security that affect the MTZ. As an example, the agency recommends the use of a fifth wheel lock when a trailer with hazardous materials is spotted in a yard or elsewhere.

When refrigerated foods and hazardous materials are the products being shipped, both FSIS and FMCSA encourage the use of tamper-resistant seals. The seals, which are affixed to the doors of semi-trailers, are used to identify and track materials and product throughout the transportation cycle. The seals are affixed when materials and products are loaded into a trailer and are to be left intact until the trailer reaches its intended destination.

Suffice it to say, the MTZ requires the same level of attention as virtually any other measures designed to ensure a facility's security. Fortunately, only a few key decisions associated with existing or planned components of the MTZ are required to reap major security benefits.

Securing the MTZ
Three areas of the MTZ that require attention are the facility, the contents of the semi-trailer, and the trailer itself. Here are some basic measures. Combined with the right dock equipment choices, they can contribute to the added security of a facility:

Secure dock doors: As simplistic as it may sound, companies need to properly secure exterior sectional doors. The problem is, the standard locking mechanisms on most manually operated overhead doors easily can be broken, allowing unauthorized entry into the plant. Conventional slide locks also wear over time and become ineffective if not repaired or replaced. Additionally, these same locks are often improperly used, and security problems result. The solution is to install automatic lock-down security systems that keep manual sectional doors secure.

Another door-related security measure involves the fact that many plants keep their dock doors open to cool the facility on hot days. Unfortunately, keeping dock doors open is no longer a sound practice. Keeping doors closed, however, creates an uncomfortable and unproductive environment for loading dock employees during hot summer months. Fortunately, the situation can be easily remedied by retrofitting existing doors with stainless steel ventilation panels that are strong enough to provide security, yet at the same time, allow outside air and light into the plant.

Lock landing gear: Extra precautions need to be taken when trailers are spotted at the dock for unloading. In this situation, which is not uncommon, a truck driver pulls a trailer up against an open dock door, sets the trailer on its landing gear, and drives away. Doing so creates a security risk at an unattended dock because the nose of the trailer can be raised or lowered to create a space between the trailer and the open door. The remedy is to equip the trailer landing gear with dependable locks that prevent the trailer from being raised or lowered.

Protect trailer contents: In the MTZ, the need to protect against product tampering during the unloading process is critical. A way to minimize the risk is to install hydraulic vertical-storing levelers. The levelers store in a vertical or upright position behind the dock door to provide a tight seal at the dock. As such, a semi-trailer can back against the facility with the doors of the trailer closed to form a "seal" around the back of the trailer. Plant employees can then open the dock door and subsequently open the trailer doors to gain access to the trailer contents. As such, there is no need for the truck driver to stop 80 feet away from the dock, open the trailer doors, and then back the rig up to the dock for unloading. Instead, the semi-trailer doors remain closed until the sizeable gap between trailer and facility is closed.

Protect the trailer: To guard against trailer theft, it's important to use vehicle restraints at all dock positions. Vehicle restraints, also referred to as trailer restraints, are devices that latch onto trailers to keep them from separating from the dock during loading/unloading. The mechanisms have proven to be virtually indispensable to any safety program. They take on added importance as a way to prevent trailer hijacking--especially because they can be connected to building alarm systems. When connected, the facility's alarm system sounds when a trailer is released without authorization.

Choose the right enclosure: Care needs to be taken when choosing dock seal or shelter enclosures, which are used to protect the inside of a facility from the outside elements and guard against energy loss when a truck backs up against a dock. The enclosures are typically engineered to meet the unique needs of each facility. As such, it's important to ensure the enclosures specified are designed to provide the maximum level of security required.

Ensure proper sequencing: Many dock systems use electronic controls to operate various dock components, including the dock leveler, vehicle restraint, dock door, and dock shelter. For security purposes, it's important to ensure the system is designed to properly sequence interlocked and interconnected components.

An example is how the leveler and an overhead door work together. Proper sequencing means the door needs be in the full upright position first before the dock leveler is activated. Doing this eliminates the potential for the leveler to strike a fully or partially closed door when the platform of the leveler is raised or lowered. And even the smallest gap in an overhead door poses a security risk because it allows for unwanted entry into a facility.

Security Issue Here to Stay
In the final analysis, there's little question security is top of mind for companies throughout North America, as well as for the U.S. government. Most would also agree the security issue is likely here to stay. Given this, safety managers will do well to scrutinize every aspect of the supply chain and ensure their Material Transfer Zone is a key element in an overall strategy to ensure security.

This article originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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