Giving the National Guard a Lift

When the oldest component of the U.S. military found itself facing an ergonomic problem at home, a dock device was called in.

Until recently, an employee bringing in the day's mail at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Va., risked falling off some concrete steps as he or she held a full bin against a hip with one hand while opening (and holding open) a metal door with the other.

"That door is heavy and opens outward, so it was primarily a safety issue, especially on icy winter days," explained Wayne Overton, who was called to a meeting last year to help solve the problem. As sales manager for Loading Dock Equipment Co. Inc., a regional distributor of ergonomic labor-saving devices, he was more accustomed to facilitating the loading and unloading of trucks. But it didn't take him long to evaluate the situation and make a recommendation.

Every weekday, the building's employees faced the same problem, Overton said. Sorted first in another building, mail for the Readiness Center was delivered outdoors by handcart to the back of the building. Outgoing mail was also an issue, as were delivered office supplies. The facility's loading dock is nearby, but it was equipped with only a "dock leveler" for loading and unloading big trucks.

Even before the initial meeting was over, Overton said he suspected the solution would be a loading dock lift, a versatile device made for lifting transfer loads quickly and safely from any truck bed to any dock height, and vice versa, without ramps or inclines. The standard size of loading dock lifts is 6 by 8 feet, but a storm drain situated near the dock door in question necessitated something different. Overton consulted with a manufacturer of work-positioning lift tables, portable lifts, container tilters, and pallet-handling equipment. After the company confirmed it could supply a custom-made lift with a 5 x 8-foot platform, Overton's recommendation for the project got the green light.

Installation of the lift required mounting it in a concrete pit so the unit's lowered platform would be at grade level when not in use. Loading Dock Equipment and Cjw Contractors Inc. performed the installation, with Cjw building the actual pit. To prevent water from collecting, Cjw gave the pit its own drain in the base so that water would flow into the adjacent storm drain.

The lift unit itself has a galvanized sub-frame and a capacity of 5,000 pounds. It runs on biodegradable hydraulic fluid.

These days, bringing in the mail is much easier at the Readiness Center, as well as safer, Overton said. Employees lower the lift's platform to ground level with a standard weatherproof pushbutton NEMA-4X control, load it up with boxes and bins, raise it to the dock, and offload items with a handcart. The center's maintenance staff and visiting repair persons also use the lift when they need to bring heavy maintenance equipment into or out of the building.

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Randall Moore is director of sales for Southworth Products Corp. (www.southworthproducts.com). He can be reached at P.O. Box 1380, Portland, ME 04104, Tel: (207) 878-0700, Toll-free: (800) 743-1000, Fax: (207) 797-4734, or e-mail salesinfo@southworthproducts.com.

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