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Hazard Recognition at Loading Docks: Q&A

WMHS recently sat down with Chad Dillavou, Rite-Hite Products Company Product Manager, to talk about the company’s new hazard-recognition system and other exciting developments. Read on for the full interview.—Barbara Nessinger, Chief Editor, WMHS

  1. What is the patented Rite-Vu Hazard Recognition System, and how can it help enhance loading dock safety, specifically? 

Rite-Vu Hazard Recognition and Control does just that, it allows customers to communicate recognized hazards which can help to control them. However, companies can no longer simply rely on one product but rather an integration of audible and visual warnings systems. With proper safety precautions, it is estimated that 70% of all reported accidents, and associated costs, can be avoided. The united goal of all Rite-Hite Hazard Recognition and Control products is increasing communication as it sets the foundation for a confident, safe and productive workforce inside and outside at the loading dock.

  1. What is the difference between Rite-Hite’s Approach-Vu and the Pedestrian-Vu?

Approach-Vu and Pedestrian-Vu both share the common goal of extending pedestrian reaction time to potential hazards by communicating danger with visual and audible warnings. However, Approach-Vu helps pedestrians outside on the drive approach while Pedestrian-Vu protects people and material handling equipment inside at the loading dock.

Outside the loading dock, Approach-Vu is a visual and audible warning system for pedestrians that is activated by the presence of a backing vehicle in the drive approach. Although many people would think a large backing vehicle would be obvious, the tractor is over 70’ away with engine noise obscured by various outside ambient noise. Therefore, it can go unnoticed even by an attentive worker. Internationally, countries such as New Zealand and France have even gone as far to make recommendations for reverse alarms and cameras and extended bumpers for a refuge zone, respectively. This system can be retrofitted to existing compatible Dok-Lok carriages, or mounted as a standalone option for those with competitive vehicle restraints or without any restraint.

Inside at the loading dock, Pedestrian-Vu detects motion inside a trailer and emits a blue light on the leveler to communicate potential hazards for collisions during loading and unloading. Whether complementing, or introducing blue lights in the warehouse, this visual warning extends pedestrian and material handing equipment’s reaction time to forklifts exiting a trailer. Additionally, if it is interlocked with Rite-Hite controls, it can alert workers if they’ve entered an unsecure trailer (not properly engaged with Dok-Lok) by flashing the blue light, sounding an audible alarm and changing the exterior traffic light to red. The red outside light communicates to truck drivers that they should not pull away. Further, interlocking this equipment will prevent the human error of a worker from disengaging a Dok-Lok from a trailer while activity is detected inside the trailer.

  1. How important do you think such warning systems are to install? What compelled your company to make these more widely available/usable on loading docks in particular?

To Rite-Hite, a loading dock without a vehicle restraint is like driving without a seatbelt. Because both have become so standard in their respective industries, it’s our job to look beyond the most basic of safety measures. Just as vehicles are now becoming more standard with backup cameras, lane detection and other safety precautions, we feel the loading dock shouldn’t be much different. Ideally, we would want every loading dock to be “fully-loaded” for total dock safety, but we realize that is not always the reality for many of our customers.

However, what is a reality for our customers is just how dangerous the loading dock can be. For example, OSHA has identified semi-tractor trailers as the second leading cause of back over fatalities in the United States. The second leading cause! It’s the reality that our safety products not only protect equipment, but lives, that compels Rite-Hite to make products more widely available for every dock on every budget.

Now, you no longer need a Dok-Lok vehicle restraint in order to operate our various Hazard Recognition and Control equipment. We are providing warehouses and facility managers the option to purchase individual pieces of equipment which can be operated as an individual standalone product, retrofitted to existing equipment and controls or purchased with the intent to integrate with future vehicle restraint and complementary product purchases. Basically, you can purchase equipment as your budget allows today, with the idea to create total dock safety tomorrow with future equipment integrations.

  1. What changes within modern warehouses and on loading docks do you see as most important/positive from a safety standpoint?

Human error is something that, regardless of which industry you’re in, should be of concern. The biggest difference for our industry is that the hazards and potential accidents resulting from error could be life threatening because of the size and weight of equipment in operation. Because of this, Rite-Hite has heightened our focus on helping eliminate the potential for human error through incorporating Safe Sequence of Operation in our products. An interlocked system prevents one system from operating until another has already been initiated.

For example, a common safe sequence of operation requires that a Dok-Lok is properly engaged before an overhead door can be raised and a dock leveler operated. This best practice sequence helps protect the drop off for pedestrians and material handling equipment, and prevents entering an unsecure trailer prematurely. All of these programmed sequences help to eliminate human interaction, and potential error, from loading and unloading operations.

More recently, Hazard Recognition and Control equipment can be integrated into these sequences. The introduction of a “Blue Light Policy” has been the most noticeably widespread trend of modern warehouse safety improvements. This has even been noticed by OSHA, as they estimate nearly 80,000 forklift accidents involving a pedestrian each year. At the most basic level to combat this, companies will mount a blue spotlight to their forklifts to communicate an approaching vehicle to pedestrians and other forklifts. However, we observed that collisions and potential accidents happen beyond the warehouse so we decided to extend and mimic the blue light at the loading dock.

Although a forklift may have a mounted blue light, it oftentimes disappears when entering a trailer, leaving nearby pedestrians blind to the hazard and only providing less than 2 seconds of reaction time once noticed. As previously mentioned, Pedestrian-Vu helps to address this concern by detecting activity inside a trailer and responding by projecting a blue light directly onto the leveler at that dock position. This can not only strengthen your Safe Sequence of Operations but also keep the familiar blue light more visible for your valued employees.

  1. Is there any other equipment, other than hazard-recognition systems, that you see as “up and coming” and of vital importance to modern loading docks?

Although Rite-Hite® is always on the cutting edge of loading dock safety equipment and technology, I don’t think we can necessarily discount the vital importance of even the most seemingly basic safety products.

We really stand by the OSHA statistic that, “with proper safety precautions, an estimated 70% of reported accidents and associated costs could have been avoided.” So for us, we’ve recently reevaluated our strategy to make safer options attainable on every budget. With this approach, we’ve provided customers the ability to strategically and incrementally modernize their loading dock to become safer and more productive, but as their budget allows.

For example, one may want an SHR-5000 Dok-Lok today, but not gain the capital approval necessary to cover the cost. A sensible, cost-friendly solution would be to install a Dok-Lok Style Light Communication system for a fraction of the cost compared to a Dok-Lok purchase. Without compromising overall safety, productivity through clear and concise communication is improved. Additionally, this system can be integrated with a future vehicle restraint. In the meantime, you can integrate any additional Rite-Vu® Hazard Recognition and Control which can be interlocked with the later purchased Dok-Lok® for Safe Sequence of Operation.

If one does not want to wait to make incremental purchases, we now provide standalone equipment options which can immediately help to make every dock safer. Regardless of which approach customers choose to take, it’s imperative for them to consider current policies and decide how they can establish best practice behavior.

Lastly, I would recommend keeping an eye out for future revolutionary products which support our platform of Always Looking Ahead for our customers.

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