Improve dock security

Tips for curtailing theft and tampering.

The same equipment that allows traffic flows on the loading dock prevents goods from illegally leaving the dock. PHOTO: RITE HITE

The same equipment that allows traffic flows on the loading dock prevents goods from illegally leaving the dock. PHOTO: RITE HITE

Properly outfitted docks enhance safety while reducing the risk of damaged or stolen products.

Cargo theft has not been the subject of any blockbuster movies or best-selling novels, but it should be top-of-mind with plant managers. What was once thought to be an opportunistic crime has now become highly organized, with operations in place that match buyers with targeted shipments.

A Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) and insurance industry report estimates $5 billion in cargo is stolen each year in Canada. The Insurance Bureau of Canada, the CTA and law enforcement (among others) have done their best to combat this problem by forming and expanding a cargo theft-reporting program to the western provinces of Canada late last year. While these efforts have helped, the problem continues.

Some thefts occur at truck stops or other unsecure points on the road, but many more actually take place in seemingly secure areas, such as warehouse yards and loading docks. Thefts (or tampering) at loading docks and drive approaches are becoming more prevalent. Companies put themselves at risk when the security seal on a trailer is broken, or put in place by non-company personnel on the approach. Without proper security or surveillance on the drive approach, goods are more easily stolen.

Even with surveillance in place, goods that are stolen (especially food and pharmaceuticals) are a loss. While insurance will cover losses, the damage to a facility’s reputation is not as easily compensated. Three areas of the loading dock can be upgraded to better defend against cargo theft:

1. Find the right automatic vehicle restraint. Using automated restraints instead of wheel chocks automatically secures trailers to the dock, ensuring it can’t be mistakenly pulled away when a forklift is still loading or unloading. The restraint engages with a trailer’s rear-impact guard or rear wheel.

Some automatic restraints will re-fire into a locked position if the trailer begins pulling away from the building or if there is external tampering. This feature helps protect workers from potential accidents, while keeping would-be thieves out of a trailer.

The most advanced automatic vehicle restraints offer a vertical engagement range of 22 to 76 cm. Some models help secure intermodal overseas container chassis, which are expected to become more prevalent across eastern Canada when the Panama Canal expansion is completed this summer. Vehicle restraints that aren’t prepared to handle intermodal containers may greatly reduce security benefits.

For a more advanced layer of security, some automatic restraints integrate into building management or security systems.

2. Consider vertical-storing dock levellers. After the trailer is secured at the loading dock, the gap between it and the trailer bed must be bridged. Vertical-storing dock levellers allow the loading dock door to close directly on the pit floor instead of the leveller itself. This reduces energy loss by minimizing outside air infiltration and helps reduce dust, debris, rodents and other contaminants from entering the building. Security is improved by minimizing points of entry, plus the vertical design makes it easy to clean or wash down the pit floor when the leveller is in the upright and stored position.

Consider a variety of specific features before committing to an installation. First, look for a “drive-through” application that allows trailer doors to be opened inside the facility. Doing so allows staff to place or remove the trailer’s seal from inside the building, greatly reducing the chance of theft or tampering.

For worker comfort and efficiency, look for a vertical leveller that provides the smoothest path between the facility floor and the trailer. Reducing “dock shock” or whole-body vibration is good for forklift operators and minimizes damage to product and equipment. The most advanced levellers incorporate specialized rear and front hinges that minimize the bumps and gaps at the rear and front of the leveller, as well as a finely-tuned lip chamfer at the front of the leveller to reduce the speed bump effect normally felt by forklift drivers as they enter and exit the trailer.

3. Effectively seal the dock perimeter. Dock seals and shelters aren’t normally considered when discussing anti-theft measures at loading docks. They’re specifically designed to create an environmental barrier between the back end of the semi-trailer and the inside of the loading dock, and they also seal gaps that could otherwise be passageways for thieves to move product.

For maximum protection, equip all dock door openings with a system that closes the gaps created when a trailer is backed in for loading or unloading. This includes securing the tops, sides and bottoms of the openings when the trailer is in place. Foam compression dock seals, or full-access dock shelters that seal trailer door hinge gaps combined with a full-coverage, under-leveller sealing system, are recommended in most applications.

Securing the dock

Some of the newest dock shelters have been specifically designed for drive-through applications, which complement vertical storing dock levellers. This allows the trailer doors to open inside the building for security purposes, while maintaining a tight, consistent seal. Special design features ensure tight sealing against sides, across the top and at the corners without interfering with doors being opened and closed after the trailer has been parked.

Securing a loading dock isn’t usually as simple as installing one product. In most instances, a systematic approach must be taken. Finding the right combination of automatic vehicle restraints, vertical dock levellers, appropriate seals/shelters and the proper sequence of operation enhances cargo security, protects employees, reduces contamination and improves environmental conditions.

This is an edited version of an article provided by Rite-Hite, a manufacturer of industrial fans, dock equipment, industrial doors and safety barriers based in Milwaukee, Wis.

This article appears in the April 2016 issue of PLANT.

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