Have you heard the one about the truck driver who pulled away from a loading dock, with the forklift still in the back of the trailer?
It usually ends with a forklift driver getting hurt, or even killed. That’s why some companies have strict safety procedures and checklists for their forklift drivers to follow. And some companies even have docks that lock onto a trailer so that it can’t leave.
One forklift driver that I know always asks, “Did you chock your wheels?” And then after I say, “Yes, I did”, he will still go and see for himself if I really did. And then, if the driver isn’t standing next to his trailer, he wont enter it.
Once I started hearing a few of these horror stories, about forklift drivers getting killed by driving off the back of the trailer as the driver is pulling out, I became a little more cautious whenever I pulled away from a loading dock. But, even with that habit, I still had it happen to me.
Forklift safety is no accident:
What I do now is, I open my windows and listen, as I pull forward about one foot and then stop. Then, if I don’t hear a big bang, or anybody screaming, I ease away from the dock, still listening. Sometimes when you pull away from a dock, you will hear the slam from the dock plate falling. This is normal and you expect to hear it. So, I usually pull forward until I hear the dock plate fall. Then stop for one second and listen for anybody to scream. Then I ease out, still listening.
Well, some drivers may think this is being overly cautious, but I can tell you now, that it is still not enough. I know, because it happened to me only a few months ago. And it happened at the very place where the forklift drivers take more precautions than anywhere else I know.
Here’s my forklift accident story:
This is how it happened. I unloaded two skids there. I still had a truckload to deliver somewhere else. The careful guy mentioned above signed my bill and I left. It was a long walk out the door and around the building to my truck. While I was walking around, another forklift driver who didn’t know what he was doing, began unloading my other skids, that I was supposed to take somewhere else! He later claimed that he was only trying to be helpful. He just punched in and assumed that this trailer had to be unloaded. The other (always careful) forklift driver walked away and didn’t notice what this guy was doing, otherwise he would have stopped him.
I didn’t know he was in my trailer when I pulled away from the dock. I pulled forward about a foot and stopped, like I always do and I heard the dock plate drop, or so I thought. It was really the forklift dropping one axle into the one foot space I created when I pulled out. I didn’t hear anyone scream, so I continued forward. Then I heard a big bang, bang! I looked at my left mirror and saw the forklift fall out, with a full skid still on it! It bounced on the ground and somehow it didn’t turn over. The skid full of boxes went everywhere. But amazingly, the forklift driver was still sitting at the wheel of his forklift, holding on tight.
I put my parking brakes on and ran back there to see if he was alright. He had the wind knocked out of him and he was still in shock. “What the heck just happened?” He asked with a wince, still clutching the steering wheel. I started to explain when the other forklift driver and his boss and a few others came running out to see what had happened.
The boss interrupted, unconcerned about his employees condition, but instead focusing on who to blame it on, he demanded “who is the driver of this truck?”
“I am” I answered.
“Don’t you chock your wheels?” He asked incredulously.
I explained what had happened and with a little help from the other, (careful) forklift driver, I managed to get out of there without getting in trouble. Then, the boss started yelling at the forklift driver who was still seeing stars. That’s when I said “leave him alone, can’t you see that he is hurt?” He was the kind of boss that just had to yell. He didn’t really need answers or solutions, he just needed to get his frustration out.
It turns out that he was hurt. He bruised his ribs and sprained his wrist. He was able to finish his shift, but the next morning he woke up in pain and he wound up taking a few days off. I saw him again one day and he told me all about it. He was so dazed, the day it happened that he didn’t even remember me.
So, if you don’t yet have a habit of listening while you slowly pull out, I suggest you start. It’s also a good idea to fold the dock plate down by hand before you leave the dock. And even close their overhead door, which I should have done that day. The only reason I didn’t close the overhead door, was because it was a hot day and they had all of their dock doors open. I know that many drivers don’t like to do that, because you can get your hands dirty. So, just put some gloves on.
It could have been much worse. I was lucky. And so was that forklift driver. Please be careful out there, it’s not a game. In real life, you don’t get another quarter.