13 Oct 2016

As innovation seeps its way into warehouses, the speed & scope of business is changing at a rapid pace. From automated guided vehicles to voice pickers, change is happening inside distribution centers. But what about the docks?

While much time, effort and capital has been spent on improving certain areas, in many ways, the unloading docks have remained untouched. Fortunately, focus is now being given to workers tasked with unloading loose loaded (floor stacked) containers & trailers. This focus may be attributed to a number of factors such as worker retention, the high number of injuries associated with lifting & twisting or, simply because this function is now viewed as an area which could see significant change at the hand of technology.

Worker Retention:

Wages, in general, can be a corporation’s single highest recurring annual expense. While there are many analysts who believe the minimum wage was meant only to compensate entry-level workers during a probation period, many dock workers have been receiving this low, stagnant wage for decades. This may be a factor in retaining dock employees. For years, experts have weighed in on the effects of increasing minimum wage. To some, increasing wages can reduce employee turnover, and in turn, increase productivity and also improve job satisfaction. For others, organizations stretching to remain competitive may find an increase in wages too much for the bottom line.

Regardless, organizations need to evaluate their total compensation budget to ensure they have both an effective workforce and a viable operating budget. By introducing technology to the dock floor, organizations loading or unloading floor-stacked product may experience greater productivity in fewer total man hours. This means fewer operating dollars to sustain a workforce tasked with physically demanding jobs.

Health & Safety Concerns:

Unfortunately, the repetitive nature of manually unloading a container or trailer increases the risk of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries. Workers climb step stools or onto boxes to reach items that are commonly stacked above their heads. In addition, there is repetitive lifting, twisting and reaching. Insurance companies have recognized the leading cause of workplace injuries to be overexertion, including injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying & throwing. Early in 2016, Liberty Mutual Group published their findings in the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. At the top of the list, overexertion involving an outside source made up 24.4% of all disabling injuries and equated to $15.08 billion dollars spent in direct costs, including lost time. To gain insight into the financial cost of injury, organizations can use this OSHA calculator.

Workplace Potential:

As the pressure to improve productivity rises, more technology is being adopted. The supply chain industry is spawning innovation and warehouse docks around the world are experiencing change.

DCs & 3PLs must take the time to assess current procedures.  Challenges on the dock floor must be researched and understood. Just because a step stool has always been used to unload a trailer doesn’t mean it is the best solution. And just because your dock layout once worked well, it may be time to analyze and adjust.

Whether your goal is to increase the health & safety of your workforce, increase productivity and/or improve worker morale, an overall comprehensive plan is required. From fully automated systems for palletized products to ergonomic assists and conveyor systems for floor-loaded materials, like the Destuff-ITTM, today’s machines are designed to make working in the can easier, safer and faster.

Introducing technology can be an expensive undertaking. From new machinery to training programs, change requires extensive research & capital planning. Change for your workforce can also cause anxiety & fear. But if managed properly, change can pay for itself with improved productivity, improved job satisfaction and improved worker health & safety.

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