Lift-Gates Can Help or They Can Hurt; Choose Safety
Recently an incident involving a delivery truck lift-gate resulted in an employee suffering an amputated great toe. The employee’s foot was caught in the pinch point between the lift-gate and the body of the truck while loading for a delivery.
It seemed lift-gate safety might be a worthy subject for a safety blog subject. An internet search reveals numerous lawyer advertisements for lift-gate and general work related injuries, accident case studies, and safety recommendations for lift-gate use. Clearly, accidents involving lift-gates, while not necessarily frequent, can be very costly to workers, employers, and manufacturers.
I’ll break down the significant information into four parts for your review: equipment considerations, pre-operations, operations, and special considerations.
Equipment Safety Considerations
- Self-leveling lift-gates are available that keep the load level to prevent dropped cargo.
- Consider a lift-gate with a remote control that can be operated while standing on the gate or on the ground, whichever is better in the current circumstances.
- Consider lift-gate cart-stops, these devices pop up from the lift-gate surface and prevent cargo from rolling off.
- If you are purchasing a new truck with a lift-gate, tell your vendor that you want the truck body floor, crash plate, sill, and liftgate to form a uniformly flat surface so freight will roll easily in and out of the truck.
- Know the weight of your freight and lift-gate capacity. Do not overload. Over-buy capacity when purchasing a lift gate. If your carrier requires 2,500 lbs capacity, buy 3,000 or more. It gives you some good margin.
- Maintain the lift-gate according to manufacturer's instructions.
- Read the lift-gate operator's manual and follow the directions. Pay special attention to the safety warning decals. Make sure the decals are in place and legible.
- Visually inspect the lift-gate daily as part of the vehicle’s trip inspection and report any deficiencies. Maintain lift-gate per manufacturer's instructions. Do not use the lift-gate if there are signs of abuse, or it fails to operate properly.
- Before running the lift-gate loaded, run it empty through its full range as a "pre-trip" to verify that it will provide a good landing area for the freight that will be rolled off it.
- Before freight is loaded, put the right wheels or devices under or on it for safe handling. Use the cart's wheels and handles to better control the item. Use a Johnson bar to put a pallet jack, tripod dollies, or platform dollies under the item.
- Secure top-heavy loads with strapping preventing the item from tipping or rolling off the end.
- Consider a ratchet strap into your E-track at the rear and on both sides of the truck. Run it outside the truck to the end of the lift-gate and use it like a seat belt around the item to keep it upright and on the gate.
- Consider a hand winch secured to a load bar inside the truck and run a strap around the item. Push the item out of the truck onto the gate, while controlling the exit by winching out slack.
- Personnel should not ever attempt to put a piece of freight in motion that is beyond their ability to control once it starts moving. Get extra help if you need it.
- If crews are in a hurry to get a lift-gate load off the truck, take that as a sign of a problem. If rushed, workers can become distracted. Workers should be focused on the lift-gate zone, without distraction, at all times.
- Workers should be trained to keep an escape plan in mind. Be prepared to run or jump out of the way to keep from getting hurt yourself. Never... Never... Never sacrifice yourself for the freight.
- Set the vehicle brakes and wherever possible, operate the lift-gate on a level surface.
- Work out communication and routines between co-workers, including a “ready” signal without which the gate is not started.
- If you have by-standers, insist that they must keep their distance.
Special Safety Considerations
- Never use the lift-gate for any purpose other than to lift or lower cargo from the truck (i.e., never use as a personnel lift).
- Keep hands and feet clear of all pinch points. There is, in fact, a huge shear or pinch point exposure, during lift-gate operations. Take particular note of where the lift-gate and the truck bed meet. Feet and hands are particularly vulnerable, during raising and lowering of the liftgate.
- If you are unloading curbside on a busy street use safety cones to block the lane and create safe space in which to work. Wear reflective safety vests. Use truck flashers and safety lights to mark off the edges of the liftgate.
- Make sure the platform is not slippery (e.g., oil, rain, ice or snow). If raining, cover the freight, with a waterproof tarp wrapping it around the freight like you would a furniture pad or shrink wrap. Secure the covering with large rubber bands used by household goods movers. Knowing the shipment is dry allows personnel to take time for cautious use of the gate.