When you mix speed, forklifts and foot traffic with trailers and other heavy equipment, what do you get? A loading dock, of course. Unfortunately, you also get the setting for one in four industrial accidents each year.

Considering the high cost of accidents and injuries, it’s no surprise that manufacturing leaders are reexamining and rethinking the way they approach safety management in their operations – and the loading dock is no exception.

According to OSHA, a safety culture consists of the “shared beliefs, practices and attitudes that exist at an establishment.” Those beliefs, practices and attitudes set the tone for the work environment, and ultimately shape behaviors.

By training team members to be alert, aware and accountable, and by leveraging technology and protective equipment, it’s possible to build a safety culture that minimizes hazards – and accidents – in loading-dock environments.

1. Start by building a habit-creating skillset.

Training is the obvious first step. However, there are a variety of different methods that can be used to create new habits, from webinars to demonstrations to safety signs displayed throughout the facility. In his best-selling book “The Power of Habit,” New York Times business writer Charles Duhigg explains that habits have three stages. The first stage is a cue – for example, when you feel thirsty, you might walk to a drinking fountain. The second stage is the habit itself. The final stage is the “habit loop” – the reward that perpetuates the habitual behavior. Reward can take many forms, such as losing weight after dieting, securing a sale after weeks of relationship building or receiving praise after completing a job tasks.

"Make Your Workplace Safer by Tapping into the Power of Habit"

2. Give your safety culture a sequence.

Loading docks are busy places. With a variety of different operations occurring simultaneously – from loading and unloading to trailers pulling in and away from dock doors – workers constantly face a number of hazards. One way to ensure that your safety procedures align with your safety culture is by using a master control panel. Once you program the master control panel, you determine the order in which it performs its tasks. You can program it so that the trailer must be securely locked in place by the vehicle restraint before any other equipment will operate. The dock leveler can be interlocked with the other dock devices, preventing operation until all the safety systems are operational and your dock doors are open. You can configure it so that your dock lights switch on just before the dock equipment begins to function.

3. Happy employees are more likely to share a safety culture.

In a 2010 study, James K. Harter and colleagues found that lower job satisfaction contributed to lower bottom-line performance. Gallup estimates the cost of America’s disengagement crisis at a yearly loss of $300 billion in productivity. That’s astronomical, and it encourages one to look at ways to increase job satisfaction to avoid these pitfalls. Providing adequate time and space for breaks is one way to keep employees happy. However, the No. 1 strategy is to ensure that your workers have a comfortable work environment. No one wants to work in a stuffy, hot, humid facility. In fact, uncomfortable work environments present a litany of health risks, from heat stress to heat stroke. Investing in energy-efficient industrial fans is just one measure that facilities can take to keep their workers comfortable and happy.

The road to better safety management – with a destination of a strong safety culture – is paved with well-trained employees who understand and know how to safely and efficiently use machines and technology. A loading-dock safety culture is created when a satisfied team of people who share common work beliefs, practices and attitudes join forces to meet the directives and objectives of the company.

If you want your loading-dock safety culture to become habit, think of the habit loop that Charles Duhigg discusses in the “The Power of Habit.” Employees appreciate machines that are easy to use. They appreciate a cool, comfortable work environment. And they sure don’t mind being rewarded with an “attaboy” for a job well-done.

Michael Brittingham is the manager of marketing communications for Entrematic – Loading Dock Products, a global provider of entrance-automation products.