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How to Cope with Winter Cold in Warehouses, Near Dock Doors

It's cold outside in much of the country. How can you reduce heating costs and keep your facility warm?

Warehousing Inquiry

dock doors with snow on the ground outside

When it’s single-digits outside, any warehouse worker can tell you how cold the job gets near the shipping or receiving docks. Due to the sheer size and typical construction of warehouses, they’re difficult to insulate and heat. They are also susceptible to roof leaks, which may cause slip hazards during rainy or winter weather. Warehouse workers who work in chilly, uncomfortable environments all day are going to be less efficient, slower and at more risk for accidents or injuries. Even wearing jackets and gloves, the cold has a profound effect on their comfort and work. What are some steps you can take to reduce the impact?

Cold reduces productivity

No surprise: workers who are constantly exposed to cold air aren’t as productive or accurate as those who are comfortable. But we are talking about a warehouse environment, and this kind of discomfort can be offset by the fast-paced, physical nature of the job, at least to a point. OSHA has never issued regulations for cold temperatures but does have specific guidelines. Further, studies have shown that workers may be greatly impacted by uncomfortable temperatures. They get less done and make more mistakes when they are cold. These issues are especially acute near large, frequently open dock doors.

Train & equip workers how to deal with the cold

Per OSHA: Employers should train workers on how to prevent and recognize cold stress illnesses and injuries and how to apply first aid treatment. Workers should be trained on the appropriate engineering controls, personal protective equipment and work practices to reduce the risk of cold stress.

This might pertain more to workers who are constantly outdoors, but if your facility is cold enough, or if you have extended periods of open dock doors, or if forklift drivers are in and out all day working to load/unload trucks in the yard, you should be certain they are wearing proper gear, and that they understand symptoms of cold stress injuries. Make sure they have adequate gear for the situation and that they understand to monitor each other’s condition.

People should be aware of cold stress injuries, particularly frostbite and trench foot. Brief your workers on the range of symptoms for each and be sure they self-monitor. First aid training specific to cold weather injuries should also be part of the plan.

People working in cold environments are surprisingly susceptible to dehydration. OSHA advises that employers provide plenty of “warm, sweetened beverages” for cold weather workers to encourage hydration. Warm break rooms should be available for workers who are constantly in the cold.

Efficient picking paths and product slotting are good ways to reduce cold based issues, as workers will spend less time wandering around a cold facility in search of an SKU.

Ways to contain the flow of cold air

Warehouses are by nature large, open structures. Whatever enters that dock door will generally impact the climate insides. If the doors are frequently open (and they are at many facilities), what can you do to help preserve the warmer air inside?

Strip doors installed at the dock area help reduce air flow from outside

warehouse strip door
One of the best ways to deal with cold air is to limit it at the dock door. Strip doors, which can be built to virtually any overhead door, are ideal for this. They help control the passage of heated or cooled air from climate controlled environments. Once installed on a dock door, forklifts and people can simply walk through the portal. Once they clear it, the clear strips fall back into place to provide a barrier that minimizes the amount of escaping warm (or invading cold) air.

  • Due to easy egress without waiting on a door to close or open, strip doors are one of the best point-of-entry systems
  • People can walk through them, and since they are transparent, both sides can see the other as they approach
  • Strip doors are excellent for dock areas, shipping bays, and other areas where you need to control air and climate control
  • These doors also help contain dust, spray and airborne contaminants
  • Strip doors also help contain noise

Insulated curtain walls segment off entire work areas for better climate control

insulated thermal wall near a pallet rack

If you need to segment part of your building from cold air seeping from the dock area, one of the more economical ways is to use a temporary insulated curtain wall. This is a good option if you don’t want to—or can’t—erect a permanent wall. A curtain wall also allows you to remove it seasonally if needed, so there is more flexibility this way than with permanent walls.
curtain wall being adjusted in a warehouse

Insulated curtain walls are available in configurations that should allow you to segment off any particular area of your facility that you want. We’ve seen them put to good use in a range of operations, including 3PLs (where you could see storage requirements vary for particular types of clients) to manufacturing, pharmaceutical, general storage, and others. For beverage distribution, where the SKU profile and facility layout may change frequently, climate curtains are a particularly valuable asset, since they can protect liquids from temperature exposure.

Thermal curtains are not as tall as full-fledged wall systems but are great for many warehouse applications. They range to 12′ in standard heights, which makes them ideal for curtaining off a mezzanine, warehouse work corner or other areas. They are collapsible on ceiling mounted tracks quick movement to one side when not in use.

  • Curtain walls aside from the ability to open or close at will can adapt to a large range of environments
  • Curtain walls can be integrated into doors, rack rows, etc.
  • They can also be situated around a specific area, such as a work cell where you need to control temperatures
  • If dust and airborne debris are an issue, a curtain wall can do double duty in the winter by helping to control both the cold and debris
  • Installation is very simple, which also means you can quickly move and re-task a curtain wall
  • Some variations of these systems can be used to create refrigerated storage areas inside a larger warehouse
  • Doors snap out of the way when struck by forklifts or very hard wind gusts

high speed warehouse door

High-speed doors are open only when needed

A variety of high-speed doors are available that reduce the amount of time your building has exposure to outdoor elements. High-speed doors are also good for interior applications between heated/cooled areas and uncontrolled areas. They can be fully powered so that they close once a forklift has passed the portal, close while it’s outside doing its work, re-open when it returns, and close again once it’s inside. All of this can take place at speeds up to 48″ per second, meaning that the door is open only as long as needed.

  • This type of flexibility means that no person has to close doors and that safety and climate are maintained as much as possible
  • Doors can be triggered by buttons or pull switches, but are often configured with sensors to minimize exposure time
  • They can be paired with solid dock doors, which are left open while the thermal speed door controls access and temperature
  • Doors can be specified indoors or outdoor/indoor, with appropriate wind resistances
  • Most doors are powered, but chain hoists are available for lower volume operations

More exterior, high-speed doors.

Also, since dock doors themselves aren’t typically insulated very well, the cold tends to radiate from them. You can opt to purchase insulated door panels to help with that issue.

Fans distribute heat, equalize temperatures from ceiling to floor

HVLS fans are good for distributing climate around a building. Mostly thought of as ways to cool a building, they are also useful for helping to distribute climate evenly from one sector to another. They reduce heating costs by circulating heated air back toward employees, rather than letting it linger near the ceiling of a tall warehouse. This should also reduce energy consumption, climate control and HVAC costs.
HVLS fan from Big Ass Fans in a warehouse with pallet racks

In a tall warehouse temperatures range greatly between the floor and a ceiling that can be 25 feet or more high. This difference can be .75 degrees per foot. That’s a big difference (and a lot of wasted, warmer air) in a tall warehouse facility. If your ceiling is really high, it adds up quickly. Mixing that air will make your people feel a lot more comfortable, and it also helps reduce energy consumption and stress on HVAC systems.

The Effect of Temperature Destratification in Warehouse Facilities

Reduce the impact of elements on forklift drivers when they’re outdoors

Forklift drivers who have to exit the warehouse for a cold, drizzly day are at more risk when show, ice or rain are allowed to fall on them. Economical forklift cab covers can protect them from the elements as they make outdoor runs. Usually these are inexpensive and easy to install. Importantly, they may also protect that driver from an item that falls off a rack.  There are also zippered “tents” that can be installed around the roll bar that help reduce wind and moisture considerations.

More information & resources

warehousing audit request

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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