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How to Use Dockboards & Dockplates Safely and Effectively

How to safely transition forklifts, pallet jacks and carts from trailers to docks

Dock Inquiry

dock plate with a hand truck unloading at a warehouse shipping area.

Dock boards and dock plates are built to transition forklifts, pallet jacks, carts, people and other transportation methods between trailers and your warehouse dock area or staging floor. How can you be sure the transition between truck trailers and your dock is safe?

Use the right dockboard or dockplate

When to use dockboards: Dockboards are for heavy machinery and forklift loads. They can bear the weight of both automated equipment and the load. Most of the heavier boards have to be moved by forklifts. Some models have forklift pockets to make this easier. Most dockboards have heavy structural components (side curbs) and in some cases, they have reinforcement on the bottom. Some dockboards are made with aluminum. Steel boards offer the heaviest capacities.

When to use dockplates: Dockplates are often made of aluminum, which makes them easier to handle and move manually (they tend to have handles or hand grips). They shouldn’t be used for powered equipment like forklifts. Be certain your dockplates are clearly marked for manual traffic.

Get the capacity right

Capacities are simple for dockplates: You should specify it for the heaviest load that will cross it. If you want to ensure that you can handle a variety of loads, specify a heavier plate.

For dockboards or rail boards, it’s more complicated. Determine the forklift capacity that you’ll be operating on the board, then refer to this table to match the dockboard capacity for your forklift (we can help you with calculating the right capacities as well).

3-wheel forklift capacity (lbs.) 4-wheel forklift capacity (lbs.) Board or ramp capacity (lbs.)
2,000 to 2,500 2,000 to 3,000 10,000
N/A 3,000 to 4,000 13,000
3,000-3,500 5,000 15,000
4,000 to 5,000 5,000 to 6,000 20,000
6,000 7,000 to 8,000 25,000
6,500 to 7,000 8,500 to 10,000 30,000
8,000 to 10,000 10,000 to 13,000 40,000

The capacities are rated for one shift operations at 3 MPH speed. If you’re running multiple shifts or using heavy roll clamps, add 5,000 pounds to the recommended capacity. Stackers or narrow aisle loaders should use full capacity dock boards. If your plate/board doesn’t have a printed capacity, add one.

Specify the correct safety features for your loads and facility

dockboard with crubs, painted edges and locking pins for stability

  • Dockboards and plates should have painted edges that make the edges highly visible.
  • Board and plates should be adequately wide to accept your loading equipment and truck trailer.
  • Dockboards should have curbs to help prevent run-offs.
  • Your plate or board may require an anchoring method to prevent shifting — locking pins, legs,

Depending on the application, certain safety features are required. Check your owner’s manual or consult us for help.

Mind the gap: a firm, stable fit is critical to safety

A snug fit between dock and truck, gapped with a dockboard.

The gap between your dock edge and the truck is what dockboards are designed to fill. To ensure your dockboard doesn’t shift when a fully-loaded forklift crosses it, you must place and secure the board correctly. For smaller gaps, your locking leg must be longer than the gap between the truck trailer and your dock. For longer gaps, your locking leg should rest against the back of the truck. Span locks should rest against the edge of your dock.

Make sure the truck is restrained and stable

Dockboards rely on the stability of the truck trailer and can become extremely dangerous if the truck moves while a dockboard is in use. If the trailer slips, so will your dockboard or plate. Trucks at your docks should be chocked or restrained to ensure they remain in place while a board is being used.

Make handling the dockplate or board safe and ergonomic

 optional wheels for a dockboard allow forklifts to easily load and transport the board.Accidents at the dock area are one of the most common warehouse safety issues. For lightweight dockplates, be sure the plate has handholds for ergonomic gripping. Some plates are heavy enough that team lifting is required for non-forklift transport.

  • Lifting chains can be added to most any dockplate or board to allow forklift transport.
  • Transport wheels can be added to many types of dockplates or boards.
  • Forklift pockets allow safe and fast transport of heavy dockboards.
  • Don’t let employees drag boards along the floor.

Replacement and metal fatigue

Because of the weights they bear and the stress they’re under, even the most durable dockboards should be inspected and replaced when necessary. Any dockboard has a limited lifespan when exposed to heavy equipment and loads, particularly since those heavy loads move across it and will stress the steel components over time. When your board has been subjected to long terms of service, bending and warping can occur. Welds can separate or hardware break. Stress fractures can be invisible at first but are no less dangerous for it.

The good news is that most of these signs are visible if you inspect your dock equipment regularly. Once you see stress, you should replace it.

Once you see these signs, replace the dockboard/dockplate. Replacing an old dockboard costs money, but can prevent devastating and far more expensive accidents.

Using your boards and plates incorrectly, or with heavier than intended loads will hasten the need to replace the equipment. One strategy to lengthen life is to use a board heavier than you need, which means you’ll be adding heavier components and the board can last longer under stress.

Dockboard inspection checklist

  • Is the board damaged, warped or cracked in any manner? Are there sharp edges or broken welds? Are there any missing bolts or other hardware?
  • Is there oil, grease or any other substance on the board that could cause a slip or slide?
  • Is the capacity clearly labeled? Take the total weight of loading equipment, driver and total load into account.
  • Does the dockboard have side curbs? (Some dockplates may not require them for lighter weight loads.) Are the curbs secure?
  • Are the sides of the board clearly painted or otherwise marked to make the edges visible?
  • Are trucks adequately chocked or otherwise restrained prior to attaching a dockboard?
  • Is the dockboard anchored in place with locking legs, pins or other methods?
  • Are users of the dockboard trained in safe usage? Does everyone know how to handle it, drive on it and secure it?

More resources for loading dock operations

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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