Loading areas

Key messages

  • There should be enough space in loading areas for vehicles to move safely and for people to move around.
  • Anyone not involved in loading or unloading should be kept away from loading areas.

Questions to ask

Your risk assessment should include answers to these questions:

  • Where will goods be loaded and unloaded?
  • Who needs to be in the loading/unloading area – and who doesn't?
  • Is there enough space around the bays for loading and unloading to take place safety?
  • Is the vehicle loading platform the same height as the loading bay platform?
  • What is visibility like for the drivers using the loading bay?
  • Could people fall from platforms or bays?
  • What are the risks of using dock shelters?
  • Is there an electrical risk associated with loading or unloading?
  • Have the people using the loading bay been trained to do so safely?

Position of loading areas

As far as possible, loading and unloading areas should be in safe and suitable places (for example, next to marshalling areas so that drivers can manoeuvre vehicles easily, or near sheeting areas).

Wide loading areas will usually need at least two exit points, one at each end.

You might also consider a refuge or bolthole, to prevent people from being struck by vehicles. This could take the place of an extra pedestrian exit in a larger loading area.

Loading areas are often arranged into bays, with a raised platform for vehicles to park against that allows site staff to move straight into the load body.

Space around bays

Designers will try to fit as many bays as possible into an area, to allow for the largest possible number of vehicles to be loaded or unloaded at one time. However, it is important that there is enough space around bays for vehicles to move safely into and out of the bay, and for people to move around the vehicle without being trapped.

Height differences

The height of vehicle load platforms can vary quite a lot – even between when a single vehicle is empty or loaded. This can mean that the difference in height between the loading bay platform and the vehicle load platform varies. Loading and unloading workers need to be aware of this. It is better to have a bay platform slightly lower than the vehicle platform, rather than one that is slightly higher. The edges of loading bays need to be marked clearly.

'Dock levellers' (adjustable ramps that can cover the height difference between the vehicle and bay platforms) are common. They should not be extended to a steep slope either downwards or upwards, because this can mean that anything crossing the surface is difficult to control. Many dock levellers use a hinged lip to connect the ramp to the vehicle load platform. Care should be taken that this lip does not trap anything as it is unfolds or folds. People using this equipment should be competent to do so safely.


Visibility during reversing is always important, and especially where pedestrians may have no escape route from a vehicle approaching them. In particular, where articulated vehicles have to reverse steer into an area, visibility to the back of the vehicle is often blocked by parts of the trailer. A system of work telling the driver whether it is safe to reverse may be appropriate.

Preventing falls

Where there is a danger of people falling off platforms or bays in loading areas, you may need to fence the platforms or bays. Ways to do this include:

  • secure guardrails (designed so that goods can be passed safely over or under them);
  • removable sections of railing may (if properly supervised).

If fencing is not practical, you may need other safeguards.

You may also need to provide protection against bad weather. For example, strong winds can be dangerous during loading.

Dock shelters

Dock shelters and dock houses can help to control loading and unloading conditions. In these arrangements, a vehicle reverses directly up to an opening in the side of the building, where a weather seal is created around the opened end of the vehicle.

Take care that these shelters do not create their own trapping or machinery hazards. People using this equipment should be competent to do so safely. Anything that creates a seal around the back of a goods vehicle can also reduce the communication that takes place between the delivery driver and site workers, which can introduce additional risk.

Electrical risk

There is a risk that static electricity can build up where flowing solids are released through a hose or a chute. Delivery workers could receive an electric shock, or sparks from this electrical charge could start a fire or an explosion (for example, in a cloud of dust or fumes). You may need to provide earthing points to allow this charge to escape to earth safely through vehicle-mounted equipment.


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