Loading Dock Etiquette: Loading and Unloading Made Safe

Loading docks can become dangerous for yourself and dock workers if you’re careless. Learn what the rules of the loading docks are to keep yourself and workers safe.


Jacob Lee
September 15, 2022
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Practicing loading dock etiquette is very important as a truck driver. Etiquette on the loading dock isn’t just useful for keeping you and others safe. It will also help guide you through the interactions that you have with the warehouse workers you meet during your travels.

To maintain good loading dock etiquette when you’re picking up or dropping off freight, we recommend you do the following:

  1. Communicate With Warehouse Upon Arrival
  2. Have Paperwork Organized and Ready
  3. Be On Time
  4. Keep Calm and Stay Patient
  5. Be Polite
  6. Stay Alert When Coming Into A Yard
  7. Keep the Dock Clean
  8. Abide By Warehouse Rules

We’ll cover loading dock etiquette in detail for each of these so you can make sure your freight is loaded and unloaded safely and efficiently. 

1. Communicate Upon Arrival

Good communication between you and the warehouse you’re dropping freight off at is essential. While the warehouse you’re delivering freight to likely has a schedule of all deliveries coming to them for the day, hectic operations at a warehouse can cause forgetfulness among the management.

Politely, but sternly announcing your arrival will ensure that warehouse management gets dock workers to unload your trailer as quickly as possible. If you find that your freight isn’t being unloaded efficiently, communicate with warehouse management so they can move the process along a little bit quicker.

In fact, communication is a great way to stay on top of your etiquette, in general.    

2. Have Paperwork Organized and Ready

A semi truck with it's trailer parked against a loading dock

Keeping your paperwork organized and ready will save you time when you arrive at a loading dock. Specifically, a bill of lading is the document that you will need to have to make a delivery to a customer. The reason this document is so important is that it contains valuable information like:

  • Name and address of the shipper
  • Name and address of the receiver
  • Shipment date
  • Quantity of goods
  • Weight of goods
  • Value of goods
  • Classification of the freight

HAZMAT freight shipments will require you to provide the appropriate paperwork to comply with Department of Transportation (DOT) rules and regulations. To keep your BOL and other important trucking documents organized, check out our truck driver paperwork organizer tricks.

3. Always Be On Time

A large part of the trucker lifestyle is punctuality. It’s also one of the most important unwritten loading dock rules. When it comes to delivering to a busy warehouse or distribution center, keeping to your schedule dictated to you is vital. Arriving late to a destination can result in:

  • Waiting longer to be unloaded
  • Returning to the warehouse the next day
  • Having to schedule another time later in the week to be unloaded

Arriving late can cause a lot of hassle, so make sure you do your best to get to where you need to be prompt.  

4. Stay Calm and Patient

The least exciting part of being a truck driver is waiting around to be loaded or unloaded. As we’ve already stated, being on time is essential for a truck driver. Therefore, keep your cool while waiting to be loaded or unloaded when you have to hustle and bustle your way to another stop. 

That said, you just have to remember that you can’t control everything that happens when you’re as a driver. It might take some time, but you won’t be stuck at a warehouse forever. You can use the time you have waiting to be loaded and unloaded to do something productive like:

  • Reading a book
  • Completing a game on your phone
  • Calling a friend or loved one
  • Taking some time to talk to other drivers

Read our article on ways to manage truck driver stress on the road. While these tips are handy when you’re on the road, they can also help you stay calm when you’re waiting to be loaded and unloaded.

5. Be Polite

A dock worker unloading a pallet of freight off of a truck with a pallet jack and onto a dock

As a truck driver, you probably transport your freight along the same routes on a routine basis. When you drive the same route, you’re bound to run into the same people at each stop that you make. Being polite to the people you’ll routinely make deliveries to is a good reflection on yourself and the company you drive. 

If you’re on bad terms with the people at your stops, then making deliveries to them will be unpleasant. Being polite, on the other hand, will make your deliveries go a lot smoother. 

6. Stay Alert When Coming Into A Yard

To get to the loading dock of a warehouse or distribution center, you’ll need to cross through the yard. Managing your way through the yard can be a bit challenging. The yard is a fairly condensed place with just enough room to maneuver your way through it. There’s also a lot of activity in some variety or another taking place there. 

The three best things that you can do when you enter the yard are:

  • Drive slow
  • Pay attention to your surroundings
  • Keep distance from other trucks in the yard

Following these three essential rules will help you get in and out of the yard efficiently and safely.

7. Keep the Dock Clean

Whether you’re loading your own trailer with freight at your company’s terminal, keeping the dock as clean as possible is essential. The loading dock is one area of a warehouse that has almost constant traffic. That means any debris, liquid or freight laying on the dock could be a hazard to workers in the area.  

Some type of debris and liquid that is common on loading docks include:

  • Wooden pallets
  • Shrinkwrap
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Water

You or other workers on the dock could easily trip or slip over any of these materials. When loading your trailer with freight, be sure to keep the loading dock clean to avoid any accidents. 

A forklift driver moving around in a warehouse practicing loading dock etiquette

8. Remember Forklift Rules

Truck drivers that load their trailers often have to get certified to operate a forklift. If you’re a truck driver that has to do this, always make sure you follow the forklift rules. Even though you’re certified to operate a forklift, you might unintentionally overlook proper forklift safety procedures as loading your freight becomes part of your routine. 

Some things that you can do to make sure you and others remain safe while you operate a forklift include:

  • Inspecting equipment
  • Not speeding through the warehouse
  • Follow floor markings
  • Keep limbs inside the forklift
  • Make sure pallet weight is within the forklift’s capacity

Forklifts are fairly large machines with giant metal blades on them. Because of the hazard they can pose when used carelessly, you’ll want to make sure to follow the correct protocols when operating one.

Learn the Best Loading Dock Etiquette With ABCO

Many trucking companies have a bad habit of making their truck drivers feel like they’re valued. Here at ABCO, we value the hard work that all of our drivers do. We show this appreciation in a few different ways. For one, our truck drivers get access to competitive pay and a full suite of benefits.

Every truck driver needs to have some time off to recover after a long journey on the road. That’s why we give our drivers flexible schedules that allow them to have a good work/life balance. Lastly, we offer free stays at our exclusive company resorts.

Fill in your ABCO application today and start down the path to working for a company that cares about you. 

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