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Loading dock fires pose serious safety threat: serious loading dock fires can be ignited by a seemingly innocent element: semi-trailer running lights.

Facility managers know that the loading dock is an inherently dangerous environment where the risk of accidents is high. Many people do not know that the compression-style foam seals used to guard against outside elements and save energy costs at the dock can pose a serious fire threat.


Since July 2001, my company has documented more than 100 dock seal burning incidents at a wide array of industrial and commercial plants in North America. The incidents stem from a fire hazard involving dock seals and semi-trailer marker lights. My company has found that burning can occur when hot-running semi-trailer lights compress against any make or model of compression-style foam dock seals. This often creates a serious safety threat that can result in extensive damage to buildings, trailers, and trailer contents.

The number of fires reported has grown steadily since 1998. Additionally, the number of undocumented fires caused by this phenomenon is probably substantially higher than the reported incidents. More than 200,000 dock positions in the United States are currently at risk for potential dock seal fires.

Many people first acknowledge with disbelief the fact that dock seals can catch fire from such a seemingly benign source as a trailer marker light. Compounding the issue is confusion that exists among many facility decision-makers about the protection capabilities of traditional fire-retardant dock seal materials that can result in a dangerously false sense of security.

Virtually all dock seal manufacturers have offered fire retardant fabric and foam components in their dock seals for years. These materials do not protect the seal components from damage. Instead, they "self-extinguish" after igniting to retard the spread of fire. By definition, fire retardant materials must begin burning first to work. The materials only stop burning after removal of the flame source. This means significant dock seal fire damage can occur even when using fire retardant materials.



Real protection only comes from dock seal materials that will not catch fire from the heat of trailer marker lights. Dock seal technology is now available that limits marker light temperature buildup to a maximum of 400[degrees]F by dissipating the heat from the light. This technique prevents burning of the foam and fabric components under these conditions. The result is protection against the beginning of a fire from hot marker lights since the temperature is far below the foam auto-ignition point of 800[degrees]F.

The first step toward protection against loading dock fires is the realization that the problem exists and is increasing. Understanding that a loading dock fire can create devastating consequences is also important. Everyone should determine whether the potential for a loading dock fire exists at their facility. If the facility receives semi-trailers and has dock seals or shelters, the risk of fire exists. Have a trained dock equipment representative inspect the dock seals for signs of burn damage. If the potential for a dock seal fire exists, the next step is to install dock seals that offer heat-dissipation protection. Never simply accept fire retardant materials as a solution. Entire dock seal systems with heat-dissipating protection are available as are independent replacement head pads, head curtains, and side pads. Given the consequences, the right decision could ultimately prove to be the only decision.

Chuck Ashelin, Frommelt Products Corp.

About the author:

Chuck Ashelin is engineering manager for Frommelt Products Corp., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During his five-year tenure with the company, Ashelin has overseen the development of Frommelt Product Corp's products. Frommelt is a member of the RiteHite family of companies. For more information, contact Ashelin at +1 563 556-2020 or by email at
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Title Annotation:Practical Solutions
Author:Ashelin, Chuck
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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