I am not thinking of a distribution center when I say that. The docks are the central focus of that kind of building and will get plenty of attention. I am thinking here of the incidental truck dock that may be a convenience or an efficiency measure. The perfect example is the non-profit operating a sheltered workshop for handicapped adults. In this case safety is a paramount concern, but every truck dock that isn't part of a professional trucking operation should have a safety focus because people will sometimes use the dock who haven't been trained.
The first design step is to contact a local manufacturer's rep for dock levelers. They can look at your situation and give you great advice about the best way to set up the dock.
Here are a few things to consider about the dock, the building and the equipment:
Determine the range of truck sizes that you are most likely to have using the dock. At the small end of the range, pickup trucks, panel vans and box trucks will have a completely different set of requirement than a semi-tractor trailer. Those differences will be in truck-bed height, truck length, turning radius, and overall truck height.
Trucks have beds that range from 24" to 50" above the pavement. There isn't a standard. Even the weight of the truck's load will cause the height to vary slightly as the truck is loaded or unloaded. The ideal is to locate your floor level within a few inches of the most common truck-bed height you expect to have. However other issues can impact this decision, e.g. the slope of the apron, type of dock leveler and the type of material handling equipment that will be used. A manufacturer's rep can be invaluable in helping to get this right.
Although trucks are limited to 8'-0" in width, the dock door should be larger so that misalignment with the truck placement doesn't reduce the opening into the truck. 8'-6" and 9'-0" are fairly standard widths. The type of Dock Seals (see below) you choose should be coordinated with the door width. Door height is less of an issue. 8'-0" is the minimum and 10'-0" is the maximum. 9' usually works fine.
The gap between the building and the truck-bed and the variation in truck-bed heights require a device to make the transition. A dock board is a light weight plate that rests on the dock floor and spans the gap, resting on the truck-bed. Dock boards are a bad idea. There are simply too many ways to get hurt using one. The solution is a dock leveler. Dock levelers come in various sizes, range of movement up-down, weight capacities, and type of operation - manual and hydraulic. A Manufacturer's Rep. is the solution here, too. Otherwise plan to spend a day researching this $15,000 (+/- $5,000) piece of equipment.
Dock bumpers are another necessary piece of equipment. These are compressible 4"-6" thick blocks used to keep the truck from hitting the building. The truck hits the bumper instead. Amazingly there are a number of choices here, too. Personal preference/experience enters into it. Vertical mounting addresses varying truck-bed heights.
The truck restraint is a safety feature. It is powered into place once a truck is docked and hooks onto a bar that large trucks are required to have. This prevents the truck driver from pulling away from the dock prematurely or the gap between truck and building becoming too large. Truck Restraints may soon be mandatory if they aren't already. People have been killed when the truck leaves unexpectedly.
A dock seal closes the gap between the truck and the building like giant weatherstripping. This is a comfort and energy issue. Seals come in a variety of styles - from fabric shelter curtains that lay against the truck, to cushions that compress, to inflatable cushions. They all need repair or replacement from time to time. They aren't necessary, strictly speaking, for the once a week/month type dock usage.
In the second part of Designing Truck Docks, the focus will be on exterior considerations.