In 2016, 5% of warehouse workers experienced an occupational injury or illness. As one of the more dangerous workplaces in any sector, employees and managers should be aware of the numerous safety risks that occur in a warehouse.
Prioritizing workplace safety and preventing injuries enhances the overall working conditions for warehouse workers and contributes to improved warehouse efficiency. Fortunately, there are many simple ways to prevent these risks from occurring.
Here are some of the top warehouse safety mistakes and how to avoid them:
Mistake #1: Messy Work Areas
Slips, trips, and falls are some of the leading causes of injuries resulting in missed work for warehouse workers, and the primary reason for many of these injuries is having messy work areas.
Throughout the day, work areas become cluttered with packing and packaging, accidental spills happen and no one cleans the spill up properly, and employees store equipment incorrectly. All these situations pose serious health hazards and ergonomic issues and impact worker safety.
Designate areas for sorting, storing, and loading, with waste disposal units at regular intervals for packing materials. Store cleaning supplies within easy reach, as well as proper disposal methods for hazardous materials. Ensure all equipment has a storage area close to where it is used, and that it is returned to this area promptly after use.
Using spill containment pallets is an efficient way of preventing hazardous material spills from contaminating work areas. Non-slip mats and drainage areas should be used to provide dry areas for workers while spills are cleaned.
Mistake #2: Improper Lifting Techniques
Back injuries are a serious and common injury often suffered by warehouse staff, making up 20% of workplace injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These injuries negatively impact the company by reducing productivity and the high cost of medical claims, and they can often lead to permanently losing staff.
Many factors contribute to the high rate of back injuries, such as underestimating the weight or difficulty of a lift, not using the correct techniques for lifting a heavy object, or the misuse of lifting equipment.
Store objects to be moved manually at a height that does not require employees to strain their back muscles. Encourage staff to use the correct lifting techniques by bending at the knees and allowing their legs to take most of the pressure of the lift. Prohibit staff from manually lifting heavier objects, and provide mechanical lifting equipment and dollies for staff to use. Ensure staff is trained to use this equipment correctly.
Mistake #3: Untrained Staff
The focus on warehouse efficiency and productivity often means occupational training is given priority over safety training. Though most companies provide staff with a one-time safety training as part of the onboarding process, without a regular refresher course, staff members soon forget standard safety practices. A lack of training leads to increased workplace injuries and equipment damage, which reduces productivity.
Warehouse safety regulations are continually being reviewed and revised, so it is essential for all warehouse staff members to be up to date with the latest safety practices. One-time OHS training should be the bare minimum acceptable standard for staff safety training. Ongoing safety training and professional development for the entire warehouse staff is the best practice for ensuring it is mindful of the hazards of working in a warehouse, can make on-the-spot risk assessments, and can take the appropriate preventative measures.
Mistake #4: Poor Storage at Staging and Loading Areas
Another frequent situation which causes numerous injuries in the warehouse is having falling items. Poorly stored items can shift during transfer or from bumps encountered from lifting equipment and vehicles, causing various injuries, from minor cuts and bruises to more severe injuries, such as concussions.
Incorrect storage can also create dangerous situations in which incompatible hazardous materials come into contact with each other or contaminate other products. This can become a fire hazard or pose a health risk for workers.
Boxes and pallets should be stacked vertically, and any objects that are not shaped in a way that can be neatly stacked should be housed in a container that prevents them from shifting. Always store heavy items at the lowest point on the rack and lighter items at the top. All staff should wear protective hats and other protective gear whenever they are in the warehouse.
Mistake #5: Inadequate Fire Prevention
Fires can devastate a warehouse. They can seriously injure staff and result in a loss of inventory, damage to equipment and property, and, in some cases, may require the company to shut down the warehouse for weeks to repair the damage. A warehouse fire can be financially devastating for a business.
Most warehouse fires are caused by electrical equipment malfunctions, open flames — such as welders and fuel leakages from lifting vehicles. Warehouse fires can be prevented or the damage minimized by having a few simple safety procedures in place.
Go beyond the minimum compliance measures. Ensure your staff participates in regular fire drills and safety training to memorize locations of exits, assembly points, and fire extinguishers.
Correctly storing stock, especially flammable products, is imperative to avoid accidental fires and to make sure exits are readily accessible. However, the most critical fire safety precaution is an effective high-volume sprinkler system installed in-rack to put out fires before they become too large to contain.
Mistake #6: Poor Warehouse Layout
Warehouse layout contributes to overall productivity, but it is also an essential component of improving worker safety. Just as a messy workspace can cause a variety of occupational injuries due to obstructions and obstacles, a poor layout can cause collisions, trips and falls, and injuries related to poor ergonomics, such as repetitive stress injuries and strains.
Separate your warehouse into designated work areas, with those directly connected in the chain of activity close to each other. This arrangement minimizes cross-contamination and inventory loss.
The area of the warehouse experiencing most daytime traffic is the receiving area. Having a large receiving area and ensuring traffic patterns are appropriately marked reduces the likelihood of vehicle and pedestrian collisions.
Signage indicating hazards, protective requirements, and other essential types of information ensure workers are continually mindful of the safety concerns in the warehouse and promote a safety culture that goes beyond the minimum standard practices.
What tips do you have for creating a safer environment in your warehouse?
Guest Blogger – Cory Levins
Cory Levins serves as the Director of Business Development for Air Sea Containers. Cory oversees the development and implementation of ASC’s internal and external marketing program, driving revenue and profits from the Miami FL headquarters. Before joining Air Sea Containers, Cory Levins was the Director of Business Development for Marketing and Real Estate Lending Companies. Cory enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, sports, and the ocean.
Header photo: Petinov Sergey Mihilovich /shutterstock.com
Back Ache Photo: wavebreakmedia /shutterstock.com
Fire Extinguisher Photo: Piotr Zajda /shutterstock.com