A well-functioning warehouse is highly organized, and modern operations are becoming more efficient by the day. Proper safety management goes far beyond basic known hazards and anticipates potential failures in any area of the warehouse and with every operation. The rate of death in warehouse environments is nearly double the national average based on data in recent years, and it is certainly an area that deserves respect and management with a robust safety program.
According to OSHA, some of the main failures in a warehouse environment that have resulted in injuries were due to improper procedures, unsafe use of forklifts, improper pallet stacking, poor warehouse layout design, and repetitive motion injuries. Here are eight critical safety procedures that any warehouse manager can review and improve upon with best practices to protect against these areas of risk.
The loading dock is a high traffic area in the warehouse that sees a lot of activity on any given day with trucks being loaded and offloaded and materials being staged for shipment. Workers in the area must be vigilant of these activities, as being pinned between a forklift or truck and the loading dock could be devastating. The procedures your forklift operators follow for staging materials, receiving, and loading are critical in making sure that movements are predictable and easy to monitor. Strictly enforced speed limits, clear warning signs, and keeping the dock and surrounding area clear should be part of all training.
Any respectable warehouse will have clear procedures defined for forklift driving and basic operations throughout the warehouse. But one potentially overlooked hazard in any warehouse involves the breakdown of pallets to fulfill orders. This can be done at ground level, but in some cases it’s easier to bring a worker up to the pallet by forklift or with walkways. Adequate fall protection includes having a proper forklift platform appropriate for a person when necessary, coverage for any mezzanine and walkways, and adequate rails with no unnecessary exposed gaps.
Automation on the warehouse floor is becoming a standard part of order fulfillment and with it comes a number of moving parts. Conveyer belts, in particular, can have an incredible impact on efficiency and help move inventory throughout the facility quickly and predictably. Since the conveyors have a number of potential pinch points and the potential for falling objects, it is important that proper safeguards are in place between workers and the equipment. In addition, the lock-out, tag-out procedures that employees use for maintenance should be very robust to avoid any unnecessary contact with while the conveyors are in motion.
Pallet wrapping and storage is a highly manual operation that requires a lot of interaction between staff, pallets, and racking. Avoiding safety hazards from falling objects can be achieved by making sure your pallet packing procedures account for common issues. Staff should be trained to properly wrap and secure pallets, wear personal protective equipment (PPE), use a recommended stacking pattern, and follow manufacturer guidelines for safe stacking height and weight capacity. Having procedures that also instruct employees to inspect pallets for loose nails or other issues and properly directs them to avoid walking on racking or other areas that can cause damage can add additional layers of safety.
A warehouse location numbering system helps to avoid unnecessary aisle congestion by providing clear guidance to direct associates to the proper areas. By reducing aisle congestion, associates have easier access to racks and other storage areas, which in turn reduces accidents, as well. Use signage and warehouse labels to ensure that all areas are clearly marked, including retro-reflective signs and labels for long-range scanning applications. If you’re not sure what warehouse signs and labels are suitable for your various warehouse applications, visit our three-step guide to choosing the right warehouse labels. For tips on selecting the best top-level signage solutions, visit our warehouse signs buying guide.
The forklift charging stations used in most warehouses seem simple enough and, as far as equipment is concerned, are extremely safe. Most of the risk in these areas comes from employee activity in preparing for charging and battery maintenance. Prohibiting smoking in the area is an obvious safety check, but it is also critical to have proper ventilation in the area and adequately position and apply brakes to lifts before charging. Battery maintenance procedures should also be well documented and instruct in the use of proper PPE, contain adequate equipment for servicing batteries, and provide instructions for use of nearly emergency facilities such as eyewash stations in the event of battery acid exposure.
Procedures that properly address potential hazards are less useful if they are not part of an overall hazard communications (HazCom) plan. Having a written HazCom plan is an OSHA requirement, and it should include safety information about labels and warnings, safety data sheets, employee training, and a list of hazardous chemicals present in the warehouse. While creating the plan is a basic requirement, the best practice is in ensuring it is regularly reviewed, kept up to date, and part of a safety training program that keeps employees informed.
Any manual operation from the lifting of objects to the operation of digital displays for automated equipment can cause an ergonomic safety risk. Proper procedures should clearly state the maximum safe working load (SWL) of any equipment and the manual handling weight limits for any manual lifting. Avoiding the need for manual operations through automation and equipment assistance can help reduce ergonomic risk dramatically, and keeping the equipment within safe operating parameters ensures that improper strain can be avoided and prevent unsafe failures.
Safety is a part of every employee’s job, and warehouse management has an especially important role with their oversight of the procedures that dictate work in all areas. Addressing major and minor risks within your procedures gives your operation the best potential for avoiding workforce injuries and keeping your staff safe.