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Warehouse Safety
Warehouse Safety
     
Best Practices for Warehouse Safety

Thousands of injuries occur in warehouses each year. In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the fatal injury rate for the warehousing industry is higher than the national average for all industries. Given the nature of activities performed at warehouses, there are a wide variety of potential hazards on a daily basis. Worker accidents and injuries can be costly to employers due to increased insurance expenses and reduced employee productivity.

Employers can significantly decrease the potential for warehouse injuries and fatalities by enforcing OSHA safety standards. Cultivate a safe and healthful worksite by following the below best practices for warehouse safety:

Common Movements/Exposures

Falls: Workers are at risk for falls even when working at ground level. Slips and trips account for a large number of falls in the workplace.

  • Keep floors and aisles clear of clutter, electrical cords, hoses, and spills of liquid or loose material.
  • Use appropriate flooring and apply slip resistant materials as needed.
  • Install proper guard railing whenever there is a large drop between floors.
  • Close loading dock doors when not in use and place visual warning signs near the edges of docks.
  • Remind workers of how to avoid potential hazards by posting the Slips, Trips, and Falls Poster throughout the workplace.

Lifting: Back and other injuries often occur from improper lifting.

  • Educate workers on proper lifting techniques such as planning the lift, deciding on the route, properly balancing the object between the arms, using the legs, and maintaining a neutral back position.
  • Encourage workers to ask for help or using material handling equipment when necessary.
  • Remind workers of safe lifting by displaying the Lifting Safely Poster at the worksite.

Ergonomics: Improper lifting, repetitive motion, or insufficient warehouse operations can lead to musculoskeletal disorders in workers.

  • Encourage workers to use power equipment instead of manual lifting for heavy materials.
  • Ensure general safety measures in the warehouse such as adequate lighting and clean floors.
  • Provide workers with task oriented ergonomic training.
  • Post Workplace Ergonomics Safety Tips to remind workers of ergonomic safety.

Equipment handling: Many warehouse injuries are attributable to the mishandling of equipment including hand tools, motorized hand trucks, tractors and forklifts.

  • Train workers how to properly operate and care for all equipment they will encounter in the workplace.
  • At least once every three years evaluate the skills of operators and mandate refresher training as needed.
  • Ensure capacity, operation, and maintenance instructions tags or decals are legible.
  • Regularly inspect equipment and replace unsafe or defective parts immediately.
  • Enforce forklift safety by prominently posting the 10 Steps to Forklift Safety Poster.

Harmful Substances: Toxic chemicals such as lead and asbestos are a serious workplace hazard and must be treated as such.

Loaded trucks: Serious and often fatal accidents can occur with loaded trucks.

  • Train workers on the importance of communication. Many injuries occur because a driver was unaware of coworkers still in or around a loaded truck.
  • Educate workers on the proper unloading and loading procedures appropriate to the materials being handled.
  • Inspect trucks and trailers regularly for damage.

Fire Safety: A fire can destroy an entire warehouse; however, fires are one of the most preventable warehouse hazards.

  • Train workers on industrial fire prevention.
  • Regularly inspect the worksite for fire hazards including worn or exposed wiring, leaking flammable substances, and improper use of electrical cords.
  • Ensure that fire extinguishers are clearly posted and inspected regularly.
  • Prohibit smoking and open flames and provide adequate ventilation where necessary.
  • Post warning signs for exits, stairways, sprinklers, and fire doors.

Training/Inspections/Reporting

Emergencies: All workers should know what is expected of them in the event of an emergency.

  • Adopt emergency plans and communicate them to employees.
  • Designate staff to be accountable for initiating an emergency plan including evacuation procedures.
  • Display an emergency phone number poster for quick access by employees.
  • Clearly post signs for fire extinguishers and emergency exits. Click here for signs.

Reporting Mechanism: Reporting potential hazards is a critical step in preventing them.

  • Encourage workers to report unsafe working conditions during initial training sessions and continually throughout their employment.
  • Post reporting signs to promote employees to speak up about potential hazards.
  • Designate certain employees to hear and address worker concerns.
  • Adopt an anonymous reporting mechanism such as a hotline.

Training:

  • Mandate appropriate training for newly hired employees and periodic refresher trainings for all employees including management.
  • Document all trainings taken by employees.
  • Ensure trainings provide workers with necessary safety information and occasionally analyze the effectiveness of the trainings.
  • Get workers involved in the training process by eliciting participation and feedback.
  • Be sure to offer trainings in multiple languages if needed.

Best Practices

Regular inspections:

  • Conduct regular inspections for safety violations or potential hazards throughout the warehouse.
  • Establish a procedure and designate staff to conduct the inspections.
  • Hold regular safety meetings with workers to discuss any infractions discovered during inspections and future ways of preventing them.

Housekeeping:

  • Keep aisles, work areas, and exits clear of garbage, debris and any items that can become tripping hazards such as electric cords.
  • Ensure materials are stacked securely.
  • Regularly inspect light fixtures to ensure they're in working order. Replace broken fixtures or bulbs immediately.
  • Make sure to fasten or secure sharp objects.
  • Clean up spills of liquid or loose material immediately.

Third party evaluation: To help improve the safety in the workplace, consider bringing in an outsider. The outsider does not necessarily need to be a consultant or OSHA representative, but may be a business associate, or peer. The point is to have a fresh pair of eyes evaluate the warehouse. Sometimes what is seen in plain sight every day may be an overlooked hazard.

No smoking:

Striping: "Striping" is often used in a warehouse environment to mark off areas where various activities are occurring.

  • Train workers on the significance of each colored marking.
  • Ensure striping is properly installed.
  • Fix unclear striping timely to maintain the organizational flow and safety standards in a warehouse.

Creating a workplace culture committed to employee safety by adopting warehouse best practices positively affects both employers and employees. A safe warehouse will not only decrease insurance costs and reduce employee absenteeism it will increase employee morale and productivity; thus, positively affecting the overall business operations.

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This article is designed to provide a guideline for warehouse safety. For more precise information on individual circumstances, seek the appropriate legal counsel.

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