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Best Practices for Warehouse Safety

Warehouse environments present a magnitude of potential safety hazards. Due to the activities that employees perform and the equipment they handle, they are particularly prone to accidents and injuries. For an employer, unnecessary accidents and injuries can get costly, and place your business in jeopardy.

Luckily, employers have a ways and means of protection. By enforcing safety standards and routines, most employers can reduce if not eliminate accidents and injuries altogether. Follow the steps below to ensure best safety practices for your warehouse:

Housekeeping. May accidents can easily be avoided by performing daily housekeeping tasks. Most housekeeping items are common sense: keep work areas clear of garbage and debris, clean up spills immediately, remove items that can cause tripping, such as cords, do not leave sharp items lying around, etc. If every employee contributes to a clean and tidy environment, many accidents can be prevented.

Falls. Maintaining a clean and orderly work environment is a good way to avoid slips, trips, and falls. It should go without saying that any spills, such as water or oil, should be cleaned up immediately. Also remember to apply slip resistant materials to avoid falls due to slippery conditions. Daily housekeeping (see above) tasks will also help prevent falls and tripping hazards. Remind your workers of how to avoid falls, slips, and tripping hazards by posting the Slips, Trips, and Falls Poster in your workplace.

Lifting. Using proper lifting techniques is an easy way for workers to protect themselves. Proper techniques include: planning the lift, deciding on your route, properly balancing the object between your arms, and asking for help or using material handling equipment, when necessary.

Proper lifting techniques are simple to learn, and can easily become habit. Employers can remind workers of lifting safety by hanging the Lifting Safety Poster in their warehouse. For more information on lifting safety steps, read Tips to Lifting Safety.

Ergonomics. OSHA identifies ergonomic injuries as the most common hazard for workers. For warehouse workers, this is primarily due to the high volume of manual tasks performed on a daily basis. All workers should understand how to minimize stress on the body while performing certain tasks, such as lifting and shelving objects. To remind workers of ergonomic safety, hang the Workplace Ergonomics Safety Tips poster in your workplace. Also, make sure all workers understand Tips on Lifting Safety.

Equipment handling. Many tools are utilized in a warehouse to help simplify work processes. For example, when objects are too heavy to lift manually, workers should utilize material handling equipment, such as a forklift. All workers should be trained on equipment handling, whether they handle the equipment themselves, or if they work in proximity to where the piece of equipment is operated.

Forklifts are one of the most common pieces of equipment used in a warehouse environment. To help enforce forklift safety, hang the 10 Steps to Forklift Safety Poster in your workplace.

Fire Safety. Employers need to determine how susceptible their warehouse is to a fire. If you think fire may be a threat, have the property examined by a professional. Oftentimes the expense required to make fire safety improvements, such as a sprinkler installation, is well worth the investment.

Harmful Substances. It is not uncommon for workers in a warehouse to handle harmful or toxic chemicals. Make sure workers are properly training to handle harmful substances, and know what to do in case of emergency. Harmful items include toxic chemicals and metals, lead, asbestos, asphalt fumes, and so forth.

Emergencies. All workers should know what to do in the event of an emergency. This includes having quick access to after-hour telephone numbers, knowing where to locate emergency equipment such as fire extinguishers, and how to exit the building in case of a fire. Workers should also understand the protocol for reporting incidents to managers, and other emergency resources, such as 911.

Reporting Mechanism. Encourage workers to report unsafe working conditions. Designate multiple employees to intercept worker concerns, and also consider creating an anonymous reporting mechanism, such as a hotline.

Loaded trucks. Serious accidents can occur with loaded trucks. There needs to be communication between the driver, and the workers loading the truck. All too often, a driver will start driving the truck while there are still workers inside. The can result in fatal accidents, either because the worker has fallen out of the truck, or is crushed from the contents shifting inside. Make sure to chain off all trucks that have been loaded. All workers must understand the severity and importance of not entering loaded trucks.

Striping. “Striping” is often used in a warehouse environment to mark off areas where various activities are occurring. Make sure all workers understand what each marking represents. For example, a green taped area or marking may represent an area open for general traffic, whereas a red taped area should not be crossed. Knowing how to effectively mark areas is an important as communicating the meaning of marking to workers.

Training. Safety training should occur on a frequent basis, and not just for new-hires. Workers need to thoroughly understand safety rules and regulations, how to operate equipment, and how to identify and prevent hazards. Get workers involved in the training process: ask for feedback and suggestions on what safety topics matter most. Both managers and workers should receive training, and in many cases it may be necessary to offer training is both English and Spanish.

Regular inspections. To ensure your workplace is safe, plan to conduct regular inspections. Whether you plan for daily, weekly, or monthly inspections, establish a routine to set a standard for the importance of safety.

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

No smoking. Do your workers a favor and outlaw smoking in the workplace. Lit cigarettes are a fire hazard, and bad for your workers’ health. Prohibit smoking and post No Smoking Signs or Posters in prominent workplace areas.

Overview

Employers should fully dedicate themselves to warehouse and employee safety. Do more than the minimum, and make safety part of the workplace climate so it becomes routine. Doing so will result in fewer injuries, accidents, time off, and rising insurance premiums.

Despite your best efforts, accidents will happen. Investigate what caused an accident, and use it as a ways and means for future prevention. And, pay attention to near misses – near misses help identify new areas of vulnerability that may be problematic in the future. Make safety a priority, and remember that the majority of accidents and injuries can easily be avoided.

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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