WORKER’S GUIDE TO DEVELOPING A WAREHOUSE SAFETY PLAN
Warehouses, filled with constant activity among large and dangerous equipment and vehicles, are potential centers for organizational risk. Companies that don’t yet have formalized strategies for preventing accidents in warehouses – protecting their employees from bodily harm or even death while also minimizing supply chain downtime – are creating unnecessary danger.
Organizations that find they lack warehouse safety plans should remedy that issue as quickly as possible, developing comprehensive overviews to ensure every element of the facility’s operation is being carried out in a safe and compliant manner. From employee practices and training to the maintenance of equipment and upkeep of spaces, there are numerous relevant points to formalize as part of a warehouse safety plan.
The following are the areas of warehouse safety, as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, along with some of the best practices that can go into a comprehensive safety plan.
Having strong safety practices on and around loading docks is a major priority for warehouse operators. Equipment such as lifts or commercial doors could cause disruptions on a dock, as could forklifts or larger vehicles. Docks are one of the primary locations for employee injuries and deaths, and even small disruptions on docks can cause supply chain disruptions.
A safety plan incorporating comprehensive dock safety measures should ensure all surfaces and areas are clear at all times, and that assets such as lifts and dock plates are maintained. Dock edges must be marked clearly, while ladders and stairs should receive frequent checks to ensure they’re up to OSHA regulations. Employees should receive specific training about how to operate docks, including learning how to drive forklifts safely without making risky moves such as jumping from a dock.
Either on the dock or elsewhere in the warehouse, forklifts may cause harm if they aren’t maintained – or if employees haven’t been taught the practices of forklift operations. OSHA reports that approximately 100 workers die in forklift accidents every year, while 95,000 are injured.
Training is a key component of forklift safety and an essential addition to a warehouse plan. All operators must be trained up to OSHA’s safety standards. Drivers should follow rules such as driving at slow speeds, avoiding unsafe floors, wearing seat belts and inspecting their vehicles every time they drive. Maintaining forklifts is essential – this includes checking components such as the tires for possible risks.
Warehouses with conveyors should pay attention to these assets, because OSHA warns they can harm personnel in a few distinct ways. Workers who are caught in conveyors or struck by objects falling from them can suffer severe harm, while personnel who make repetitive or awkward motions working with products on conveyors can suffer long-term disorders.
As with any piece of warehouse equipment, conveyors must be actively maintained to ensure they are working at full capacity. Warehouse safety plans should include lockout/tagout procedures to make sure conveyors can’t activate unexpectedly, while work areas around these assets should be well-lit and reduce the risk of employees from being caught in pinch points.
Managing the way items are stored in a warehouse may be a low-priority item on a safety checklist. After all, the danger posed by goods in the facility isn’t as noticeable as the risk surrounding a piece of equipment. However,falling items may cause serious harm to workers.
Warehouse safety plans should include instructions regarding the correct storage of items in the facilities. Every load should be stacked evenly, with heavy goods going on low or middle shelves. Workers should make sure the paths they travel through warehouses are clear, and understand how to remove items from shelves without straining themselves.
Manual lifting and hauling
Warehousing stakeholders should pay close attention to the way people lift and carry large objects in the facility. When there is no training around this important topic, it’s possible for workers to suffer back injuries. This kind of accident can be painful and debilitating for employees, and cost companies in terms of lost productivity and worker’s compensation payments.
Warehouse managers should consider the kinds of lifting and handling tasks employees are expected to perform, then develop training programs that will address those situations. The training should take the form of general ergonomics as well as specific lessons for specific load types. Warehouse storage plans should also include optimized storage, to minimize the need for excessive lifting.
While heavy lifting may be the most notable form of ergonomic risk in the warehouse, many kinds of actions can pose a danger to workers. For example, people who perform frequent tasks with poor form can suffer repetitive stress injuries. A poorly designed workspace is one that encourages employees to move in harmful ways, or puts people at risk of slips, trips and falls.
Warehouse managers should think about the way spaces are laid out, as well as whether their workers always have clear paths to traverse and work within. Training workers on the activities they’ll perform in their day-to-day duties is an important ergonomic consideration.
Some warehouses deal with potentially dangerous chemicals. These substances demand special preparations, as a mistake could lead to a spill and injuries such as chemical burns. Hazard communication standards require companies to clearly post the risks of the chemicals in the workplace, as well as correct handling directions.
Material Safety Data Sheets tell workers how to work with chemicals, but companies should not rely on these sheets to be the only source of information. Training is also an important part of a safety plan for a warehouse that deals with chemicals. Workers should know safety procedures around cleaning potential spills and disposing of materials, and have all the personal protective equipment to complete their roles safely.
Using powered, heavy assets including forklifts introduces charging stations to the workplace. Due to the potential fire and explosion risk posed by these electrical, gas or propane-based assets, companies have to create special policies and guidelines regarding their proper use.
Warehouses with charging stations should have fire extinguishers and other equipment on hand at all times, as well as personal protective gear and ventilation in the relevant areas. While the exact risk of a charging station will differ depending on whether it uses gas, propane or batteries, the need to have formalized policies protecting the area is a constant.
Other general hazards
A warehouse safety plan should reflect the space it is designed for. Every facility should have fire safety strategies, for example, that reflect the way workers would evacuate or battle a blaze in that particular location. Since fires aren’t the only kinds of major emergencies to strike warehouses, companies should also have evacuation plans for other risk types.
OSHA also recommends lockout/tagout strategies to ensure all potentially dangerous equipment is safely immobilized when not being used. Frequent assessments of employee protective equipment are another component of general safety strategies. Leaders should be prepared to act on the suggestions made based on these checks.
THE ANSWER: COMPREHENSIVE WAREHOUSE SAFETY PLANS
Companies should commit to keeping employees and assets safe from any and all potential risks. This means developing a warehouse safety plan, starting with a complete assessment of working conditions. The strategies developed to counteract a work environment’s specific threat lineup will include a variety of answers, including maintenance for equipment, training for employees and constant, careful oversight from management personnel.
Warehouses that operate with inadequate safety plans can find themselves falling victim to more frequent problems, including those that could have been prevented with simple preparation. The consequences of poor safety practices can range from OSHA fines following safety inspections to the much more serious fallout that comes from an industrial accident. From losses of productivity all the way up to loss of employee life, warehouse incidents have the potential to be devastating.
Working with trained experts in the fields of safety, compliance and equipment maintenance is a great way to get up to speed quickly. Facilities that don’t yet have safety plans in place should bring in consultants to detect risks and solutions as quickly as possible, while those wondering whether their current strategies are adequate can also benefit from expert assistance.