Top ten: Warehouse hazards
Warehouse fatalities and severe or permanment injuries have a serious impact and yet they are preventable with careful planning and a ongoing commitment to safety.
Even a series of relatively minor incidents can lead to lost productivity, higher insurance bills and possible fines.
Here, ASC.com presents ten threats to warehouse workers safety and consider the ways companies can keep their warehouses free of hazards.
Click here (or along the numbers at the bottom of this page) to start the list
When you work with warehouse heavy equipment day in, day out, you can easily get over confident and too comfortable using the equipment.
This can become dangerous if you underestimate the potential dangers of a machine, such as a forklift.
All operators must understand the potential hazards of all the machines present in the warehouse, regardless of how many years they have been working with the equipment, undertake periodic training to keep up to date with the latest recommendations and remain cautious while using any machine.
Accidents can be prevented by following the specific instructions provided for a piece of equipment; machines with moving parts are a common workplace hazard as they can cause the most serious permanent injuries when used improperly.
Slips, trips & falls
Slipping is a very common warehouse hazard that can be easily prevented by ensuring the warehouse does not have any of the following:
- loose material, such as sawdust, and loose flooring/carpeting;
- unnecessary steps or ridges;
- uneven walking surfaces;
- poorly lit areas;
In addition ice, wet spots, grease and polished floors can cause people to fall over, so be vigilient against these hazards and consider using anti-slip floor tape to help ensure safety.
Falling accounts for a large majority of warehous injuries, not just when staff are working above ground level. When working around loading docks, it's vital to stay aware of the surroundings.
Whenever there is a large drop between floors, proper guard railing is essential.
A fire can jeopardise an entire operation and cause serious injury, or even fatalities.
Constant prevention awareness is paramount and unlike a fire that may break in an office, one that starts in a warehouse often has the extra danger of feeding off of potentially flammable or combustable goods being stored, such as chemicals or motor oil.
Worn and exposed wires such as old extension cords, leaking flammable fluids and gasses, and running electrical cords under carpet are all mistakes to avoid in warehouses.
When constructing a new warehouse, fire protection must be considered at the beginning of the design process rather than after it has been built or after the electrical work has been done.
Attention tends to be paid to active systems, such as alarms and fire extinguishers, but by adopting an integrated approach that consider passive systems at the design stage, a warehouse can be better protected if a fire occurs.
Passive fire protection solutions can minimise damage through containment in the event of a fire, which is particularly important in industrial zones where warehouses are located in close proximity to each other.
Examples include fire compartments or barriers, sprays and paints, fire rated partitions and ceilings, as well as the protection of structural steelwork.
As warehouses usually contain large undivided areas, the use of such methods, particularly fire walls or barriers, is extremely effective in avoiding the spread of fire, heat and smoke.
Passive fire protection can also help to maintain the building in the event of fire and prevent collapse.
Rick of being crushed
A medium sized forklift weighs about the same as an average dump truck, meaning it can cause just as much damage and should be treated with the same caution as a heavy vehicle being driven around the workplace would be.
There have been instances of forklift operators jumping or falling from a forklift in a tipover, and being crushed between the forklift and the ground.
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) weekly fatality/catastrophe report, two workers are crushed to death every month on the job (this figure is for October 2014 to October 2015 and not limited to warehouse workers' deaths).
To prevent this type of tragedy, companies must provide sufficient training for any machine with augers or press machines, and avoid moving machines and trucks in the loading dock.
Heavy loads that could fall on, and crush, warehouse employees also have to be treated with caution.
Effective employee training, well maintained machinery and systematic traffic management will reduce the risks, as opposed to unsafe methods and workplaces inflicting schedules on operators that are too demanding.
Supervisors need to ensure that the piece of equipment in use suits the specific workplace conditions and task in hand in order to avoid a potentially fatal incident.
Lack of safety education
Without proper education for all warehouse operators, not only will a warehouse fail to perform at its full potential but it will pose serious risks to all those in it.
A lack of adequate training is the foremost cause of workplace injury and can affect profitability, yet because safety training cannot be measured in terms of directly generating profit, it is sometimes de-priotitised.
Refresher courses for veterans, particularly if the warehouse has acquired new equipment, should be mandatory.
Warehouses should create a safety culture where every employee knows that safety is their responsibility, with all warehouse managers leading by example,
Rather than being a one-time concern, cultivating a safety culture is a continuous effort; it is not enough to hold an annual safety briefing without emphasising safety throughout the company at all times.
Companies could consider forming a warehouse safety committee, comprising workers selected from the various sub-sections of warehouse employees, such as floor workers, shift supervisors and managers, to address safety issues and cascade information to the wider workforce.
Lessons not being learned from past incidents
Warehouse managers need to analyse the reasons for past accidents rather than simply recording their outcome.
Knowing a forklift driver suffered a broken arm does not tell the manager how to correct the operating procedures that caused an injury, however if the manager learns that the injury occurred when the driver's arm was outside the forklift's cage and he turned a corner too sharply, the need for driver re-training relating to procedure, speed and spacial awareness becomes clear.
Lessons need to be learned from every incident, no matter how minor, in order to prevent further injuries.
Not having clearly marked exits
Every warehouse needs to be designed and maintained in a way that provides unobstructed exiting from any part of the building at all times, even if repairs or maintainence is being carried out to the building.
When a warehouse is occupied, there should be no locks in place that could prevent free escape from the inside.
Exits must be marked by clearly visible signs in languages that can be understood by everyone working in the warheouse.
This includes indicating the pathway to the exit as well as the exits themselves.
Warehouse managers should take a walk through their facility to ensure they can see an exit sign at all times and that there is no ambiguity - employees who are unfamiliar with the warehouse layout or reacting in haste to an emergency could easily confuse a closet or bathroom door with an exit, for example, especially if visibility is impaired due to a fire.
All exit routes need to be free of explosive or highly flammable furnishings, and should not lead employees along a path that runs near hazardous areas.
There should also be an emergency alarm system installed that allows warehouse staff to immediately alert colleagues, who could be working thousands of metres away, to also exit the building in an emergency.
Being exposed to harmful substances
Harsh chemicals, such as asbestos, are a serious workplace hazard, as is carbon monoxide fumes emitted by vehicles such as forklifts.
Warehouses need to be well-ventilated so that fumes can disperse, and levels of noxious gases and fumes should be monitored.
In addition, a number of hazards are posed when storing packaged dangerous substances if there is a lack of awareness of the properties of these substances and/or inappropriate storage conditions with respect to the hazards of the substances.
Different types of dangerous substances should be assessed when considering a risk control strategy to ensure there is sufficient segregation.
Futhermore, dangerous substances should only be received into a chemical warehouse by someone who understands all the risks they pose, in relation to their physical and chemical properties and quanities.
The way chemicals and dangerous goods are stored is important. For example, minor leaks from cylinders of compressed gases may disperse more readily if the cylinders are stored in the open air and cylinders of liquefied gases should be stored in an upright position, so that any leaks will be of vapour or gas rather than liquid.
The location is also key because ventilation will have to be considered; where flammable, toxic or asphyxiant gas cylinders are stored indoors, good ventilation is essential to ensure that minor leaks will disperse safely, for example.
Inproper handling and storing of materials causes injuries.
Workers can end up with strains and sprains if they lift loads improperly or carry loads that are too heavy, therefore it is vital that employees are shown proper lifting techniques - and that mechanical equipment be used to move heavy loads.
Similarly, if goods are not safely secured when stored, they could fall and strike people; so heavy loads need to always be stacked neatly and cylindrical objects should be prevented from rolling off of shelves.
Warehouses packing stations with impact absorbing, anti-slip industrial floor mats will relieve the stress placed on employees’ joints when they work for several hours while standing in one place.
Another warehouse improvement to prevent injury is arrange storage in such a way that does not require staff to lifting from the floor or shoulder level, as this is a common cause of injury.
Not creating a healthy environment for warehouse workers
Preventing worker fatigue helps prevent accidents, so employees doing physical work should receive an adequate number of rest breaks throughout their shift.
Reasonable time frames for task completion will also mean workers do not feel under pressure to rush, which could easily lead to accidents and injuries.
Workers may feel forced into taking unnecessary chances with their safety and the equipment if they have unreasonable quotas to meet, perhaps by overloading their forklift or hurrying unsafely through the building.
Depending upon the average temperature of a facility, employees need to made aware about the importance of proper hydration. They should be consuming water regularly, particularly during summer, in order to prevent dehydration and heat stress – one of the leading causes of workplace accidents.
Heat stress is a serious threat, especially during the summer months, and can lead to fatigue, lack of concentration and heat stroke. Using industrial fans will help keep workers as comfortable and safe as possible.
Managers need to insist on the appropriate clothing being worn, such as hard hats, steel toe boots, safety glasses or ear protectors. Any employees working on loading docks should be wearing safety vests that are more reflective than conventional vests so that they can easily be seen by trucks and other motor vehicles in order to reduce to risk of them being hit or crushed.
Workers need to educated on best practices for working in hot or cold environments, depending on the nature of the warehouse.