If your business involves warehouse operations, warehouse safety should be an important consideration due to the wide variety of potential hazards to workers.
This article provides an overview of the things all responsible employers should consider when managing warehouse safety. It covers:
1) The various sources of hazards within a warehouse.
2) Safety measures to be followed while working in a warehouse environment.
Managing Warehouse Safety
Why? More than 145,000 people work in over 7,000 warehouses. Unfortunately, the fatal injury rate for the warehousing industry is higher than the national average for all other industries.
The following are hazards that increase risks to warehouse operatives:
- Unsafe use of forklifts
- Improper stacking of products
- Failure to use proper personal protective equipment
- Failure to follow proper lockout/tagout procedures
- Inadequate fire safety provisions
- Repetitive motion injuries
Your organisation is legally required to provide a safe working environment so that staff may carry out their duties in the safest possible manner.
A warehouse is a commercial building for storage of goods. Warehouses are used by manufacturers, importers, exporters, wholesalers, transport businesses, customs, etc. They usually have loading docks to load and unload goods from trucks. Sometimes warehouses are designed for the loading and unloading of goods directly from railways, airports or seaports. They often have cranes and forklifts for moving goods.
The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974)
While it should always be a moral obligation to follow health and safety procedures at work, it is also a legal requirement. Both employers and employees are required to uphold certain duties in the workplace with regard to keeping themselves and others safe on site. The law is there to stop you getting hurt at work and to stop you getting ill because of work.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires organisations to provide information, instruction, training and supervision as necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of its employees.
The Act requires that all workers have a right to work in places that are safe, that employers must keep staff safe at work and that employees also have an obligation towards their own safety and the safety of those around them.
Warehouse Safety - Employers' Duties
All companies are legally and morally obliged to provide a safe place of work for workers, including: safe access to and from the workplace, providing safe plant and equipment, setting up safe systems of work, and making sure workers know what they should be doing.
It is your duty to provide all staff with the correct personal protection equipment, and provide appropriate training and supervision. As an employer, you are also required to work with workers on health and safety issues. That means providing clear information, running proper consultations and making sure everyone’s view is taken into account.
Warehouse Safety - Employees' Duties
Employees are also expected to play their part in keeping themselves and others safe at work. Their duties include: using equipment safely, in a responsible manner and in line with manufacturers instructions, reporting any accidents, problems or unsafe situations to supervisors, cooperating with training and using the correct Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE.
Warehouse Safety - Hazards
Most of the accidents in warehouses usually occur while operating machinery. The areas that are most susceptible to accidents are:
- 1) Docks – Injuries happen while forklifts run off the dock, products fall on employees or equipment strikes a person.
- 2) Forklifts – Forklift turnovers account for a significant percentage of fatalities every year. About 100 employees are killed and 95,000 injured every year while operating forklifts.
- 3) Conveyers – Workers can get injured when caught in pinch points or in the in-going nip points, are hit by falling products or develop musculoskeletal disorders associated with awkward postures or repetitive motions.
- 4) Materials Storage – Improperly stored materials may fall and injure workers.
- 5) Manual Lifting and Handling – Back injuries may occur from improper lifting or overexertion.
- 6) Hazard Communication – Chemical burns are possible if spills of hazardous materials occur.
- 7) Charging Stations – Fires and explosion risks are possible unless proper guidelines are followed.
- 8) Poor Ergonomics – Improper lifting, repetitive motion or poor design of operations can lead to musculoskeletal disorders at work.
- 9) Other Safety Hazards – Inadequate fire safety provisions, improper use of lockout procedures and failure to wear Personal Protective Equipment also create hazards in workplace.
Warehouse Safety Checklist
The following checklist may help avoid these hazards:
1. Exposed or open loading dock doors and other areas that employees could fall 4 feet or more or walk off should be chained off, roped off or otherwise blocked.
2. Floors and aisles are cleared of clutter, electrical cords, hoses, spills and other hazards that could cause employees to trip, slip or fall.
3. Proper work practices are factored into determining the time requirements for an employee to perform a task.
4. Employees performing physical work have adequate periodic rest breaks to avoid fatigue levels that could result in greater risk of accidents and reduced quality of work.
5. Newly-hired employees must receive general ergonomics training and task-specific training.
6. The warehouse is well-ventilated.
7. Employees are instructed on how to avoid heat stress in hot, humid environments.
8. Employees are instructed on how to work in cold environments.
9. The facility has lockout/tagout procedures.
Warehouse Safety Tips – Forklift Use
Following must be kept in mind while operating a forklift:
1. They should meet the established design and construction requirements.
2. Written approval from the manufacturer has to be obtained for any modifications or additions that affect the capacity and safe operation of the vehicle.
3. Forklifts being used in hazardous locations are appropriately marked and approved for such use.
4. Battery charging is conducted only in designated areas.
5. Appropriate facilities are provided for flushing and neutralizing spilled electrolytes, for fire extinguishing, for protecting charged apparatus from damage by trucks and for ventilation to disperse fumes from gassing batteries.
6. Conveyors, overhead hoists or equivalent materials handling equipment are provided for handling batteries.
7. Reinstalled batteries are properly positioned and secured.
8. Carboy tilters or siphons are used for handling electrolytes.
9. Vent caps are properly functioning. Overhead guards are provided in good condition to protect forklift operators from falling objects.
10. Tools and other metallic objects are kept away from top of uncovered batteries.
11. Precautions are taken to prevent smoking, open flames, sparks or electric arcs in battery changing areas and during storage/ changing of propane fuel tanks.
Warehouse Safety - Hazard Communication
Hazardous spills must be taken care of to prevent chemical burning. Some of the safety measures to be followed include:
1. All hazardous material containers are properly labelled indicating the chemicals identity and appropriate warnings.
2. The facility should have a written programme that covers hazard determination, including Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), labelling and training.
3. There is a system to check that each incoming chemical is accompanied by an MSDS.
4. All employees must be adequately trained to handle chemicals and understand MSDS and on precautions to take to prevent exposure.
5. All outside contractors are given a complete list of chemical products, hazards and precautions.
6. All chemicals are stored according to the manufacturers recommendations and local or national fire codes.
9. Employees must use Personal Protection Equipment while handling hazardous chemicals.
Warehouse Safety - Fire Extinguishers
A fire extinguisher is an active fire protection device used to extinguish or control small fires, often in emergency situations. Typically, a fire extinguisher consists of a hand-held cylindrical pressure vessel containing an agent which can be discharged to extinguish a fire. Adequate training must be provided on the classes of fires and fire extinguishers to be used in each situation. Before using a fire extinguisher, staff should make sure:
1. The fire department has been called
2. They have announced the fire to alert others
3. Occupants have begun evacuating or are leaving the structure
4. The fire is small and not spreading
5. They know how to operate the fire extinguisher, and
6. The fire won’t block their unobstructed escape route.
Warehouse Safety - Security and Safe Packing
For most of the hazards related to warehouse safety, several feasible controls were identified that include making simple changes such as:
- Adjusting the height of shelves
- Providing stools or ladders to employees
- Reducing the depth of shelving
- Raising loading heights
- Evaluating the flow and volume of orders so faster-moving products are placed on easier-to-reach shelves
- Safe packing of all materials will ensure that accidents from material spillage and falling are reduced to minimum.
Warehouse Safety – Safe Storage
A warehouse can contain vast amounts of materials all stored beneath one ceiling. A good method should be chosen to organise storage of inventory so that it is easy to find something easily when required. One idea is to sticker all products with an information label which ensures easy tracking and storage of inventory. When there is an abundance of inventory, it helps to keep the same types of products in the same place, so that they could be easily found when needed.
It must be ensured that there are appropriately marked and sufficiently safe clearances for aisles and at loading docks or passageways where materials handling equipment is used. Loose/unboxed materials which might fall from a pile should be properly stacked by blocking, interlocking or limiting the height of the pile to prevent falling hazards. Storage areas should be kept free from accumulation of materials that could lead to tripping, fire and explosion or pest infections. Staff should also remember to:
1. Stack loads evenly and straight
2. Place heavier loads on lower or middle shelves.
3. Remove one object at a time from shelves.
Warehouse Safety - Risk Management
The warehouse manager carries out a risk assessment of the warehouse. To identify the hazards, this should include:
- Identifying where hazards can occur
- Walking around the warehouse noting activities that might pose a risk
- Talking through the issues with the union safety representative and asked about concerns that staff have on health and safety
- Talking to supervisors to learn from their detailed knowledge of particular jobs and areas
- Looking at the accident book to gather information on past problems
- The identification of each hazard should be followed by studying the control factors and comparing them to a good practice guidance or manual. Actions necessary to manage the risks should be written down and any further actions implemented.
Warehouse Safety - Online Training
To ensure you and your employees are adequately trained in warehouse safety, see our Warehouse Safety online training course or speak to us for more details.