Safety is a major issue for warehouse management. As technology increases, safety issues may change but their importance has not diminished. Today people and technology must co-exist for safety. In what a few years ago would have seemed science fiction, today’s warehouse is home to artificial intelligence, robots, driverless vehicles and more in an innovative landscape dedicated to safety, efficiency and productivity.
In 1970 President Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Since that time, occupational deaths have been cut by 62% and injuries by 42%. Despite these improvements, according to Martin Murray in Warehouse Safety and OHSA Standards of April 12, 2017, the fatal injury rate for warehousing industry remains higher than the national average for all industries. OHSA conducts 40,000 inspections each year with state offices contributing 60,000 more. These statistics indicate that while major advances have been made in the areas of safety and health, more are needed. The use of technology is proving to be a key to these improvements.
The major reasons for OSHA citations are forklift trucks, hazardous materials, electrical safety, guardrails, respiratory protection and defective equipment. Forklift trucks contribute to 100 fatalities and 95,000 injuries each year. June 12, 2018 is Forklift Truck Safety Day to call attention to this issue. Training, driving at 5mph or less and maintaining safe clearances are factors in decreasing accident rates. Alpine Power Systems estimates that 70% of all accidents may have been avoided with proper training. Properly balanced loads, maintaining low loads, turning corners slowly and driving in only approved areas are the major methods for lessening the accident rate. WY East Products of Portland, Oregon offers a UV resistant low profile easily installed dome cover for forklift trucks. Company founder Steve Puls explained that these covers meet OSHA standards that specify “overhead guards shall not obstruct the operator’s view.” In addition the covers keep the operator’s vision clear of pooling or cascading water with ribs and gutters. The operator stays dry and comfortable in safety with high visibility.
OSHA requires evaluation of each powered industrial truck operator’s at least every three years. Jacqueline Charlesworth of Forklift Safety Innovations advises that refresher courses should be conducted whenever accidents or near miss accidents occurs. Retraining also needs to be required if any operator has a poor evaluation. Forklift Safety Innovations market DVD training kits to facilitate safety awareness.
Chemical hazards demand vigilance. Written spill control plans, protective equipment, safe storage, training and spill cleanup kits facilitate safe working environments. Respiratory protective equipment must also be provided and required. Fumes, dust, paint spray or other contaminants cause health issues if not properly removed.
Guardrails are an obvious safety device to ward off falls as are safety nets, warning lines and body harnesses. According to OSHA another common problem is the failure to quickly replace or repair damaged equipment.
Legacy Supply Chain Services promotes safety through a checklist of eight factors each manager should review:
- Post safety expectations
- Set minimum safety standards
- Create periodic pop quizzes testing employee on their knowledge of workplace safety
- Conduct safety sweeps
- Provide training
- Reward workplace safety
- Establish a safety committee
- Ensure proper emergency signage
Rob Hirschberg of Alpine Power Systems emphasizes that safety is a top priority with productivity and efficiency intertwined with safety policies. He agrees that minimum standards must exist for all who enter warehouses. At Alpine visitors must be accompanied by a supervisor and are required to wear proper protective gear.
Complacency can be dangerous. Mr. Hirschberg’s company conducts a continuous safety program to combat complacency. Their Stay Accident Free Everywhere program is promoted by human resources using informative emails, banners, apparel and consistent training.
While employers have an ethical responsibility to provide a safe working environment for their employees, safety is also a cost effective issue. The expense of worker injury is estimated to be from $38,000.00 to $150,000.00. These costs can mean the difference between a successful business and a failed enterprise. Establishing a culture of safety is vital. Ms. Charlesworth sited successful implementation of safety protocol at large companies such as Honda or Toyota. She was impressed with the unity created with a shared vision toward stewardship of safety among employees and employers. This stewardship must become a goal to prevent death and injuries in the warehouse as well. Some companies believe a reward system may be important in establishing this culture of safety. A common conviction maintained by warehouse employees and managers relating to this culture of safety is accountability for everyone’s actions, a no nonsense policy and immediate remediation of safety issues.
Some of the more obvious and common causes of accidents are slips and falls. Loose material or liquids on the floor contribute to dangerous falls. According to Newcastle Systems May 9, 2017 article on the Top 10 Health and Safety Issues in Warehouses using anti slip tape on floors, keeping boxes out of pathways and maintaining well lighted workspaces can prevent these frequent injuries.
Fire is a catastrophic hazard. All emergency exits must be clearly market and unobstructed. Following building permits and codes are obvious and necessary safety requirements. It is important to have no exposed wires, no cords under flooring or carpets and no leaking flammable fluids. Rob Hirschberg of Alpine Systems stresses preventative maintenance on forklifts, batteries and chargers as crucial to reduce the chance of a fire. He adds that posting safety signs throughout the facilities warning employees of proper and acceptable behavior around forklift batteries and chargers is very important. Also all fuel sources must be kept in enclosed, certified and approved cabinet systems. Fire extinguishers need to be readily available and easily accessible throughout the warehouse. Of course, smoking must be strictly forbidden in all areas of the warehouses.
Ergonomics according to OSHA can be defined simply as the study of work. More specifically, ergonomics is the science of designing the job to fit the worker, rather than physically forcing the worker’s body to fit the job. Adapting tasks, work stations, tools, and equipment to fit the worker can help reduce physical stress on a worker’s body and eliminate many potentially serious, disabling work related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Ergonomics draws on a number of scientific disciplines, including physiology, biomechanics, psychology, anthropometry, industrial hygiene and kinesiology. Rob Hirschberg explained that Alpine Power Systems is ISO 9001:2015 Quality Certified with an emphasis on ergonomics and employee safety. They use assembly lift tables, anti fatigue mats, battery power jacks and forklifts to reduce the chance of injury.
When workers must twist their backs or over extend for reaching, injuries are common. To prevent these problems proper training for lifting techniques and using mechanical assistance for heavy or awkward items must be provided. Brandy Farris Ware and Jeffrey Fernandez of JF Associates Inc., state that proper lifting techniques ensure the worker’s body is aligned with the part so that no back twisting is necessary and body postures are close to neutral. Items should be placed at workstations with consideration given to frequency of use and weight and bulk of items. Mechanical assistance should be provided when necessary such as lifts, pickers, fork trucks, hand trucks, carts, conveyor roller tables, pallet lifts and scissor tables.
While operating a forklift truck in reverse, drivers often grab the overhead guard. This practice is quite dangerous as the operator’s hands go outside the safety of the driver compartment. Forklift Safety Innovations recommends their Comfort Back-Up Handle as a solution. The handle relieves back strain related to twisting as well as maintaining protection for the operator’s hands and arms.
Brian C. Neuwirth of UNEX Manufacturing reiterated that materials piled excessively high cause not only overexertion but very real problems of items falling on workers. Using ergonomic workstations as well as carton and gravity flow systems installed into existing pallet racks can alleviate these injuries. The High Sight Wireless Camera System from Forklift Safety Innovations can be mounted anywhere on the forklift truck but is most commonly installed on the carriage in line with the forks. This allows the operator to retrieve a pallet from the racking even if it is out of sight or in a double deep rack. Up to four cameras can be paired to a single monitor thus allowing operators to have cameras around the truck in places they might not be able to see well. This system also allows the use of a SD card to record operation of the truck to confirm use, damage or accidents.
Bullying is a recent addition to safety issues in warehouses. OSHA requires employers to maintain an anti-bullying policy. Bullying is defined by OSHA as the repeated, malicious, health endangering verbal and non-verbal mistreatment of one employee by one or more other employees. In an April 13, 2018 article in EHS Today (Occupational Safety and Health magazine founded in 1938) David Sparkman asserts that 51% of employees report being bullied and distressingly 83% of bullies are supervisors. These statistics indicate the importance of bullying as a safety issue. Sparkman declared that creating and communicating a policy in an employment manual or posted is simply not enough. Each allegation must be taken seriously and investigated with immediate corrective action in a no tolerance atmosphere.
Safety in the warehouse must be proactive. Education, training, technology and safety products all contribute to increased safety but the ultimate responsibility rests with the cooperation between employers and employees. Clearly stated policies, accountability and shared stewardship of the workplace are necessary components in a culture of safety that contribute to efficiency and productivity as well for the benefit of all.
Susan Miller Hellert is Senior Lecturer Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin Platteville. Now a free-lance writer for a variety of clients. You may email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.