Workers are the cornerstone of an effective warehouse operation. It is essential to protect these employees to promote a safe and secure workplace, while keeping your projects moving along efficiently.
Anytime you’re working with heavy equipment, or in very crowded environments, there are always safety hazards. Safety rules are in place to prevent most of the major threats to warehouse worker safety, but there are still risks to consider. What are the most common threats to warehouse worker safety?
Slips, Trips and Falls
Tripping, falling or slipping on something in the workplace accounts for 25% of all injury claims and around 15% of accidental deaths in the workplace. Depending on the severity of the injury, this can lead to more than 95 million workdays lost across the warehouse industry. A variety of hazards can cause these injuries, but the most frequent causes include unsecured power cords, cracks in the floor, spills and scattered tools or materials.
The easiest way to prevent slips, trips and falls in the workplace is to assess what needs to be changed and then act on your findings to improve workplace safety. Be sure to:
- Cover stray cords with cord covers. Removable covers can prevent tripping over cables for equipment that’s not permanently plugged in. You can screw permanent caps into the floor.
- Keep things organized. If cord covers aren’t attainable, place warning signs advising of the trip hazard or keep the area secured.
- Put caution signs around spills. You should address fluid spills as quickly as possible, but while you’re gathering the equipment to clean up the spill, place warning signs around the area.
- Utilize non-skid coatings. If you have areas that are always wet, cover the area with a nonskid coating or use nonskid mats to prevent slipping.
- Repair floor cracks. Take the time to have cracks in your floor repaired. Not only does this prevent fall injuries, but it also stops the cracks from causing structural problems later.
Exposure to Harmful Substances
In warehouse settings, exposure to toxic substances is sometimes unavoidable. Unfortunately, if it’s unaddressed, it can also be fatal.
Exposure to harmful substances caused 434 workplace deaths in 2015, including:
- Electrocution: 134 deaths were the result of exposure to electricity.
- Temperature: 40 deaths were the direct consequence of exposure to extreme temperatures.
- Inhalation: 45 deaths were attributed to the inhalation of a harmful substance.
- Other: 215 deaths were caused by exposure to other hazardous substances, though the details of each case are unavailable.
There are two steps to help reduce the number of fatalities and injuries related to exposure to toxins: education and maintenance.
First, make sure you educate your employees about which products or substances in their workplace are harmful and train them in the proper handling of each substance. Additionally, it’s essential for every employee to know how to locate and use the eyewash stations in the facility.
Second, facility maintenance can help to keep employees safe. Make sure your staff has proper safety equipment to handle the hazardous substances, and ensure the warehouse is properly ventilated in the event of a material spill.
More than 80% of reported musculoskeletal disorder cases occurred in the freight and stock moving industries in 2015 — that’s 80% of the more than 350,000 reported cases in the United States alone. These injuries include:
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Lower back injury
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Trigger finger
Many of these injuries, such as tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, are caused by the repetitive movements that often accompany these warehouse positions.
The easiest way to avoid many of these injuries is to both teach and enforce proper lifting techniques, including utilizing team lift for heavier items and using tools like pallet jacks and lifters to prevent injury. Reducing repetitive tasks can help to lower the frequency of repetitive injuries, but you can’t always avoid them.
Finally, lifting should occur within the ‘safety lifting zone’ — the area between the worker’s shoulders and knees. Lifting heavy items from the floor increases the risk of injury, especially when proper lifting techniques aren’t being employed.
Moving Machine Parts
If it is not made a priority to follow safety best practices, moving machine parts can become extremely hazardous, leading to injuries and even death. In 1973, 68 deaths were directly caused by moving machinery. Fortunately, new safety rules and improved machine quality has reduced that number to less than 10 in the decade between 1998 and 2008.
Despite the improvements, employees around moving machinery should always be required to use safety equipment. The machinery shouldn’t be turned on without the use of machine guards to keep the workers safe. Make sure the equipment you’re purchasing has proper safe guards and the fewest amount of exposed moving parts. You should regularly assess your machines for risks that could create a hazard for workers.
Forklifts are easily one of the most useful tools in the workplace — and the most dangerous. More than 20,000 workers are injured by forklifts every year, along with around 100 fatalities annually. Around 19,000 of those injuries are the result of a pedestrian worker being struck or run over by the equipment. Proper training could prevent more than 70% of these lesions.
Properly train and certify all forklift operators. Educate non-certified employees about the dangers of working with these large pieces of equipment. All forklift operators should also review a daily inspection checklist to make sure the machine is safe to use.
Use floor tape, signs or other safety guards to mark where it’s safe to walk and where to drive the forklifts.
Lockout and Tag out
It’s inevitable — sometimes even the best-maintained machines break down. When that happens, it’s important to lock down the equipment until you can have it repaired. Unusable equipment is considered “hazardous energy” until it’s repaired. Around 10% of workplace injuries are caused by equipment that hasn’t been properly locked out.
Take the time to develop a training program to teach your employees about the dangers of using this locked out equipment. You’ll need a lockout/tag out plan for each specific type of machinery, as the methods employed to lock out the equipment will vary.
Warehouse jobs can be extremely dangerous if you don’t follow recommended safety guidelines and standards. Make sure all your tags and the rest of your workplace complies with OSHA standards.