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Key Signage for the Warehouse

By: Brian McFadden, Contributor

As facilities change, it is imperative to communicate that change to affected workers through signage. Image courtesy of
Graphic Products.

Many warehouses and distribution centers have changed dramatically over the last few years, and customer activity and buying patterns are continuing to shift. Ecommerce is continuing to soar, driving even higher demand for warehousing space. Expansion and reorganization will be critical for many facilities to keep up. But as facilities change, communicating that change to affected workers can be a challenge. Visual signals like signs, labels and lines offer effective solutions for these needs, especially in three key areas: hazard warnings, location identification and traffic management.

Provide Warnings for Hazards

As long as there are humans in a workplace, keeping those humans safe will be a high priority for effective management. One of the key steps to protect workers is to warn them about situations that could cause harm—that is, posting safety signs.

OSHA has a variety of rules for safety-related signage. Many of these requirements apply to specialized equipment or unusual circumstances, but there are also general rules that apply to nearly all workplaces. These general rules, found in 29 CFR §1910.145, include some basic points that have been developed further in an industry standard called ANSI/NEMA Z535.

The Z535 standard uses a series of boldly colored headers and memorable signal words, typically at the top of a sign, to help workers quickly recognize what kind of message they’re seeing:

  • Yellow, with the word “CAUTION,” for minor or moderate hazards
  • Orange, with the word “WARNING,” for more serious hazards
  • Red, with the word “DANGER,” for the most severe hazards

Where a worker could be hurt by something in your workplace, appropriate protections will often include one of these signs.

Identify Aisles and Racks

A more general kind of signage can simply involve labeling each rack, shelf or aisleway in a storage area. This may seem like an obvious point, and most working warehouses use some identification system already. But it’s worth investigating whether the existing signs or markings are really doing their job.

Can these signs be seen and read easily from a worker’s normal approach? Does one sign block another from view? If workers need to back up to find the sign for the aisle they need, will that movement put them in the way of other traffic?

If your workplace has been reorganized recently, some of the existing signs may no longer be accurate or helpful. In many cases, reorganization may be a continuous process, with products, storage areas and work processes being shifted around on a daily basis. Having an on-site label printer will simplify the process of creating new signs or labels when they are needed, and the right choice of signage materials can even simplify these changes. For example, printed labels with dry-erase portions allow for a combination of permanent identification with temporary details, and magnetic signs can simply be moved from one rack to another.

Direct the Flow of Traffic

Smooth traffic flow reduces the time and effort spent on moving materials, improving delivery rates and maximizing throughput. Image courtesy of Graphic Products.

While major reorganizations deserve careful planning, so do the ordinary movements that take place as part of normal work. Whether that traffic consists of workers on foot, forklifts carrying heavy loads or automated equipment moving through a facility, movement represents a major part of a workplace’s productivity—and a major factor in waste and loss.

Smooth traffic flow reduces the time and effort spent on moving materials, improving delivery rates and maximizing throughput. Traffic problems, in turn, cause delays. More serious issues can result in collisions, causing damage to products or equipment, and even leading to injuries or death among workers.

According to the National Safety Council, forklift accidents accounted for 79 workplace fatalities and over 8,000 nonfatal injuries involving days away from work in 2019. Forklift safety is consistently among OSHA’s top ten frequent citations.

As with other issues in the warehouse, good communication can help solve these problems. Consider where people and forklifts need to go, and how they will get from one place to another. Where paths cross or overlap, what is the best way to ensure safety? Communicate that approach with visual signals. Often, effective markings can imitate the system used for street traffic: yellow lines can separate lanes that go in different directions, while a white line that crosses a path can indicate where to stop.

As you make the decisions that will keep your facility running smoothly, get feedback from the people at ground level. Consider the different perspectives that foot traffic and forklift operators will have, for example, and see if your other workers have insights that you may have missed. In the constant search for competitive advantages, don’t overlook your company’s best resources. WMHS

Brian McFadden is a Compliance Specialist with Graphic Products, which improves operational efficiencies and breaks down communication barriers by providing tools and resources that transform ideas into clear messages. For information about Graphic Products’ safety signs, floor tape, pipe markers and printers visit www.graphicproducts.com.

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