According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual rate of work-related injuries at warehouses and distribution centers is approximately five/100 employees. While there is no “secret formula” or one-size-fits all manual on how to improve warehouse processes (and thus worker safety), there are some concrete steps any company can take to improve efficiency, reduce injuries, and keep employees engaged and productive.
In many cases, a facility’s safety begins with the vehicles and equipment used in the warehouse—from forklifts to personal tool tethers. Below is an overview of equipment manufacturers’ efforts to help the industries they serve provide a safer, more productive and injury-free environment.
Forklift accidents have a devastating effect on warehouses. In the U.S., there are nearly 97,000 serious forklift-related injuries each year—100 of which are fatal, according to OSHA. Whether an accident results in an injured worker or loss of product, an accident always puts a spotlight on safety. Every warehouse should be proactive about preventing forklift accidents by empowering and educating their employees on proper operation and protocols.
Here are five ways to prevent forklift accidents and promote warehouse safety, as designated by the Industrial Truck Association, for this year’s June 10th “National Forklift Safety Day.”
- Keep up with training. OSHA requires companies to have a safety training program for any forklift operator, but it’s in a business’ best interest to give training on forklift safety to all employees working in the vicinity of forklifts. It’s estimated about 705 of forklift accidents could be prevented by proper training. A safety guide published by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries states that workers without proper training and knowledge of forklift operation, as well as operators who maneuver forklifts carelessly, have an increased risk of injury or death.
Making safety a priority takes consistent reinforcement and employee buy-in. Implementing a structured training for all employees on forklift safety is a starting point. A once-a-year refresher training, in addition to new employee training, keeps everyone on the same page.
- Have a clean, organized warehouse. A clean, organized warehouse is the foundation of a safe warehouse. Obstruction in lanes not only impedes efficiency, but also forces drivers to make sudden and erratic movements to avoid debris that can lead to accidents. Clear lanes, free from product, trash or other obstructions, should be maintained at all times. Visibility, on the side of a forklift driver and pedestrians, is vital for safe operation, so make sure lightbulbs are replaced and all areas have good lighting. Clear signage is also imperative, so that workers know which areas have operating machinery, etc.
- Enhance safety mechanisms. Design a warehouse that keeps safety in focus by incorporating products that enhance visibility and communication. For example, install blue safety lights on the front and back of forklifts, so pedestrians have a clear visual cue of an approaching forklift. Place mirrors at aisle corners to improve visibility. If possible, aisles and lanes should be wide enough to safely accommodate pedestrians and forklifts.
- Operate well-maintained forklifts. Routine safety inspections of a forklift should be done before a driver begins a shift. A driver should check for leaks, ensure proper tire inflation, and visually inspect fork mechanism, hydraulic hoses and engine belts. A qualified mechanic should correct any issues before the forklift resumes operation.
- Maintain loading and unloading procedures. Heavy or poorly stacked loads, high speeds or an unmaintained loading dock can contribute to forklift accidents. These conditions can lead to an overturned forklift (the most common type of forklift accident). Enforce a maximum speed for forklift operation throughout a warehouse and ensure drivers use extreme caution in the loading dock area.
Forklift manufacturers have safety on the mind when designing their vehicles. Be aware of the various “bells & whistles” forklift sales reps are excited about. Those safety additions should be viewed as added insurance that your warehouse or facility will be safer and, hopefully, accident-free. (See section on “dock safety,” below.)
Tuggers, Carts & Trolleys
Tuggers have been replacing forklifts in many production areas, mainly due to their easy maneuverability in tight aisles and corners. Forklift extensions are potential safety hazards in tight spots. Tuggers solve this issue, since they lack extensions. With their increased use (tuggers are also considered one of the most economic material handling vehicles), the automatic guided vehicle (AGV)-type tugger has arisen.
AGV-type tuggers are controlled by computers and offer driverless navigation. An AGV tugger is equipped with laser-based, fully programable sensors that can warn of an obstacle in the tugger’s path, thus ensuring the safety of materials on the floor—and most importantly—employees in the vicinity.
Tugger-cart systems enable the unloading of products and the replacement of empty containers on the production line, all at the same time. Improved ergonomics and a less-noisy production line are just two of the safety-enhancing benefits of a tugger-and-cart transportation model.
Warehouse workers are used to lifting heavy boxes but transporting them from their warehouse location to loading bays (or ship quays) has for centuries required trolleys. The variety of warehouse trolleys available has increased over the years—and most of them are designed with ergonomics and safety in mind.
Trolleys are one of the most practical solutions to the problem of transporting heavy items. There are several other benefits to using warehouse trolleys, including achieving greater efficiency, reducing operational costs and helping to prevent workplace injuries.
Efficiency is key with trolleys: The faster you can locate, load and transport items, the more efficient the service will be. Efficiency is essential to prevent a logjam at loading bays, which delays distribution significantly. In large warehouses, trolleys make it easier to transport more boxes at a time. This, in turn, helps reduce the number of journeys needed to transport goods and shortens overall loading time.
Warehouse trolleys definitely can contribute to a safer working environment. Trolleys are an ideal way to reduce muscle stress, the biggest form of injury (42.4%) caused by lifting and moving objects.
The above-listed vehicles are all part of warehouse efficiency, and many manufacturers make their products as safe for operators (and pedestrians working/walking in the warehouse) as possible. However, there is other equipment that, when used in conjunction with forklifts, trucks, carts, etc., can help make the environment even more worker-friendly.
Loading dock equipment includes elevating docks, dock levelers, dock boards, dock lights, bumpers, seals, shelters, vehicle restraints and traffic doors. Such equipment is used to make the loading dock area of a facility more accessible and to provide safe movement of goods in that dock area.
All safety rules/regulations compliance should always be a priority. It is even more important to take safety precautions if your company has loading docks. Prevention of accidents can reduce costs and make the work environment safer. Understanding the changes in OSHA and ANSI’s regulations and standards is important in any such efforts. According to the American Supply Association, 25% of all industrial accidents occur at the loading dock (many of these are due to the use of forklift trucks).
In order to prevent such accidents, it is good practice to install dock levelers; utilize vehicle restraints; have good, clear communication between dock workers and truck/forklift operators/truck drivers; and be sure to add safety barriers.
Dock levelers act as a bridge between the warehouse and trailer, thus preventing workers from falling between the two. Which dock leveler to install varies greatly based on multiple factors; there are several types of levelers commercially available, including simple edge-of-dock or pit-style levelers (for more frequent/heavier loads) to higher-tech hydraulic levelers. Vehicle restraints should always be considered a standard, must-have safety component, as well. Installing mounted vehicle restraints can be safer and much more productive than simply using wheel chocks (OSHA’s minimum requirement).
Safety barriers can prevent the dock door from being hit by a forklift—but their main objective is to prevent workers or forklifts from toppling off the edge of the dock. Such barriers are especially desirable, from a safety standpoint, if the dock doors are open with no trailer at the dock most of the time. It can even be an OSHA violation, with a fine, if the drop distance is deemed too great.
OTHER PROTECTIVE GUARDING
Taking a proactive approach to warehouse guardrail safety can help prevent injury and is a crucial element to preventing such accidents in many work environments. Installing the proper guards/guardrails is a huge factor, because they create a boundary between heavy machinery, vehicles and other areas.
Fixed guardrails are required where there is a warehouse platform. Rails are also important to separate sections of a warehouse. Any part of a warehouse floor that needs to be safe for foot traffic can be blocked off with a pathway surrounded by guardrails, as well.
Some guardrail systems are designed to stop heavy equipment, such as a forklift, from crossing a boundary. These guardrails are essential due to the number of injuries and deaths from a forklift striking a worker or falling off of a ledge.
Guardrails can also be used to surround a structure, such as an office room extending into the warehouse area. A forklift striking a building’s vital structures can cost the warehouse thousands in damages, not to mention the potential injuries involved.
In addition to heavy-duty guards/guardrails, industrial safety netting can help secure product and prevent accidents, as well. Conveyor catch nets help protect employees and products for loss/damage. Another option comes in the form of accessible rack guard net systems, which provide security and seismic protection, while allowing quick, easy access to product that’s been stored on racks/shelving—without impeding loading.
Pallet rack guards are installed on the back side of racks or in flue spaces between the racks, where regular access isn’t required. Barrier and containment nets can also be designed for a wide variety of applications, including nets for walkway protection/warehouse segregation, accessory nets for vehicles and more.
OSHA’s 1910.23 regulation for Guarding Floor and Wall Openings and Holes require that on platforms 4ft or higher, a barrier be in place to guard every open sided floor, and that the barrier be in place when the opening is not in use for handling materials. However, ANSI’s MH 28.3-2009, section 6.4.3, requires a barrier be in place to secure the pallet drop area at all times—even while the area is in use for handling materials. Therefore, single-barrier systems do not meet the ANSI standard.
A dual-gate system uses counterbalanced gates that, when the operator-side gate is opened, the ledge gate side closes, providing fall protection and creating a controlled access area. When the ledge-side gate is raised to load material, the operator-side gate closes, preventing workers from the ledge.
There are many different types of safety gates available, both single- and dual-barrier systems, for specific uses and areas.
A bollard is basically a sturdy, short, vertical post. They usually consist of a simple steel post, either anchored to concrete; cored into a hard surface; buried in the ground; or secured on a self-locking taper or impact-recovery system to protect the surrounding foundations when a bollard is struck.
There have been innovations in the industry. For example, SlowStop Guarding Systems have a unique steel bollard system that absorbs energy from impacts to reduce damage to vehicles, assets and personnel.
The accurate interpretation of safety signs is crucial to prevent injuries and save lives. OSHA has set industry standards that clearly define what a safety sign is; how it should be used; and where it should be placed. However, when it comes to deciding whether to use a sign or a label to convey a message, OSHA leaves that part up to individual companies.
Every facility will have different priorities and constraints when it comes to choosing safety labels and signs. It may often require experimentation with different kinds of materials and designs to determine what is most effective. In general, safety labels are most commonly made of an adhesive-backed vinyl material to apply directly to a surface, and safety signs are constructed from a hard-backed material designed to attach to walls, doors, etc.
OSHA does not specify whether a sign or label should be used to communicate vital safety information, just as long as the message is communicated in an obvious, long-lasting and legible way. Factors to consider when choosing a sign or label include the environment; how durable it needs to be (indoors or outdoors); and who needs to see the message. It’s important to ensure the message is clear, legible and visible to those who need to see it.
Common materials for safety signs include steel, corrugated plastic, aluminum and fiberglass. Each type has its pros and cons, depending on application (and whether the sign is to be permanent or temporary).
Good, clear communication between dock workers and truck/forklift operators/truck drivers usually means the use of lights. Accidents at the loading dock tend to occur when the truck departs from the dock too soon.
Once dock levelers and vehicle restraints are installed, adding a light communication package (often provided with the leveler and restraint) can help to notify the truck driver and dock workers that it is safe for either party to proceed. An effective light communication system has exterior red lights and interior green lights during the loading process. There are also light packages with a cautionary amber light to indicate restraint faults, for example. Other systems have optional red and green lights at or around the dock door.
Section 1926.501 of OSHA’s standards sets forth requirements for employers to provide fall protection systems. The failure to provide proper training and equipment has made fall protection one of the most frequently cited OSHA violations.
Fall protection and prevention involves adopting and using systems and procedures designed to prevent workers from falling off, onto or through walking-working surfaces, as well as protecting workers from falling objects.
A walking-working surface is any surface that an employee walks on or works on. These include floors, roofs, ramps, bridges, runways, formwork and concrete-reinforcing steel. It is important to protect workers from different types of hazards—and many commercial solutions are available to help employers ensure a safe workplace, no matter the setting or circumstances.
The ABCs of fall protection, as they are often known, consist of the anchorage connector, body support and connecting device—these form a complete fall protection system for maximum worker safety. Many companies manufacture full lines of fall protection safety equipment, such as a full-body safety harnesses, lanyards and rope grabs.
Tool harnesses and tethers help protect workers below from tools that might fall from above. Correct tool tethering can be a delicate balance of maximizing productivity, while also minimizing the incidence of tools dropped from aloft.
Before deciding on the proper tethering tool for a warehouse’s needs, some basic questions need to be answered. They include:
- What is better choice for the worker’s safety, a retractable tool tether or tool lanyard tether?
- What are the safety implications of tethering when the job entails climbing, crawling or repelling?
- What are the optimum methods of safely attaching the tether to the worker, tool or instrument?
- How do you safely tether tools or instruments that don’t have fittings for attachment?
- Does the tether have a quick release option to easily change tools and how does this impact the safety of the worker?
Power tools, especially, can be difficult to tether, since they don’t always have places to easily attach to a lanyard. Ergodyne makes a power tool tether solution called the Squids® Power Tool Trap that has the ability to fasten drills, pneumatic tools and more.
WAREHOUSE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
A warehouse management system (WMS) is a software application designed to support and optimize warehouse or distribution center management. They facilitate management in their daily planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling the utilization of available resources, to move and store materials into, within and out of a warehouse, while supporting staff in the performance of material movement, and storage in and around a warehouse.
WMS implementation can greatly assist with safety-management issues, as well. Such solutions are primarily tactical tools, used by businesses to satisfy the unique customer demand requirements of their supply chain(s) and distribution channel(s). This technology is especially helpful for companies whose inventory and workload is larger than what can be handled manually with spreadsheets.
A WMS uses a database configured to support warehouse operations, containing detail describing a variety of standard warehouse elements, such as individual SKUs, storage locations, dock doors, expected labor productivity, etc. They are often also used in conjunction with automation systems. Because a good WMS has the potential to help an organization utilize its automation and warehouse personnel more efficiently, that means there is less risk to workers lifting/transporting heavy objects; fewer injuries due to repetitive tasks; and reduced chances of having boxes fall or be dropped. This can mitigate the risks of back, foot and hand injuries related to inefficient use of workers on the warehouse floor.
A productive, safe work environment includes proper lighting. There are several ways that warehouse lighting can help to improve employee output and the overall work place environment. Poor lighting can lead to the increased probability of an accident occurring in the warehouse. If a facility is not properly lit, workers can misjudge the shape, speed or position of an object. Such things as LED lighting can cut down on these types of accidents by providing bright, powerful lights. It is also important to install lighting where workers need it the most, i.e., overhead lights or work surface-mounted lights within the warehouse.
Use of LED lights (as opposed to CFL bulbs) can also help keep a warehouse cooler in the summer months. Temperature-sensitive areas might benefit from such changes, as LED bulbs can run hundreds of degrees cooler than traditional light bulbs.
Poor lighting can also have a negative impact on workers’ eyes. While it may not cause permanent damage, dim light can cause eye fatigue, making it difficult for warehouse workers to focus in the short-term. Bad lighting can also lead to issues like headaches and poor posture for workers who need to sit for long periods of time.
Aside from the obvious—a warehouse must be kept as clean as possible—Spill Response Station (SRS) stations are an excellent investment. The benefits of having an SRS are that workers can quickly and effectively respond to all types of spills. The SRS contains all the necessary tools to clean up a variety of spills: broom, dustpan, powder, bags for clean-up, cones for marking spills—many even have a wire rack for mounting. And, of course, some warehouses have need of more intensive, specified spill kits, such as bio-hazard clean-up kits or hazmat kits. WMHS