With constant incoming product, replenishment and picking and shipping, the typical fulfillment center is a beehive of activity. When you add seasonal employees for the peak, the activity and the potential of injuries goes up dramatically.
OSHA has published a 26 page Pocket Guide on Warehouse Safety which we have found useful for clients that are reviewing workplace safety practices and policies.
There is a very real cost to lost time, insurance claims and potential OSHA fines. To assist you in thinking about how to improve your facility’s safety and prevent warehouse injuries, we have selected some of the more common causes of injuries. We offer our insight and recommendations as well as those in the Pocket Guide.
The OSHA Pocket Guide says, “About 100 employees are killed and 95,000 injured every year while operating forklifts in all industries. Forklift turnovers account for a significant percentage of these fatalities.”
Here are the OSHA Solutions:
- Train, evaluate and certify all operators to ensure that they can operate forklifts safely;
- Do not allow anyone under 18 years old to operate a forklift;
- Properly maintain haulage equipment, including tires;
- Before using a forklift, examine it for hazardous conditions which would make it unsafe to operate;
- Follow safe procedures for picking up, putting down and stacking loads;
- Drive safely, never exceeding 5 mph and slow down in congested areas or those with slippery surfaces.
Stacking products high is a great way to effectively utilize space in your warehouse. However, it can also create dangerous hazards in the form of falling product. Be it sloppily stored merchandise or odd shaped product, it’s important to stack smart. Pay special attention to cylindrical objects, which can easily roll off shelves and cause serious injury.
Slips, trips and falls
One of the major causes of warehouse injuries is the clutter that create tripping and slipping hazards for employees working in the aisles and walk paths. As we walk through warehouses we often see broken pallets, used shrink wrap and pieces of corrugated cartons lying in the path of employees.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, tripping, falling and slipping make up most of what it calls “general industry accidents.” Slip and fall accidents make up 15 percent of all accidental deaths, 25 percent of all injury claims.
“Falls from heights and on the same level (a working surface) are among the leading causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. OSHA has issued a final rule on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems to better protect workers in general industry from these hazards by updating and clarifying standards and adding training and inspection requirements.”
Here is what we recommend you can do to prevent injuries:
- Enact housekeeping standards to pick up all litter
- Keep the aisles organized and eliminate congestion from floor stacking in aisles
- Immediate clean up of spills and lose clutter like from packing peanuts, corrugated and shrink wrap
- Sign with placards and caution tape any difference in floor surfaces and steps
- Better illuminate darker areas
Pallet rack collapses
A client had a pallet rack collapse from improperly stored cartons of books. It caused a domino collapse of 10 sections of racking. Fortunately, it happened on a Sunday when no one was in the warehouse. Another client had to replace over 15% of the pallet cross beams and uprights in a center that had been damaged over time by careless forklift operation.
Here is what we recommend you can do:
- Institute a forklift training program and adherence program that replaces careless forklift operators.
- Walk through your warehouse, look up to see how uniform pallet rack stacking is. Look for overhanging pallets that might fall or be hit by a forklift.
- In slotting heavier product, put those away in lower pallet rack slots.
- Create ample space between racks for forklift operation.
- If you can, schedule replenishment and put away at times when employers are not also in common areas.
The repetitive strain of warehouse work creates back, leg and foot injuries. The wear and tear lifting and bending involved in the work can create lost time.
These are our recommendations for preventing injuries:
- Review the workstation design in packing and returns processing. Is the square footage of work surface sufficient for the work being performed? Typically we find packing areas that are too small and the height of the work surface is uniform; however people are different heights. Make the surface adjustable to height.
- Provide rubber pads to reduce foot and leg fatigue.
- If an operation is stuffing literature, is there storage for those items, easily within reach?
- Train employees and supervisors how to lift with their legs not their backs.
- Use back braces for heavy lift functions.
Preventing heat-related indoor illnesses
Some of the warehouses we have worked in have been extremely hot in the summer. Certainly, you can’t air condition a warehouse either.
We recommend you look at several things that can lower the work floor temperature:
- Hire a mechanical engineering firm that has expertise in warehouse HVAC ventilation. Are there ways that ventilation can be increased to provide cooler air? Can exhaust systems be installed to relieve heat? Are there pipes that can be insulated to reduce heat?
- Provide additional equipment (e.g. pallet jacks) to move heavy product around.
No matter how much automation and technology you employ in your center, healthy employees are key to your fulfillment success.