More than 360,000 people work at 16,000 warehouses and storage facilities in the United States, and the work they do is fraught with hazards. Keep reading to make sure your warehouse employees are aware of the risks and have the knowledge and skills to avoid them.
There are four main causes of warehouse incidents: forklifts, back injuries, slips and falls, and struck-by/crush injuries from falling or collapsing boxes and products. The hazards these workers face include:
- Improper use of forklifts,
- Improper stacking of products,
- Failure to use proper personal protective equipment (PPE),
- Failure to follow lockout/tagout procedures,
- Inadequate fire safety provisions, and
- Repetitive motion injuries.
Prevent forklift injuries
According to OSHA, about 100 employees are killed and 95,000 are injured every year while operating forklifts in all industries. Forklift turnovers account for a significant percentage of these fatalities. OSHA offers the following solutions:
- Train, evaluate, and certify all operators so that they can operate forklifts safely.
- Do not allow anyone under 18 to operate a forklift.
- Properly maintain haulage equipment, including tires.
- Before using a forklift, examine it for hazardous conditions that would make it unsafe to operate.
- Follow safe procedures for picking up, putting down, and stacking loads.
- Drive safely, never exceeding 5 miles per hour, and slow down in congested areas and on slippery surfaces.
- Require drivers to wear seatbelts installed by the manufacturer.
- Never drive up to a person standing in front of a fixed object.
- Provide covers and/or guardrails to protect workers from the hazards of open pits, tanks, etc.
- Make sure loads do not exceed the capacity of the forklift.
- Maintain safe clearances for aisles and at loading docks or passages where forklifts are in use.
Find and fix ergonomic hazards
Improper lifting, repetitive motion, and/or poor design can lead to musculoskeletal disorders that cause injury and keep warehouse personnel off the job. Solutions include the following:
- When possible, use powered equipment instead of requiring manual lifting of heavy materials.
- Reduce lifts from shoulder height and from floor height by repositioning shelves and bins.
- Ensure that overhead lighting is adequate for the task.
- Provide employees with task-specific ergonomic training.
- Instruct employees to lift with the legs and keep the back in a natural position while lifting.
- Test the load to be lifted to estimate its weight, size, and bulk and to determine the proper lifting method.
- Require employees to get help if the load exceeds the maximum weight permissible for a single-person lift.
- Instruct workers not to twist while carrying a load. Instead, they should shift the feet and take small steps in the direction they want to turn.
- Keep floors clean and free of slip and trip hazards.
You also need an emergency plan for your warehouse that describes what is expected of employees in the event of an emergency. It should include provisions for emergency exit locations and evacuation, as well as a means to account for employees and visitors, plus information on location and use of fire extinguishers and other emergency equipment.
Managers should conduct a site hazard assessment to determine what PPE must be worn based on the hazards. Train employees on proper PPE selection, use, and maintenance.