A modern distribution center is a sophisticated operation, with more moving parts and heavy machinery than outsiders may expect. With this movement and sophistication come further hazards to worker safety—each of which prescribes additional measures on your part. Here are five top safety hazards in warehouse operations, along with how you can avoid them at your warehouse.
1. Worker Complacency & Fatigue
Even as automation takes over more tasks in a warehouse, employees need to stay alert and be aware of their surroundings. In fact, as duties become more complex and the demand for goods rises, it’s arguable that today’s logistics labor is working harder than ever. Worker fatigue, both physical and cognitive, often jeopardizes warehouse employee safety. In cases where human and machine activities are taking place side by side, it’s easy to get complacent and forget the inherent dangers of moving equipment. Add to that longer shift hours driven by the labor shortage, fatigue is prevalent. Managers can limit the effects of fatigue by enforcing physical and mental health breaks throughout the day and by frequent personal reminders of safety procedures. These best practices can help to keep your labor force safe and your company from operating shorthanded should an accident happen.
2. Forklift Operation
Forklifts are a necessity in warehouses. This means that responsible operation of this heavy equipment is a must. In the United States, there are approximately 85,000 accidents involving forklifts each year, a statistic you want no part of. You can protect against this possibility by stressing safe operations. Begin with mandating driver training and personal protection equipment for operators. Warehouses can be crowded and business time sensitive, so caution heavily against operators trying to do too much at once to save time. Small but critical measures like installing corner safety mirrors, audible warning lights, safety tape, and pedestrian walkway barriers improve the day-to-day protection of employees from forklift operations.
3. Hazardous Materials
Whether they’re flammable, carcinogenic, or even radioactive, your warehouse may deal with dangerous materials. When it does, it’s important to keep workers safe. Follow all OSHA guidelines for handling hazardous materials and make sure to furnish workers with safe and effective PPE.
4. Slips and Falls
Slick floors due to spills or grease from equipment are a common safety hazard in warehouses. It seems simple and avoidable—and it is. Keep the warehouse well-lit to better illuminate the presence of spills and slicks. Frequently walk the warehouse floor to identify slick spots and provide sand or other materials to absorb the spill until it can be properly cleaned. Cordon these areas off and reroute workers accordingly if the spill cannot be removed in a timely manner. Pick up trash and debris whenever it’s seen and make it an automatic behavior among all employees – especially management. Keep everyone accountable.
5. Falling Material or Inventory
As the manager of a distribution center, you have an imperative to maximize your usable space from floor to ceiling. This means not only devising the most efficient aisles for storing and accessing inventory, but also building pallet racking systems that reach as close to the ceiling as is safely possible. Incidental contact with racks at ground level, improper loading practices, and even seismic shifts beyond your control can cause stored material to shift just enough to fall from the higher bays. The consequences of falling material can result in equipment damage or more catastrophic employee injury.
DAK Solutions helps to protect against this top safety hazard in warehouse operations by first identifying if the warehouse is within a seismic zone, which drives the specifications of the basic pallet rack system. Secondly, identifying other factors contributing to inventory falls like stacking methods, poor wrapping, bad pallets, overloading racks, and operator error. DAK can provide a list of priorities to address coupled with a line of rack safety products, featuring pallet stops and netting systems as examples.
Safety hazards inside warehouses are common and will continue to evolve as material handling and warehouse automation solutions are implemented. Most importantly remain up to date and aware of all OSHA regulations and guidelines for your specific equipment and processes. The primary association supporting the material handling industry, MHEDA, also provides safety information should you need an additional resource.