Warehouses give the impression of being safe environments on the whole. Compared to building sites, for example, they mostly seem to be anything but dangerous places. However, accidents are a fairly frequent occurrence in warehouses, for reasons such as order picking tasks being done under time pressure, objects being placed on moving surfaces, or unsecured loads falling down. Lifting and moving heavy objects with repeated movements (lifting, reaching out hands, pulling and pushing) can also lead to muscle fatigue and injuries.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has determined that logistics and warehouse workers suffer musculoskeletal injuries almost twice as often as workers in the corporate sector. The most common injuries are to the back, shoulders, hands, and knees.
So, how can we make warehouses more safe? Examples of measures to improve safety include the following:
- Improved layout of work stations, increased focus on ergonomics
- Introducing a safety culture
- Specific and documented work instructions
- Introduction of regular safety checks
A warehouse will never be able to provide the same level of safety as an office, but the dangers can be minimized if proper consideration is given to the layout of work stations and machines. In other words, as summarized succinctly by one of our customers from Asia, “A safe warehouse is not a matter of chance, but rather the result of careful planning, so you don’t have to rely on luck to prevent accidents.”
This is precisely the kind of planning that is needed, and even some very simple tools can help you avoid more serious incidents. To prevent people or machines from slipping off loading ramps, floor panels with an anti-slip surface are fitted and edged in yellow so that operating personnel can easily see where the anti-slip surface ends. Floor surfaces must always be level and free from ruts, to ensure there is no risk of tripping or falling.
Another equally important aspect, which is often underestimated, is to ensure there is sufficient space for forklift trucks in all aisles, to facilitate smooth restocking and removal of goods. Without sufficient space, the risk that forklift trucks will collide with shelving increases significantly, which in turn increases the risk of all related effects. Pallet racks are not designed to withstand repeated ramming by forklift trucks, even at low speeds.
It is also advisable to fit various rack guards to protect the racks against collisions. Like racks, these are available in a wide range of designs. The protective devices should be carefully selected, as repairing or replacing racks subsequently can be very costly.
Introducing a Safety Structure
Considering the ever-changing nature of warehouse work, it is hard to set rules for all situations and cover all possible accidents. The only possible solution here is to develop a safety structure in the warehouse and to make employees aware that they are responsible for their own safety.
They will presumably know that objects placed in aisles or pathways can become tripping hazards and obstacles. They will also know that materials should be stacked or set down safely so that no one trips on them or falls over. They will also avoid breaking rules, even if they are under a lot of time pressure. This way, order pickers will not suddenly decide, for example, to climb up on to a rack to grab a package they need urgently if there is none left in the pallet below.
Safety training is held to convey essential information and ensure that all employees are instructed as to the safety guidelines in the warehouse and that they are up to date with the latest knowledge.
Developing a set of standardized work instructions is key in ensuring a well-functioning company. All employees are instructed in the same procedures and standardized practices are ensured, which is essential to ensure everything runs smoothly. These are necessary, for example, in goods-in, loading, inventory, order picking, and dispatch, and when handling returns.
Use ergonomic work tables in quality control and for packing, or hydraulic scissor lifts to lift loads to the desired height, so as to avoid unnecessary lifting movements. Introduce a maximum permissible weight for totes, bins, or packages so the employees don’t have to lift loads that are too heavy.
Introduction of Regular Safety Checks
Regular checks are essential for improving safety. Many accidents with forklift trucks, collisions, and fallen or incorrectly assigned loads are not reported for a wide variety of reasons. The consequence of this is that no preventative measures are taken and therefore that accidents cannot be prevented in good time.
In a rack system, any damage to the frame has a negative effect on the stability of the structure and reduces the load-bearing capacity of the rack. If the rack collapses, not only are goods damaged and operations interrupted, but the company’s reputation can also suffer. For this reason, all components should be checked with the utmost care—rack uprights, crossbeams, tread surfaces and connectors. It is equally important to check for distortion as well as the load and/or overload. When purchasing rack systems, make sure you only buy from reputable suppliers that meet all international construction standards and carry out regular inspections.
Furthermore, you should ensure that the load-bearing capacity and safe working conditions are displayed on all racks.
Most accidents in warehouses are avoidable if the relevant preventive measures and the necessary safety precautions are taken.
You can download a checklist on warehouse safety as well as general information on the topic from the website of SSI Schaefer. You can read more about this here: https://www.ssi-schaefer.com/en-de/customer-service-support/warehouse-safety-maintenance
About the Author:
Rabea Menn is Deputy Director of the Customer Services department in Neunkirchen, Germany. The business graduate has been working in various positions in the area of automatic and forklift-served rack systems at SSI Schaefer for over 15 years. Since 2017, she has been in charge of the Customer Services division at SSI Schaefer’s Neunkirchen site and, along with her experienced team, provides all services relating to retrofitting, spare parts, and repairs, as well as inspections for all rack systems.