The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that, in 2018, over 4.2 million workers held jobs as “Hand Laborers and Material Movers.” The conveniences of online shopping have increased the demand for warehouse space and workers to occupy those spaces. With the COVID-19 pandemic, remote shopping may sustain the need for warehouse labor.
Warehouses have forklifts, numerous employees, merchandise in many places and people carrying items and using equipment. The activities and presence of people present potential threats of serious injury or death.
In 2018, an average of about 4 out of every 100 warehouse workers was injured in some way on the job. For some companies, that number is significantly higher. For instance, Amazon reported an avera
ge of 9.6 injuries per 100 full-time workers in the same year, which more than doubled the national average.. Warehouse injuries come with an average direct price tag of $38,000, with indirect costs registering approximately $150,000. These and other costs encompass lost productivity, responding to fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that reach $70,000 and increases in workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
This warehouse safety guide offers suggestions for workplace protection gear, conditions in the warehouse and the education and promotion of safe practices.
Protective Gear and Clothing
Overall, your employees should avoid loose and baggy clothing. Tight-fitting clothes lessens the risk that dust, liquids, chemicals or small objects will touch your employees’ skin or get caught in belts, chains or hooks. Overalls, long-sleeve shirts and long pants reduce or eliminate skin exposure in the warehouse. With overalls and belts, your workers get the practical benefit of storage places for tools, pens or devices that track inventory in the warehouse.
Visibility plays a critical role in protecting your warehouse employees. Prevailing workplace safety gear standards classify vests in warehouses as “Class 1” or “Type O” protective gear. This means, as a general rule:
- 155 square inches of reflective tape
- Dimensions of reflective tape either 6.46 linear feet (if two-inch tape) or 9.39 linear feet (if 1 ⅜-inch tape)
As with most vests, the colors should be high visibility, illuminating in either yellow or orange.
Eye Protection Gear
Roughly 60 percent (three out of five) eye injuries have as their culprit a worker not having proper protective gear for the eyes. Warehouses present hazards to eyes in the form of splashing liquids or chemicals, projectiles, dust and impacts with equipment or other objects.
Sufficient protection of your employees’ eyes requires more than regular prescription or consumer eyeglasses. Safety glasses for your employees should bear the American National Standards Institute Z87 mark on the frame or lens. Beyond the minimum, the work duties and environment in the warehouse guide the types of protective eyewear you need.
Goggles have high resistance to impacts from objects and protect against dust, chemicals and dust. The frames cover the entire eye and what otherwise are gaps on the sides of the eyes. Safety glasses should also come with side shields. Replace glasses with scratches or cracks on the lenses or other parts. Cracks and dirt can obscure vision. If you have workers who use laser scanners, equip the safety glasses with special filters or glare protectant.
What your employees handle in the warehouse should guide the type of gloves needed.
For handling non-chemical substances and soft items, a light-duty glove should suffice. These gloves primarily reduce the dirtiness of your hands. You’ll need cut-resistant gloves for your employees who handle glass, knives, blades and other sharp objects in the warehouse. Pallets and other wood objects might have splits or splinters that can cut or puncture hands in the absence of gloves that resist punctures.
Heavy-duty gloves come in handy for those who handle the steering wheels for forklifts or lift boxes. Your selection of hand protective equipment should account for whether your employees handle hot or cold items and the potential exposure to chemicals.
Warehouse workers spend much of their workdays on their feet. An estimated 300,000 workers average five miles of walking throughout their shifts. Blisters, cramps and aches on feet are inevitable without proper footwear. Your employees face risks to toes and the tops of feet from falling objects or impacts with items left on the floor or running into the edges of doors, shelves, racks or other fixtures. The right kinds of shoes reduce discomfort and the chances of sudden foot injuries.
Your employees’ safety shoes need to meet standards, especially the ASTM International F2413-18. Such footwear has steel toe caps especially designed to reduce the chances of toe injuries from falling objects. The standard requires the shoes to be resistant to punctures, water, compression of the feet, electric shock or currents, and impacts. Ensure that the shoes are resistant to slips and falls.
OSHA-compliant hard hats constitute part of your Warehouse Safety program. The agency’s regulations require hard hats where objects might fall upon workers or where beams or other fixtures may cause side head impacts.
Make and Keep the Warehouse Safe
Forklift accidents represent significant culprits of injuries in warehouses. On average, 90 fatalities per year arise from forklift incidents. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, 614 people died at the hands of forklifts between 2011 and 2017.
Nearly one in four forklift accidents involve overturning. Employees can reduce the chance of overturning forklifts by operating at slow or otherwise appropriate speeds for the conditions and not attempting to move heavy loads or excessive numbers of pallets or materials. Other causes of overturning include turning too sharply and operating the forklift on uneven floors or on inclines.
To prevent overturning and other forklift accidents, make sure that you have only trained forklift operators. Your employees should have training from an OSHA-certified program, such as one conducted by the National Safety Council.
Clean and Clear Floors
Slips and falls account for nearly one in four injury claims and 15 percent of fatalities to warehouse workers. These accidents arise chiefly from unclean floors or objects left on them. Among the hazards left on warehouse floor aisles or walkways are:
- Extension or drop cords
- Paper, including forms or labels
- Cleaners and other chemicals
- Dust and other particles
Promptly removing these objects and liquids are imperative to preventing slips, trips and falls. If your employees use tools and equipment, instruct them to not leave them unattended. Warehouse staff should place signage indicating wet or slippery floors, whether during routine cleaning or upon noticing leaks.
Inadequate or poorly designed means of escape translate to potentially fatal and tragic results. Employees and other occupants must have the ability to promptly, orderly and safely leave the warehouse in case of a fire or other danger.
A proper exit strategy for workers starts with clearly marked signage for exits and routes. The word “Exit” must have at least six inches of height and ¾ inch of width. You must provide exit routes at least 28 inches wide. Clearly indicate which doors or areas are “Not an Exit” or have another function, such as closet, storage or janitorial. Otherwise, your employees may have a difficult time finding a safe exit.
Keep exits free of clutter and unlocked. They should empty people into an open area outside the warehouse and facility, such as a parking lot, sidewalk, alley or street. Exit doors need to swing to the outside.
Equip your warehouse with a mix of automatic sprinkler systems and manual fire suppression equipment. OSHA rules mandate that you have fire extinguishers placed generally within 75 feet of all stations or places where you have employees. Use an in-rack sprinkler in conjunction with ceiling sprinklers to stunt the spread of fires, especially if your warehouse has high ceilings. Your fire prevention protocols should include properly operating alarms and smoke detectors.
Be sure to emphasize the importance of organization in work spaces in order to promote efficiency and safety.Dedicate the shelves and areas closest to the receiving and shipping areas for your best sellers. Using inventory tracking and sales data software helps you rank those items that fetch more orders. Group alike items together by:
- Size, quantity or volume
- Material used or texture
Generally, you can determine similarity and sorting by the model number of products.
Employee Safety Instruction and Training
The right type and quantity of safety equipment, uniforms and plans will not avail your business without a culture committed to warehouse safety. This involves safety training for new hires and current warehouse workers. Your training program should cover topics such as:
- Wearing safety uniforms and equipment such as vests, helmets, goggles and other eye protective gear
- Handling materials, including sharp objects and chemicals
- Proper lifting of boxes (squatting rather than bending)
- Operation of forklifts and other equipment
- Stacking and shelving of merchandise
- Using fire extinguishers
In your safety training, provide simple and direct instructions. Demonstrate for employees how to wear and use workplace protection gear and lift items. Take your new employees on a tour through the warehouse, showing them the fire or escape routes, exits and fire extinguishers or fire alarms.
You and the management team should remain informed on changes to regulations and standards from OSHA, the National Fire Prevention Association and your state occupational safety agencies, local fire department or other public safety agencies.
Periodically, you should conduct fire drills. If your warehouse has flammables, consider every three months for fire drills. With unannounced drills, management might better assess the readiness of the employees and supervisors to handle an emergency. Drills themselves can become teachable moments for your employees.
In addition to training, fire drills allow you to assess the adequacy of your overall fire prevention program. Take note of the following:
Whether fire alarms or smoke detectors were audible or malfunctioning
Whether aisles, stairways and escape routes remained free of obstructions
How many employees did not participate in the fire drill
Effectiveness of voice commands or notices over loudspeakers
Ways to Encourage Employee Safety
Safety programs can offer incentives for employees to follow OSHA rules and work safely. Rewards for avoiding injuries, incidents and actions that violate OSHA and other standards include bonus pay, increase in hourly rates and eligibility for drawings to win money or other prizes. Companies can also post the number of consecutive days since an accident or injury.
By following some of these safety protocols, you can increase your warehouses’s safety measurements and ensure better safety for yourself and others. If you feel that your workplace does not follow many of these steps, speak with a manager about how you can bring some better practices into the workplace