It’s safe to say that warehouse work is anything but safe. Employees typically spend their days constantly traveling up and down aisles, lifting and stacking heavy containers, and moving products in and out of storage to pick and prepare customer orders. All these repetitive, labor-intensive tasks can lead to injuries, from minor sprains and strains to life-long, chronic conditions caused by prolonged physical stress. And on top of it all, workers must stay on high alert to avoid collisions with fast-moving forklifts or spot hazards like falling loads.
In fact, studies show that the number of workplace injuries in warehousing are significantly higher than most other industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an injury and illnesses rate of nearly 5 out of every 100 warehouse and storage workers. These incidents tend to result in job restrictions, transfers or absences—putting even greater strain on facilities with manual operations, given the labor shortages prevalent across the industry. Employees then need to work harder and faster to fill the gaps and keep orders moving out the door.
With this is mind, a rising number of companies are taking a more proactive approach to warehouse safety. One of the best ways to protect employees and prevent incidents before they occur? Automation.
Put safety first with automation
Rather than solely relying on manual product handling, warehouses can implement automated solutions to take over the many demanding tasks of order fulfillment. Robotic equipment and machinery are able to rapidly and accurately move goods from receiving to storage and all the way through dispatch, thereby eliminating ergonomic hazards for workers while optimizing material flow.
While there is no one-size-fits-all automated solution, possibilities include:
- Order picking solutions: No matter if products are stored in crates, totes, or corrugated cases, robotic systems can do the heavy lifting when it comes to order picking. A picking solution could include a variety of automated equipment, including AS/RS for bulk handling paired with various forms of order picking technology to handle anything from full layers to individual cases. And when complemented by a robust WMS, the end-to-end solution will provide 100 percent accuracy. No more looking out for fleets of forklifts while traveling up and down aisles; no more risking accidents moving tall stacks of pallets from storage. Instead, storage, retrieval and order picking are managed in a completely contained environment, free of human interaction.
- Goods-to-person solutions: It’s also possible to combine the speed of automation with ergonomic manual picking. In a goods-to-person setup, an AS/RS stores and retrieves goods stacked in plastic totes, crates, or bins, and automatically delivers them directly to an employee at an ergonomically designed picking station. Totes arrive an optimal height and angle, so that workers can pick the required products with minimal strain on their bodies and maximum productivity.
- Automated guided vehicles (AGVs): Available for a variety of applications and needs, AGVs are a safe, efficient solution for automatically transporting bulk inventory between stages of the fulfillment process (e.g., from storage to picking, from picking to shipping). And controlled by fleet management software, AGVs seamlessly interact with other warehouse equipment and workers.
Why automation is a win/win
Running 24/7 with minimal human involvement, automation empowers companies to tackle their toughest workforce challenges, while creating better working conditions for their employees.
With the majority of product handling automated, labor requirements are significantly reduced as well as the associated costs. Companies can then shift employees away from manual labor to take on more engaging, value-added positions that pose less risk of injury. This could mean:
- supervising operations
- releasing orders
- operating and maintaining equipment
- reviewing performance data
- or transport planning
There is also another cost reduction element, since fewer on-the-job injuries mean less worker compensation, liability, and litigation costs.
An ergonomic-friendly workplace (made possible by automation) sets the tone for a commitment to safety. In turn, a positive safety culture leads to better employee morale, performance and retention. And when it comes to recruitment, offering those advanced, tech-focused positions will also help attract up-and-coming jobseekers in the future.
It’s ultimately a win/win when companies protect both their workers and their business through warehouse automation.
Author: Derek Rickard, Director of Sales, Cimcorp