All jobs come with their own set of risks, but warehouses seem to take the cake with a wide range of issues that could quickly become series. From dealing with heavy products and materials to fast-moving machinery and people outside your staff being present for shipments, there is a wide range of risks. Thankfully, nearly all risks can be reduced, and issues prevented. Your team can be safe, it just takes patience, thoughtfulness, and the patience to train people many, many times. Let’s look at seven of the biggest concerns and how you can tackle them right away.
1. The sky (and everything else) is falling
Warehouses are non-stop action centers, and that means there are about a million opportunities for things to fall each minute. You can understand and predict some — like boxes being stacked too high, the product is not put deep enough in a shelf, or top-heavy shelves that get overloaded. But we’ve also heard stories of lighting and AC equipment falling from ceilings, truck doors slamming down, and dock ramps falling too.
There’s a lot of aspects to preventing falling, and it’s going to kick off a prevalent theme in our solutions: train your people.
Products of different weights, shapes, and sizes stack differently. That means some elements might safely stack high, while others don’t stack at all. Create a general rule of thumb for all your safe stackables and keep it a few products shorter than you think you could safely stack. You don’t want anything hitting someone in the neck, face, or head.
If someone has to raise their arms high to get a product, don’t let them. That’s now a job for a forklift or other tool that can safely reach different heights and accommodate products. Awkwardly grabbing something leads to falling items or unbalanced people who fall over. Eliminate this activity.
For items that can’t be stacked, create a space in your warehouse for them. Group them, so your workers know that this specific rack or zone has those limitations.
Train your people, over and over, on the safety measures you put in place and the risks in these areas. Stack only when safely and train on the right equipment to move piles. As for building issues like lights, you need routine maintenance and inspection to keep your team safe.
2. Loading and unloading dock concerns
The dock tends to be one of the more dangerous locations in a warehouse, where your team is loading and unloading pallets, packages, and items using a variety of equipment or their hands. Plus, you’ve got other people driving trucks and getting items signed, so there’s a lot of traffic moving in multiple directions. This can easily lead to people being hit and harmed by forklifts or trucks, knocked off of ramps, pinned between a trailer or vehicle, and harm from unsecured products.
Your best way to address dock-related issues is to control activities closely. This means managing inbound and outbound shipments, so there is plenty of space between. People using carts and forklifts need proper training to limit the risk of impacts. You can also layout your warehouse and docking locations so that they’re separated and have plenty of room. The more space, the better, because you can also set inbound and outbound traffic lanes and product staging areas that keep your workers apart and safe.
Warehouse are and can continue to be safe places for everyone, but it takes planning around the people involved at every step of your operations.
3. Machines that move
Forklifts make warehouses run. They’re arguably more important than all that sophisticated software because they help large operations move while avoiding significant strain on your workers. They’re among the most common equipment, and many warehouses will expand to adopt them even before it’s necessary.
However, they’re also fast-moving machines with decent-sized engines and giant metal prongs that can do a lot of harm to a person. Even when turning slowly, these blades can hurt, big time. Backing up or maneuvering around tight corners can also lead to impacts against your shelves that damage products, knock things off, or push down the large metal racks. They’re all major, major issues.
First, train every person on driving a forklift. Certify your team and limit the number of drivers per shift. Train managers and leaders to recognize good and bad driver behaviors. After everyone has been trained, continually evaluate and offer refresher information to everyone. If someone is acting unsafely with a forklift, pull them off of it immediately.
For the warehouse itself, you should measure products and aisles and other spaces to see how well a forklift can move around. If you’ve got some sharp corners or others that can’t be seen around easily, consider making some pathways one-way traffic. This will limit the chances of running into a person or another forklift. If something is struck, report the damage and check the forklift immediately.
4. Stationary machines that also move
Conveyors and other fixed machinery present their own issues. They’ve got moving parts that don’t care about how fragile our human skin and bones can be. A fast-moving belt can quickly turn into sandpaper that leaves body parts raw, while stationary box cutters and other tools can easily cut through finders and flesh to leave nasty wounds.
If something has moving parts, workers again need to be trained on how these items operate and how to stop them in the event of an emergency. In most cases, you need to tape off areas that limit someone’s ability to walk into the machinery accidentally. People should only be close enough to conveyors when they’re directly interacting with the machinery, and in these cases, you want to give your workers the ability to immediately stop a belt.
Machine guards are your best friend in the entire world for these items. OSHA has checklists depending on what you’re operating and running through these will keep your machines grounded and people safe.
Another important aspect is to follow your maintenance needs. Lockout Tagout (LOTO) procedures are also a must to keep people safe and properly document your maintenance for compliance purposes. Here are some great templates for LOTO procedures. Win this LOTO.
5. Fires and their suppression
Fires are a commonly overlooked concern because, thankfully, they’re rare. Once your warehouse is built and sprinklers installed, most people go toward more immediate and recurring dangers associated with slips, trips, falls, and machine impacts. However, if a fire ever does break out, you better have your team trained, or you could be looking at significant harm to your workers as well as millions of dollars in losses. Plus, some insurers are going to ask about your fire safety protocols and training, so education is at very least a way to keep people and your investment safe.
Building permits, sprinklers, extinguishers, and other core elements should be reviewed and tested periodically. The permit part is essential because if you change your warehouse around — and do things like add new product times or increase product density — you may need to install a different kind of fire suppression system to keep up with the code.
There’s also plenty of great day-to-day tips like not storing fuel in the open or near possible ignition sources, never leaving exposed wires around the warehouse, cleaning up spills and leaks, and never running that extension cord in the office.
6. Material storage and types
The products in the warehouse present their own series of challenges. Lithium-ion batteries can be concerning on their own, and a variety of other harmful and hazardous chemicals or substance have specific requirements for how they’re stored. Always go back to your OSHA guide and regulations to ensure you’re doing things properly. These standards are developed to keep your people safe, and people are the only thing in a warehouse we can’t replace.
At Red Stag Fulfillment, we specialize in a few areas, including heavy materials and products. This is an extremely critical area because proper training is what prevent loss of life. Accidents with physically-heavy equipment and products kill two people every month in the U.S., according to OSHA. Our goal, and your goal, is to never be one of those locations.
To keep people safe, you need to look at every aspect of these products. Ensure that everything used to move them, from carts to forklifts, is certified for their weight. Never overload your equipment — ever. Train people on how to lift goods and store them on your shelves. Reduce the times they have to lift something higher than their stomach and rely on forklifts when possible. Clear a path for people and keep as much of this product stored near your docks and packing stations as you can to limit risks from people carrying things too far.
Train every single person on every aspect of heavy objects, especially if their weight can be awkward. You don’t want something falling off the shelf or the packing station and smashing toes.
7. Your people are walking too much
While many risks are an immediate concern — like a forklift impact or dropping a heavy object on a body part — there are also some longer-term issues at play. Your team’s overall health needs to be protected. The good news is that it can improve your business too.
Many modern warehouse management tools come with analytics to help you adjust the layout of your warehouse. This prevents people from walking extra miles each day, and they may suggest moving products to separate locations so that your team isn’t having to bend over and grab the most-popular item hundreds of times a day. Reducing these strains can protect your team while also making fulfillment faster.
The one substantial change here is likely that your culture needs to match this type of commitment. Create a team-oriented environment that includes team foals as well as individual goals. Ask people to slow down and prioritize accuracy over speed, reducing your number of returns and the risk of losses. Warehouse workers are a core part of your team, so add in things like family medical benefits to help them get help when they need it — whether something happens on or off the job.
People are always your most valuable resource, and warehouses can never forget that.
Written in partnership with Jake Rheude, Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce.