Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Assess and Facilitate Warehouse Safety

Warehouses can be dangerous places to work in. It is important to understand common warehouse dangers and hazards because they can cause injuries and in extreme cases death. The fatal injury rate for the warehousing industry is higher than the national average for all industries.

Potential hazards for workers in warehousing:

• Unsafe use of forklifts;

• Improper stacking of products;

• Failure to use proper personal protective equipment;

• Failure to follow proper lockout/Tagout procedures;

• Inadequate fire safety provisions; or

• Repetitive motion injuries.

1.Forklift Safety

Forklift accidents are some of the most serious types of accidents in warehouses due to the sheer size of the vehicle and the fact that it operates in such close proximity to workers.

Common Hazards associated with forklifts

  • Unsecured loads may fall, crushing pedestrians or drivers.
  • Forklifts may tip over, due to excessive speed or imbalanced loads
  • Workers may fall if they stand on the forks
  • Drivers may not see pedestrians, leading to collisions and fatal accidents
  • Improper or missing floor marking may lead to accidents between forklifts and pedestrians

Employees and employers should work together to ensure a forklift is safe to use. Follow these steps before using a forklift.

  • Perform a daily inspection of all forklifts in use
  • Examine the tires and oil levels
  • Check for water, oil, or radiator leaks
  • Ensure forks are straight and not cracked
  • Test brakes, lights, the horn, and the steering wheel
  • Look for obstructions, uneven surfaces, overhead obstacles, and other potential hazards

While Using a Forklift Workers should do the following to protect themselves and coworkers:

  • Make sure the load is balanced and fully secure to prevent a forklift from tipping over
  • Ensure both forks are as far under the load as possible before lifting
  • Drive with the load as low as safely possible
  • Pay attention to posted speed limits and warning signs
  • Always look in the direction you’re traveling; if a load blocks the view ahead, travel in reverse
  • Steer clear of areas where forklifts are prohibited or restricted
  • Keep an eye out for signs, floor marking, and other warnings for pedestrians and forklifts
  • Use the horn at intersections and in areas where pedestrians may be present
  • Post forklift safety signs, aisle markers, and forklift procedure labels—using premade signs, custom labels, or a combination of the two
  • Implement a floor marking system in your facility
  • Ensure safety signs are at all intersections where pedestrians and vehicles intersect
  • Use steering wheel covers and padlocks when necessary
  • Use proper lockout/tagout equipment to prevent forklifts from inadvertently starting up
  • Use “Stop” signs, speed limit signs, and other traffic control devices
  • Implement wayfinding to improve the flow of traffic, keep pedestrians away from forklift paths, and direct forklifts along safe routes
  • Point out loading docks, shelves for inventory, and other important places within a warehouse
  • Post signs at junctions to warn pedestrians and forklift operators to stop and look for hazards
  • Display checklists and inspection requirements where forklifts are stored

2. Hazard Communication 

Warehouse operators should prepare and implement a written Hazard Communication (HazCom) program and warehouse workers who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals should know about them and how to protect themselves. When handling hazardous chemicals in the warehouse or storage facilities, a hazard communication program should be implemented.

The hazard communication program should cover effective training on identifying chemical hazards; proper handling, storage, and disposal of chemicals; and the use of appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment). It is necessary that workers and management teams must be knowledgeable in conducting better safety inspections and proper handling and storage of hazardous chemicals to ensure warehouse safety.

3.Electrical safety

Electrical safety is one of the most vital components of any warehouse. Electrical tools, cords, equipment which are an integral part of the warehouse floor, all pose serious threats if handled carelessly.

  • Ensure that all electronic equipment is appropriately grounded. This will decrease the risks of electrical shocks.
  • Also make sure that the power cords are not blocking aisles or walking ways so that the chances of workers tripping on them and falling are eliminated.
  • All the electric equipment should always be in good condition. The outlets and cords should be in good state and no exposed frayed wires should be coming out of them.
  • Regularly inspect the electrical tool with preliminary checks and appropriate tests.

A Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) program must be implemented in all warehouse operations to ensure that all energized equipment is properly shut off and to prevent employees from being caught between mechanical parts or being electrocuted. All the workers must be trained on LOTO procedures and how to apply and remove LOTO devices after performing maintenance to ensure warehouse safety.

4. Conveyor safety

Conveyor equipment is commonly used in the transportation of goods from warehouse to warehouse. However, conveyors pose serious dangers to workers including getting caught in equipment and being struck by falling objects. Workers can be injured when they are caught in pinch points or in the in-going nip points, are hit by falling products To ensure warehouse safety, it is important to do the following:

  • Ensure proper safeguarding equipment  between the conveyor and the worker to protect against the entanglement of clothing, body parts and hair.
  • Follow proper lockout tagout procedures during conveyor maintenance and repairs.
  • Inspect conveyors regularly;
  • Ensure that pinch points are adequately guarded;
  • Develop ways of locking out conveyors and train employees in these procedures;
  • Provide proper lighting and working surfaces in the area surrounding the conveyor.

5. Materials handling and storage safety

Improper stacking of loads and storage of materials on shelves can result in unintended slip and trip hazards for nearby workers.

  • Keep aisles and passageways clear and in good condition, this prevents workers from slipping, tripping, or falling.
  • Stack loads evenly and straight;
  • Place heavier loads on lower or middle shelves;
  • Remove one object at a time from shelves;

6. Manual Lifting/Handling Safety

The most common cause of physical injuries in warehouse and storage facilities involves improper manual lifting and handling. Failure to follow proper procedures can cause musculoskeletal disorders, especially performing the work with awkward postures, repetitive motions, or overexertion. Back injuries may occur from improper lifting or overexertion. Warehouse safety during manual lifting or handling can be ensured by:

  • Planning ahead and determine if the need for lifting can be minimized by applying good engineering design techniques.
  • Observing proper ergonomic posture when carrying or moving loads. If products are too heavy, ask assistance from a co-worker.
  • Providing general ergonomics training and task-specific training;
  • Minimizing the need for lifting by using good design and engineering techniques;
  • Lifting properly and get a coworker to help if a product is too heavy.

7. Ergonomic Safety

Improper lifting, repetitive motion or poor design of operations can lead to musculoskeletal disorders in workers. In a warehouse setting, ergonomics is used to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Musculo Skeletal Disorders(MSDs), which affect the muscles, tendons, and nerves in your body, are one of the main causes of workplace injuries. They are caused by a range of risk factors, including heavy lifting, repetitive tasks, pulling and pushing heavy loads, reaching, bending, and working in unusual positions. To prevent MSDs, ergonomics in the warehouse can be improved that keeps employees safe from workplace injuries while still increasing productivity.

Education: Educate the employees about ergonomics and provide training that is task-oriented.

Proper Lifting: Lift properly by keeping back in a normal position and using your legs. To turn while carrying a load, do not twist; instead, shift feet by taking a series of small steps.

Assistance: Ask for assistance when needed, and use lift equipment to move products whenever possible.

Load Testing: Test loads before lifting to determine the best method, and position the product away from the shoulder at floor height to optimize for manual lifting.

Lighting: Provide proper overhead lighting in lifting areas.

Eliminating Hazards: Remove hazards from the floor that could cause slipping or tripping.

8. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Warehouses are identified as hazardous work environments where serious accidents occur, that may also result in a fatality.  The purpose of PPE is to reduce worker exposure to hazards when engineering and administrative controls are not feasible or effective in reducing risks to acceptable levels.

Although safety measures and procedures may be implemented to minimise risks levels, in some instances, these may not be sufficient in protecting workers and the best course of action is to utilise PPE as well. PPE requirements are essential as they are intended to keep workers safe and prevent a near miss from becoming a serious injury.

PPE, or ‘Personal Protective Equipment’, refers to the essential clothing and equipment that has the potential to ensure the safety of employees who work onsite or in a warehouse environment. Some common PPE for warehouse workers can include:

  • Hard hats
  •  jackets
  • Safety goggles
  • Warehouse safety boots, with a steel toe cap
  • Overalls
  • Safety gloves

9. Create a Fire Safety Plan

Inspect and test all the fire protection equipment If the warehouse has a fire protection system already in place, it mostly includes a fire alarm system and fire extinguishers. Depending on the type of products and materials the warehouse stores, it may also have a sprinkler system or a fire suppression system

In the event a fire occurs, it is important to have a fire safety plan to protect the warehouse, inventory, and workforce. A proper fire safety plan will include preventative strategies like:

  • keeping spaces uncluttered by both inventory and waste to allow for safe fire exit
  • Checking electrical systems for proper function and eliminating faulty cords
  • Prohibiting smoking
  • Keeping the HVAC heating system up to date and prohibit the use of portable heaters
  • A safety plan will also include procedures to follow if a fire is detected like an evacuation plan and how to use a fire extinguisher.
  • Train Workforce on Fire Safety

By taking the necessary precautions when planning warehouse storage and design, a safe warehouse environment will be created besides increasing productivity and ensuring employee safety 

Article by Dr.Yashoda Tammineni,
MSc, Ph.D.

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