Tonight’s Undercover Boss on CBS features GSI Commerce CEO Michael G. Rubin, and as my wife and I were watching it, the loading, order picking and packing segment brought home the difficulties of these operations. It’s a somewhat rare mainstream glimpse into large scale distribution operations.
The order picking segment from GSI’s Lexington, Kentucky distribution center in particular stressed the disadvantages associated with walking in order picking operations. Armed with RF guns, the pickers tow order picking shelf carts between picking aisles. They leave the carts in a center aisle and move down rack aisles where inventory is stored in bins.
One of the more dangerous items that you’ll find at virtually every facility is the humble gas cylinder. In warehouses or manufacturing operations, you’ll find LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) canisters that power gas forklifts. You’ll also find vertical cylinders for welders, cutting torches, or other equipment operations. Too often, you will find them standing against a wall or on the dock with no protection at all.
Over at the Operations & Fulfillment site, Curt Barry has written a brief, informative piece on reducing warehouse costs. In particular during a difficult economic climate, cost reduction is at the top of mind for distribution operations.
Shipping & receiving docks are a particularly dangerous area of most operations because so much activity takes place in a relatively small space. In your average warehouse, the docks take up 20% of the square footage but host 80% of the activity. As you know, at times that activity can be fast-paced – even frenzied as full pallets are taken in, or loaded ones are being loaded into trailers. This is a time rife with possibilities for accidents. How can you prevent them?
It’s that season – facilities across the country are facing mounting utility bills, workers drenched in sweat, and ferocious heat. Typically, an HVLS fan is one of the best solutions to these issues, but MacroAir has gone one better by producing these massive air movement ceiling fans in a solar configuration. This innovation does a couple of things. First, it cools your facility during the day, using the same method other HVLS fans use. But beyond that, it’s a very green product, one that reduces your energy costs and carbon footprint. Currently, these fans come in solar-only configurations. They won’t run when the sun is down, and they do not have battery backup systems. However, there is an option being designed to allow you to tie them to building power for night time or non-seasonal applications.
One percent of factory accidents involve forklift trucks, but the forklift accidents produce ten percent of the physical injuries. That’s an astonishing ratio, but not all that surprising given the nature of forklifts and the way they are utilized. Forklifts are dense, heavy-mass vehicles. When they collide with something – or someone – the results are devastating, even at low speeds.
Some leading types of lift truck accidents are:
Workers struck by forklifts
Loads are dropped onto employees
Driver catches his body between the forklift and other objects
The forklift is driven off the loading dock
Kind of a terrifying list, don’t you think?
Most forklift accidents are blamed on operator error, but that is just partially true – and something of a cop-out. Rough estimates say that a quarter of forklift accidents could be avoided by addressing environmental concerns. When you eliminate those, it helps you understand better when a driver is truly ineffective, or just hamstrung by the way your warehouse is set up. In other words, before you point the finger at the driver, take a look at your operation…
When you are moving items such as cartons, bins, or components through a facility, several methods are available. Most of the time the choice is between non-powered carts & trucks or conveyors, whether power or gravity. (If you’re moving pallets, there are other methods and issues). Generally, conveyors deliver a less manual, safer operation with added efficiency across the board. Products are moved faster and fewer employees are required to accomplish the same tasks. Conveyors minimize fatigue and reduce potential manual lifting injuries. This improved handling has the potential to reduce worker compensation claims and expenses
But when do you make the leap from a manual, cart-driven system to a conveyor transport system?
Implementing an energy-efficient lighting system can make your facility much brighter overall, and in particular, it can brighten those dark ‘canyons’ between rack rows.
It also saves you money on utility costs. In a large distribution center, the daily cost savings is significant, even before you factor in enhanced productivity due to an overall better working environment. But it gets better: Under the 2005 EPACT law, you can deduct the entire cost of a new lighting system, up to 60 cents a square foot if the system reduces lighting power density below he maximum allowable lighting power densities listed in ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2001, and if a few other requirements are met. This typically results in a much lower cost of ownership and a very quick return on investment.
Oh, and combined with other energy saving upgrades to your facility, that 60 cents could climb to $1.80 a square foot.
The folks at the Material Handling Institute of America have thrown all of last year’s ProMat sessions in Podcast/Webcast form onto their website, for free. This presentation is intriguing – who doesn’t want to save a hundred grand? It’s presented by Louis J. Cerny, Vice President of Sedlak, and lasts about 37 minutes; it’s easy to listen to in the background if you don’t feel the need to watch the slide presentation.
You can see some of the mistakes happening in this video. Others aren’t so obvious.
What were the problems here?
#1: The driver is traveling too fast. That said, he’s not racing, but that doesn’t matter. He’s carrying a wide load through a narrow space. He was either distracted or he went faster than he should have through a tight spot, or both.
#2: The aisle is cluttered. Why create a pinch point with stacks of drums? Poor housekeeping in a warehouse is dangerous. One of the best things you can do for safety in your warehouse is to make sure there is adequate — or more than adequate — aisle space. It should be clear, it should be clean, it should have space and it should be highly visible. It should never be close to this tight. If you need space, find it elsewhere.
#3: The pallet racks were possibly overloaded. That forklift was moving too fast for the situation, but it wasn’t pedal-to-the-metal-fast. Although the weight of a forklift can turn a slow impact into devastation, a properly loaded, undamaged rack with upright post protectors should not necessarily collapse when struck slowly. While you never want to smack an upright, exceeding rack capacities can make them much more susceptible to collapse, even to minor impacts. Always know your listed capacity, and stick to it.
#4: The uprights may have suffered previous damage. This can cause a collapse. I’ve been in warehouses where you could walk for five minutes and find a dozen bent uprights. That’s insanity. There isn’t any way to tell whether or not the upright was dented from this video, but the point is this: routinely inspect your racks and assess your uprights. They’re cheap to replace, and doing so could prevent injuries and major accidents.
#5: The driver should not have fled the forklift. It has a cage for a reason — to protect him from falling objects. He was much safer inside than he was doing the “Die Hard” jump out.