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Coming Through! How to Stay Safe While Working in Your Warehouse

Don't let "safety first" be just another slogan

Safety Inquiry

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When people enter a warehouse, many see just the shelves, pallets, racks, lift trucks, and boxes. They may overlook the numerous scenarios that can easily cause serious injuries — or worse. Safety is all too frequently disregarded due to insufficient time, inadequate resources, lack of management focus, or an opportunity to cut corners in an attempt to save money.

Everyone involved with shipping, receiving, sorting, and inventory management should assess the potential hazards that are encountered on a daily basis. They should be trained to recognize the potential issues and empowered to speak up about them. Here are some common warehouse safety issues that will help keep you and your co-workers safe while working with heavy machinery, forklifts, and complex systems in a fast-paced environment:

Encourage cleanliness

Your warehouse needs to be clean, organized, and brightly-lit. Dirt, spilled liquids, or even snow on someone’s shoes can all create a dangerous slipping hazard. Floor mats near all entrances help reduce water and debris brought in from people’s shoes. Spill collectors, drum containment pallets, and proper storage equipment help ensure employees stay on their feet.

Clutter such as boxes or pallets should be kept off the floor and organized in a racks, shelves, or cabinets whenever possible. Forklifts tend to obstruct the operator’s line of sight, and anything that adds visual clutter can cause a major accident if a driver needs to avoid the accumulated debris. Anything that reduces visibility or distracts a forklift driver is a significant danger to people and equipment. There are many environmental issues related to forklift safety that go beyond simple driver and pedestrian safety. If you can reduce the chances of a devastating — and expensive — accident by reducing clutter, it’s always worthwhile.

It’s important to remember that your facility needs to have the proper amount of lighting, which will vary from warehouse to warehouse. The most difficult hazard to avoid is one that can’t be seen due to poorly lit areas. Good lighting is a proven productivity booster, and can often dramatically slash energy costs.

warehouse workers with conveyors

Fight complacency

When humans perform repetitive tasks, they become complacent and eventually perform the task subconsciously, almost as if our brains are on autopilot. This “muscle memory” can be very productive, as long as it doesn’t encourage unsafe behaviors. People working in warehouses and with heavy equipment on a daily basis tend to grow accustomed to their environments. Workers get comfortable around the equipment and underestimate the dangers they pose. Trends show that longer periods without incident will increase worker complacency.

Forklifts are one example of a statistically dangerous warehouse machine that isn’t really perceived as one by many workers. Conveyors are another — because they move so slowly, and seem very safe at a glance, they are sometimes not treated as a potential hazard. People working around conveyors should understand their potential hazards.

Employers can unintentionally encourage complacency by focusing solely on productivity. These rising expectations may cause employees to ignore safety protocols to “get the job done.” Efforts to manage expectations, carry out routine safety meetings, conduct employee training, and apply warning labels will help employees stay vigilant.  Warehouse managers and supervisors should also take steps to make workplace ergonomics a priority.  For the safe lifting and transport of heavy loads, our lift hand trucks can be used in a variety of environments, including manufacturing/warehousing, shipping & receiving, and more.

Don’t let “safety first” become a meaningless slogan. Industrial workers must know that safety is a priority, but more importantly, they must be taught—and re-taught—how to be safe in their work. This happens only when leadership insists on it. Management should never send mixed messages on this regard.

Utilize signage

traffic signs

Proper labels and signs throughout your warehouse help prevent serious injury. Lanes marked on the floor that indicate walkways for people and drive lanes for machinery are great ways to keep the two separated. Blind corners should be fitted with stop signs, sensor systems or safety mirrors to help prevent collisions. Uneven floors, steps, and low overhead clearance areas should be marked with reflective neon tape and caution signs. LED safety lights are an extremely bright and energy efficient way to help keep employees aware and alert. LED message boards can be changed daily to keep workers up to date on changing conditions. Motion sensors, automated forklift/pedestrian gates, and other, more sophisticated methods may also be utilized in many circumstances.

Manage safety

A diverse safety committee made up of workers from multiple departments and seniority levels will help to address safety concerns. The safety committee should ensure all equipment is functioning properly and is well maintained. They should also coordinate routine training, certification, and education to keep everyone up to date on safety initiatives. Having detailed safety procedures, an overseeing body, and a proper injury reporting process will ensure that your safety plans are implemented and maintained.

A safe warehouse is an efficient warehouse. Creating a safe work environment takes teamwork, forward-minded thinking, and long-term planning. Providing your employees with the proper tools and education will save the company money and ensure all workers return safely home to their families.

This post was written by Brad Lindemann, Sales Coordinator for Lift’n Buddy, a Southworth Company.

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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