Is Your Warehouse a ‘Scarehouse’?

From splinters on wooden pallets to improperly operated forklifts, warehouses are a hotspot for workplace accidents and injuries. Here are some commonsense, good housekeeping, and material handling tips to help protect your workforce.

No matter how neat and orderly your warehouse may appear, the trained safety eye can see that it is rife with opportunities for accidents and injuries.

For example, careless material handling—either by hand or by powered equipment—can cause injuries to hands, fingers, feet, and toes. Workers can slip, trip, and fall, or heavy objects can fall on them.

Forklifts and other equipment such as heavily-laden pallet jacks only add to the danger. And don’t forget such hazards as box cutters, nails and splinters on wooden pallets, and back injuries caused by improper lifting.

As reported in our sister publication, the OSHA Compliance Advisor, warehouse hazards can change from moment to moment, depending on things such as:

•        The task employees are performing
•        The equipment they’re using
•        The substances or materials they’re handling

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With their potential for so many different activities—and so many related accidents and injuries—warehouse operations are governed by numerous OSHA standards including rules for walking and working surfaces, regulations governing the selection and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and material handling and storage rules.

The accident and injury potential in warehouses can be greatly reduced by using common sense and by having your employees follow some basic rules such as:

  • Make safety a priority in everything you do while working in the warehouse.
  • Wear appropriate PPE, such as gloves, safety shoes, eye protection, and hard hats.
  • Keep alert to hazards, and correct or report them when you see them.
  • Pay attention to warning signs and signals—and obey them.
  • Watch where you’re going and focus on what you’re doing.
  • Pay attention to what others are doing as well. Especially keep an eye out for forklifts and other hazardous equipment.
  • Stack and store materials properly so they’re stable, secure, and don’t create any kind of hazard—including a fire hazard.

Good housekeeping is another way of reducing warehouse risks, and it allows employees to function more effectively, productively, and safely. The good housekeeping rules you should teach your employees include:

  • Don’t leave items in aisles, on the floor, or perched insecurely on a surface.
  • Clean up all spills immediately.
  • Don’t block sprinklers, fire exits, or fire extinguishers.
  • Put items in their assigned places immediately rather than moving them from one stopping point to another.
  • Don’t leave box cutters or other sharp tools lying around. Retract their blades into the handles if the tool’s design permits it.
  • Keep cords and wires off the floor.
  • Report loose or damaged flooring or other tripping hazards you can’t fix.
  • Dispose of all trash immediately in proper containers.

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With all the lifting and moving that goes on within warehouses, safe material handling practices are a must. Whether employees use material handling equipment or their own bodies to move materials in the warehouse, there are many precautions they must take. Employees should obey these material-handling safety rules:

  • Make preparation the first step in every job. That means checking the load to decide how best to move it; checking the route to make sure there are no obstacles in the way; and checking to see if there’s space for the load at its destination.
  • Always use safe lifting techniques.
  • When carrying objects, be sure you can see over the load.
  • Use material-handling equipment carefully, and follow proper operating procedures.
  • When using a hand truck or pallet jack, be sure to load heavy objects on the bottom, and secure bulky or awkward items.
  • Push, rather than pull, manual material-handling equipment whenever possible, and lean in the direction you’re going.
  • Be careful around conveyors, making sure not to get body parts or clothing caught in the machinery’s moving parts.
  • Never drive a forklift or use other powered material-handling equipment unless you’ve been trained and authorized.

Forklifts are a particularly hazardous aspect of the warehouse environment, causing nearly 100 fatalities and 30,000 serious injuries every year. Tomorrow’s Advisor will look at the OSHA standards governing forklift use and training, steps to lessen the dangers of forklifts, and a training program to help safeguard your workforce from forklift-related accidents and injuries.