Yesterday we reviewed the numbers concerning fatalities and injuries and illnesses for warehouse workers. We saw that both are above the national average. Today we will look at the most common hazard in warehouses and consider steps a warehouse EHS manager can take to make certain that workers are safe.
The most common injuries and hazards in warehouses include:
- Forklift accidents;
- Back injuries from unsafe lifting;
- Slips and falls; and
- Struck-by and crush injuries from falling or collapsing boxes and products.
Case of a Forklift Fatality
In a recent case study, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) points to a 33-year old warehouse worker who was killed after falling 7 feet from a wooden pallet elevated by a forklift. The warehouse inventory was stored on steel storage racks with the highest shelves about 8 feet above the concrete floor.
Apparently it was common practice at this warehouse for workers to place one foot or both feet on a pallet and move inventory on the top shelf while a coworker lifted them to the top shelf using the forklift, even though the equipment was not designed for this purpose. At the time of this incident, the worker slipped on the pallet while moving inventory and fell. He died a few days later from his injuries.
OSHA claims that the warehouse operators did not provide training and certification to forklift operators on how to safely use and operate forklifts, including not using them to lift workers without an approved personnel lifting platform.
Four Steps to Prevent Forklift Fatalities and Injuries
Step 1: Provide training. The big takeaway from this case study is to provide training on forklifts to workers who operate and work near them. Training should include formal instruction and hands-on training at a level and in a language workers understand. In this case, the worker’s language was Spanish.
Step 2: Ensure common sense approaches. Many workers come to feel invulnerable on jobs they do day in and day out. Your workplace policies should guard against this attitude. Specifically, with forklifts, do not allow workers to ride on or occupy pallets lifted by forklifts, and ensure that they follow manufacturers’ instructions.
Step 3: Provide proper equipment. Make sure that all workers are provided with the proper tools and equipment for each task, including accessing working surfaces (e.g., elevated storage shelves in a warehouse). Equipment designed for lifting workers in a warehouse includes:
- Manufactured personnel platforms, designed for lifting workers on a forklift, which incorporate guardrail systems for fall protection. This option requires prior written approval from the forklift manufacturer.
- High-lift order pickers, a powered industrial truck class equipped with personal fall arrest equipment that is designed to lift the operator alongside the forks.
Step 4: Provide fall protection. Make sure your workers are provided with fall protection and ensure its proper use in accordance with the walking-working surfaces rule and personal fall protection system standards. A recent update to OSHA’s walking-working surfaces rule defined work platforms used on a forklift as a scaffold. General industry workplaces must follow the construction standards for scaffolds when lifting workers on platforms.