The ABC’s Of Warehouse Safety, Pt. 1

As the following Alphabet Of Warehouse Safety suggests, there are many ways ranging from the simple to the strategic that your company can do a better job of keeping its warehouse employees as safe and safety-minded as possible.

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When most people think of risky jobs, names like Jim Cantore or Bear Grylls frequently come to mind. But ironically, warehousing professionals are just as likely to get hurt as many of the daredevils you see on television. And the logistics industry has the injury rates to prove it.          

However, that doesn’t mean your company’s warehouses have to be substantial contributors to these negative statistics — because as the following Alphabet Of Warehouse Safety suggests, there are many ways ranging from the simple to the strategic that your company can do a better job of keeping its warehouse employees as safe and safety-minded as possible.

Anti-fatigue floor mats

Many supply chain professionals routinely spend most of the work day on their feet, usually on concrete floors. Properly positioned anti-fatigue floor mats in areas like pick lines can go a long way toward absorbing the associated muscle fatigue and ergonomic stress — and help reduce the risk of many related strains and pains. 

Box cutter training

Often the only difference between a minor cut caused by a box cutter and one that requires a dozen or more stitches is the force used and where it strikes the body. By offering the right kind of user training, your company can greatly reduce your employees’ risk of sustaining serious wounds from these simple but potentially lethal receiving area tools.

Compulsory seat belt use

Insist that operators buckle up every time they get behind the wheel of a forklift or other piece of industrial equipment, even if they’re just traveling a short distance. Not only will this ensure they won’t inadvertently fall out, it will also prevent them from attempting to jump to safety (and usually exposing themselves to the worst possible kinds of injuries) if their vehicles fall or tip over.

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Detailed data

Nothing has the potential to boost your warehouse safety program’s efficacy quite like the data contained in your worker’s compensation accident reports. Among other things, it can help pinpoint your company’s most common injuries and identify “problem” locations within your DC network. In addition, it can quickly reveal which kinds of accidents are costing your company the most and which kinds of incidents seem to be making an unfortunate comeback. As a result, you’ll be able to do a considerably better job of focusing your safety efforts and resources in the best possible areas.   

Ergonomic awareness

Although repetitive motion injuries and back or neck strains may seem insignificant when compared to many other kinds of OSHA-recordable incidents, they can create weeks, months or even a lifetime of discomfort for the workers they happen to. Plus, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they now account for approximately one- third of all reported sick days and on-the-job injuries. Ergonomic alterations to work processes can go a long way toward decreasing many of these mishaps, as can making ergonomic safety training a key part of your ongoing efforts. 

Frequent forklift training

Year in and year out, forklifts (which look light but actually weigh more than cars) are the warehousing industry’s single greatest cause of injury and death. If you do nothing else in terms of DC safety, ensure that all of your forklift operators are thoroughly trained in how to operate and work around these heavy machines.  And refresh that training often.

Grassroots-generated tools

Good safety efforts rely on a steady infusion of high-quality training programs and materials. But not all of them have to come from outside your company. The employees who work on your warehousing floors can help you generate a wide range of highly creative safety-related campaigns, videos, games — including many that will wind up being among your programs’ most effective and best received. 

Humor

Although accidents or injuries are no laughing matter, experience suggests that a light-hearted approach to training can sometimes help get tough safety messages across in a more palatable fashion or put a fresh spin on a repetitive topic. As your company’s safety effort matures, consider augmenting at least a few of your no-nonsense safety classes and training sessions with occasional safety games, contests or special events. Your employees will love them — and so will the people who monitor your improving safety record.

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Incentives

Holding employees accountable for safety doesn’t just mean penalizing them if they violate safety procedures. It also means rewarding them when they go the extra mile to make a safe work environment a reality. Even small potential incentives like the chance to earn a small prize for several months or staying injury-free or a facility-wide luncheon for reaching a key safety milestone can go a long way towards elevating their safety consciousness and enthusiasm.   

Job rotation

Carpal tunnel syndrome can happen to anyone who performs a repetitive task with his or her hands, which is why distribution center pick lines and sub-assembly areas are becoming a more frequent source of concern.  Encourage your employees who work in these areas to rotate their areas of responsibility throughout the day or have them practice job enlargement, the act of doing two or more different tasks at a time instead of just a single activity.  While it won’t change the fact that the jobs they’re performing are repetitive, it will help substantially reduce the constant strain that’s placed on specific muscle groups. 

Keeping truck drivers contained

Even though the truck drivers who pick up and drop off your facilities’ shipments may not be on your payroll, they still have considerable potential to sustain or cause an injury if they’re allowed to freely wander while they’re on site. Creating a waiting area where they can relax and stay out of the way during their stay at your facility can go a long way toward minimizing this risk, especially if that waiting area is the only place they’re allowed to be. 

Lower pick line heights

If part of your facility’s pick line is located above most people’s shoulders, avoid being a literal pain in the neck (or shoulders) by moving the most frequently picked products to a lower area that’s easier for people to access. And if your pick lines absolutely must incorporate step stools, make sure they have hand rails that employees are required to hold onto to minimize the possibility of stumbles.

Monitoring driving styles

Just as certain drivers on the road are more accident prone than others, some forklift operators may require more than just basic instruction or cursory safety training.   Pay close attention to each of your individual operators’ equipment driving records, tracking everything from their OSHA-recordable incidents and near-misses to any cargo or equipment damage they cause Then use this information to arrange additional coaching, supervision or training for those who need it most — before their risky behaviors become a trend or result in a serious accident.

Andy Brousseau is Senior Manager of Global Safety, Security and Environment at APL Logistics.

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