Warehouse Workplace Safety
Warehouses can be dangerous places. There is constant vehicular movement, heavy foot traffic and goods moving in and out.
Your warehouse employees can easily get injured. Practicing safe habits and knowing what dangers to avoid are crucial to keeping them out of harm’s way.
In this resource, adapted from guidance provided by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), we explain how to keep your warehouse workers safe from common hazards.
Put Safety First
According to OSHA, more than 145,000 people work in over 7,000 warehouses in the U.S., and the fatal injury rate for the warehousing industry is higher than the national average for all other industries.
OSHA says the following are key hazards for warehouse workers:
- Unsafe use of forklifts
- Improper stacking of products
- Failure to use proper personal protective equipment
- Failure to follow proper lockout/tagout procedures
- Inadequate fire safety provisions
- Repetitive motion injuries
For warehousing establishments, the 10 OSHA standards most frequently included in the agency’s citations are:
- Hazard communication
- Electrical – wiring methods
- Electrical – system design
- Guarding floor & wall openings and holes
- Mechanical power transmission
- Respiratory protection
- Portable fire extinguishers
We’ll take a look at some common warehouse trouble spots, and the solutions OSHA recommends.
Hazard: Injuries occur when forklifts run off the dock, products fall on employees or equipment strikes a person.
- Drive forklifts slowly on docks and dock plates
- Secure dock plates and check to see if the plate can safely support the load
- Keep clear of dock edges and never back up forklifts to the dock’s edge
- Provide visual warnings near dock edges
- Prohibit “dock jumping” by employees
- Make sure that dock ladders and stairs meet OSHA specifications
Hazard: About 100 employees are killed and 95,000 injured every year while operating forklifts in all industries. Forklift turnovers account for a significant percentage of these fatalities.
- Train, evaluate and certify all operators to ensure that they can operate forklifts safely
- Never allow anyone under 18 years old to operate a forklift
- Properly maintain haulage equipment, including tires
- Before using a forklift, examine it for hazards that would make it unsafe to operate
- Follow safe procedures for picking up, putting down and stacking loads
- Drive safely, never exceeding 5 mph, and slow down in congested or slippery areas
- Ensure that operators wear manufacturer-installed seatbelts
- Never drive up to a person standing in front of a fixed object, such as a wall or stacked materials
- Prohibit stunt driving and horseplay
- Limit loads to the weight capacity of the forklift
- Remove unsafe or defective trucks from service
- Maintain sufficiently safe clearances for aisles and at loading docks or passages where forklifts are used
- Ensure adequate ventilation by opening doors/windows or using a ventilation system to provide enough fresh air to keep engine exhaust concentrations low
- Provide covers and/or guardrails to protect workers from the hazards of open pits, tanks, vats and ditches
- Train employees on the hazards associated with the combustion byproducts of forklift operation, such as carbon monoxide
Hazard: Workers can be injured when they are caught in pinch points or nip points, are hit by falling products or develop musculoskeletal disorders associated with awkward postures or repetitive motions.
- Inspect conveyors regularly
- Adequately guard pinch points
- Lock out conveyors and train employees
- Provide proper lighting and working surfaces in the area surrounding the conveyor
Hazard: Improperly stored materials may fall and injure workers.
- Stack loads evenly and straight
- Place heavier loads on lower or middle shelves
- Remove one object at a time from shelves
- Keep aisles and passageways clear and in good repair
Hazard: Back injuries may occur from improper lifting or overexertion.
- Provide general ergonomics training and task-specific training
- Minimize the need for lifting by using good design and engineering techniques
- Encourage employees to lift properly and enlist coworkers to help if a product is too heavy
Hazard: Chemical burns are possible when hazardous materials spills occur.
- Maintain a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for each chemical workers may encounter in the facility
- Follow instructions on the SDS for handling chemical products
- Train employees on the risks of each chemical
- Provide spill cleanup kits in any area where chemicals are stored
- Have a written spill control plan
- Train employees to clean up spills, protect themselves and properly dispose of used materials
- Provide proper personal protective equipment and enforce its use
- Store all chemicals safely and securely
- Store chemicals away from forklift traffic areas
Hazard: Fires and explosion risks are possible.
- Prohibit smoking and open flames in and around charging stations
- Provide adequate ventilation to disperse fumes from gassing batteries
- Ensure that fire extinguishers are available and fully charged
- Provide proper personal protective equipment, such as rubber gloves and eye and face protection
- Properly position forklifts and apply brakes before attempting to change or charge batteries
- Follow required procedures when refueling gas or propane fueled forklifts
- Provide conveyors, overhead hoists or equivalent materials-handling equipment for servicing batteries
- Provide an eyewash and safety shower for employees exposed to battery acids
Hazard: Improper lifting, repetitive motion or poor design of operations can lead to musculoskeletal disorders in workers.
- If possible, use powered equipment instead of requiring a manual lift for heavy materials
- Reduce lifts from shoulder height and from floor height by repositioning the shelf or bin
- Ensure overhead lighting is adequate for tasks
- Provide employees with task-oriented ergonomic training
- Train employees to use their legs and keep their backs in a natural position while lifting, and not to twist while carrying loads
- Test the load to be lifted to estimate its weight, size and bulk, and to determine the proper lifting method
- Encourage employees to get help if the load exceeds the maximum weight a person can lift safely without assistance
- Keep floors clean and free of slip and trip hazards
Inadequate fire safety provisions, improper use of lockout procedures and failure to wear personal protective equipment also create hazards in the warehouse workplace.
Employers should have an emergency plan that describes what is expected of employees in the event of an emergency, including:
- Provisions for emergency exit locations and evacuation procedures
- Procedures for accounting for all employees and visitors
- Location and use of fire extinguishers and other emergency equipment
Warehouse operations need a lockout/tagout program to prevent equipment from being accidentally energized and injuring employees. Employees required to perform these operations should be trained and all employees should have a working knowledge of the program.
Finally, management at warehouse operations needs to conduct a site hazard assessment to determine what personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn based on the hazards present and train warehouse employees on proper PPE selection, use and maintenance.
Think Safety Checklists
The following checklists may help you take steps to avoid hazards that cause injuries, illnesses and fatalities. Encourage employees to be cautious and seek help if they are concerned about a potential hazard.
- Exposed or open loading dock doors and other areas that employees could fall 4 feet or more or walk off are chained off, roped off or otherwise blocked.
- Floors and aisles are clear of clutter, electrical cords, hoses, spills and other hazards that could cause employees to slip, trip or fall.
- Proper work practices are factored into determining the time requirements for an employee to perform a task.
- Employees performing physical work have adequate periodic rest breaks to avoid fatigue.
- Newly hired employees receive general ergonomics training and task-specific training.
- The warehouse is well-ventilated.
- Employees are instructed on how to safely work in both hot and cold environments.
- The facility has lockout/tagout procedures.
Materials Handling Safety
- There are appropriately marked and sufficiently safe clearances for aisles and at loading docks or passageways where mechanical handling equipment is used.
- Loose/unboxed materials which might fall from a pile are properly stacked by blocking, interlocking or limiting the height of the pile.
- Bags, containers, bundles, etc. are stored in tiers that are stacked, blocked, interlocked and limited in height so that they are stable and secure to prevent sliding or collapse.
- Storage areas are kept free from accumulation of materials that could lead to tripping, fire, explosion or pest infestations.
- Excessive vegetation is removed from building entrances, work or traffic areas to prevent possible trip or fall hazards due to visual obstructions.
- Derail and/or bumper blocks are provided on spur railroad tracks where a rolling car could contact other cars being worked on and at entrances to buildings, work or traffic areas.
- Covers and/or guardrails are provided to protect personnel from the hazards of stair openings in floors, meter or equipment pits and similar hazards.
- Personnel use proper lifting techniques.
- Elevators and hoists for lifting materials are properly used with adequate safe clearances, no obstructions, appropriate signals and directional warning signs.
Hazard Communication Safety
- All hazardous materials containers are properly labeled, indicating the chemical’s identity, the manufacturer’s name and address, and appropriate hazard warnings.
- There is an updated list of hazardous chemicals.
- The facility has a written program that covers hazard determination, including Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), labeling and training.
- There is a system to check that each incoming chemical is accompanied by an SDS.
- All employees are trained in the requirements of the hazard communication standard, the chemical hazards to which they are exposed, how to read and understand an SDS and chemical labels, and on what precautions to take to prevent exposure.
- All employee training is documented.
- All outside contractors are given a complete list of chemical products, hazards and precautions.
- Procedures have been established to maintain and evaluate the effectiveness of the current program.
- Employees use proper personal protective equipment when handling chemicals.
- All chemicals are stored according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and local or national fire codes.
- Powered industrial trucks (forklifts) meet the design and construction requirements established in the American National Standard for Powered Industrial Trucks.
- Written approval from the truck manufacturer has been obtained for any modifications that affect the capacity and safe operation of the vehicle.
- Capacity, operation and maintenance instruction plates, tags or decals are changed to specify any modifications or additions to the vehicle.
- Nameplates and markings are in place and legible.
- Forklifts that are used in hazardous locations are appropriately marked/approved for such use.
- Battery charging is conducted only in designated areas.
- Appropriate facilities are provided for flushing and neutralizing spilled electrolytes, for fire extinguishing, for protecting charging apparatus from damage by trucks and for adequate ventilation to disperse fumes from gassing batteries.
- Conveyors, overhead hoists or equivalent materials handling equipment are provided for handling batteries.
- Reinstalled batteries are properly positioned and secured.
- Carboy tilters or siphons are used for handling electrolytes.
- Forklifts are properly positioned and brakes applied before workers start to change or charge batteries.
- Vent caps are properly functioning.
- Precautions are taken to prevent smoking, open flames, sparks or electric arcs in battery charging areas and during storage/changing of propane fuel tanks.
- Tools and other metallic objects are kept away from the top of uncovered batteries.
- Concentrations of noxious gases and fumes are kept below acceptable levels.
- Forklift operators are competent to operate a vehicle safely as demonstrated by successful completion of training and evaluation conducted and certified by persons with the knowledge, training and experience to train operators and evaluate their performance.
- The training program content includes all truck-related topics, workplace related topics and the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.178 for safe truck operation.
- Refresher training and evaluation is conducted whenever an operator has been observed operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner or has been involved in an accident or a near-miss incident.
- Refresher training and evaluation is conducted whenever an operator is assigned to drive a different type of truck or whenever a condition in the workplace changes in a manner that could affect safe operation of the truck.
- Evaluations of each operator’s performance are conducted at least once every three years.
- Load engaging means are fully lowered, with controls neutralized, power shut off and brakes set when a forklift is left unattended.
- Operators maintain a safe distance from the edge of ramps or platforms while using forklifts on any elevated dock, platform or freight car.
- There is sufficient headroom for the forklift and operator under overhead installations, lights, pipes, sprinkler systems, etc.
- Overhead guards are provided in good condition to protect forklift operators from falling objects.
- Operators observe all traffic regulations, including authorized plant speed limits.
- Drivers are required to look in the direction of and keep a clear view of the path of travel.
- Operators run their trucks at a speed that will permit the vehicle to stop in a safe manner.
- Dock boards (bridge plates) are properly secured when loading or unloading from dock to truck.
- Stunt driving and horseplay are prohibited.
- All loads are stable, safely arranged and fit within the rated capacity of the truck.
- Operators fill fuel tanks only when the engine is not running.
- Replacement parts of trucks are equivalent in terms of safety with those used in the original design.
- Trucks are examined for safety before being placed into service and unsafe or defective trucks are removed from service.
Maintain a safe, productive warehouse
A safe warehouse is an efficient and productive warehouse. Providing worker training on hazard awareness, conducting safety inspections and implementing safety measures can help maintain a safe and secure working environment.
Businesses in the warehousing industry require proper insurance that provides adequate coverage for a variety of potential liabilities. Learn more about the policies you need, and risk management strategies to use, by contacting your insurance professional today.