Employment in the warehousing and storage industries continues to grow, as these facilities increase across the United States. The boom is due to the expansion of e-commerce and other businesses, with the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) reporting that as of 2020, there were over 750,000 warehouse facilities within the United States, totaling more than 5 billion square feet of space. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 1.3 million U.S. workers were employed that year in a warehouse or storage facility, in logistics and transportation-related roles, along with the storage, handling and distribution of goods.
Due to the unique combination of vehicular, electrical, trip-and-fall, lifting, repetitive motion, chemical, respiratory and fire hazards found in warehouses, the U.S. warehousing industry's non-fatality and fatality rates have risen above the national average for all industries combined. In 2020, the BLS reported a non-fatal injury and illness rate of 4.5 cases per 100 full-time workers. This rate exceeds that of all private industry sectors of 2.8 cases per 100 full-time workers. The fatal injury rate that year in this industry was 15.5 per 100,000, which exceeded that of private industry workers, with 3.5 per 100,000. Both experienced a slight increase versus 2019, which it is unclear if the COVID-19 pandemic was a contributing factor. However, despite the improvements made to safety equipment and education, the fatal injury rate in warehousing and storage workplaces has climbed since 2011, when it was 7.0 cases per 100,000 workers. The gradual climb could likely be attributed to multiple elements, including the rise of e-commerce. That has increased the demand of warehousing and logistics, leading to greater employment and workplace injuries. It is a fast-paced line of work that can be physically demanding, which can lead to incidents. A surge in temporary or contract workers might also be a contributing factor to the increase in work-related injuries.
Keeping workers safe and reducing warehouse liability is dependent upon proper and thorough employee training, the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and an ergonomically friendly work environment. CableOrganizer® has provided the following warehouse safety checklist from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) below, to help you keep your employees and warehouse facility, as safe and productive as possible:
- • Equip packing stations with impact absorbing, anti-slip industrial floor mats to relieve the stress placed on employees' knees, shins, and ankles, when they work entire shifts standing in one place.
- • Prevent musculoskeletal disorders by opting to move heavy loads with mechanical equipment, like carts, instead of manually lifting them.
- • Make sure that floors are kept free of spills and tripping hazards.
- • Prevent eyestrain and errors by providing workers with overhead lighting that is adequate for all operations. Customize different areas of the facility with task lighting as needed.
- • Never twist your body while carrying a load — turning your torso in a situation like this can lead to back injuries. If you need to change direction, turn yourself by shifting your feet in small steps.
- • If a load pushes the size or weight limit of what you can comfortably lift, don't risk hurting yourself — get help and team-lift the materials instead.
- • When lifting, keep your back in a natural position; and rely on your legs to do the actual lifting.
- • Lifting from floor or shoulder level is a common cause of injury. Prevent employees from injuring themselves by arranging storage in such a way that these types of lifting tasks are reduced or eliminated.
SAFELY STORING MATERIALS
- • Make sure stacked loads are straight and even, to prevent them from toppling over.
- • Heavier loads should be stored on lower or middle shelves to create a center of gravity for your shelving units, as opposed to leaving them top-heavy.
- • When removing objects from shelves, only do so one item at a time.
- • Keep the aisles and areas surrounding your shelf systems free from obstruction.
- • Never allow anyone who is under the age of 18 and/or not specifically trained in forklift operation, to operate a forklift.
- • When driving a forklift, never exceed 5 mph. Always slow down in areas that have slippery floors — or are likely to be congested with people, materials, or other transport vehicles.
- • Properly maintain forklifts; and always remember to do a walk-around check for hazardous conditions, before you operate one.
- • Never operate a damaged or defective forklift until it has been adequately repaired and proven safe for use.
- • Make sure aisles and loading docks traversed by forklifts are kept clear, allowing plenty of space for a forklift to safely maneuver through.
- • Require all forklift operators to utilize the manufacturer-installed seatbelts.
- • Keep your warehouse well ventilated to allow the dissipation of forklift fumes and carbon monoxide. Employees need to be fully trained on the dangers of inhaling excessive amounts of forklift exhaust.
- • Never attempt to lift, stack, or transport loads that exceed the forklift's weight capacity.
- • Maintain a zero-tolerance policy for "stunt driving," racing, and any other forklift-related horseplay.
- • Provide proper PPE (like rubber gloves and safety glasses) at forklift battery charging stations, to protect workers in the event they are exposed to battery acid or other chemicals.
LOADING DOCK SAFETY
- • Place visual warnings like signs and strips of brightly colored tape along dock edges, to prevent employees from accidentally walking off.
- • Never allow forklifts to back up all the way to a loading dock's edge.
- • Equip dock stairs and ladders with handrails that meet OSHA requirements.
- • Whenever a dock plate is used, make sure it's well secured. Verifying its weight capacity can safely accommodate the load you intend to move over it.
- • Regularly inspect conveyors to ensure they're undamaged and in safe condition.
- • Make sure all pinch points are well guarded.
- • Provide proper lighting and sufficient workspace in the vicinity of the conveyor.
- • Tailor a lockout plan for your conveyor system, so it can remain safely shut down, in the event of a malfunction or repair. Train employees in the procedure.
GENERAL WAREHOUSE SAFETY TIPS
- • Floors must be kept clear of spilled liquids and clutter that could cause employees to slip or trip.
- • If power cords or hoses must be run across walkways or open areas, cover them with heavy-duty cord covers to prevent tripping hazards, as well as to protect the cables from run-over damage.
- • Set reasonable time requirements for task completion — rushing can lead to accidents and injuries.
- • Prevent worker fatigue by mandating employees who perform physical work receive an adequate number of rest breaks throughout their shifts.
- • Have set lockout/tagout procedures in place to prevent employees from being injured during the repair of damaged machinery and electrical panels.
- • Always keep the warehouse consistently ventilated.
- • Depending upon the average temperature of your facility, train employees on proper hydration, appropriate clothing, and other best practices for working in hot or cold environments.
If you'd like more information about Warehouse Safety, be sure to check out OSHA's Pocket Guide to Warehousing, one of the organization's publications on the warehousing topic.