Warehouse Safety: Top 8 Hazards and How to Deal with Them
Employees executing their activities inside of warehouses are exposed to a set of particular hazardous situations. Warehouse management systems are commonplace for engineers, chief operating officers and inventory controllers striving to implement health safety plans to prevent these situations to happen.
Dealing with emerging hazards and avert future accidents is one of the top priorities in the construction industry. In fact, the number of fatal accidents is highest than any other field. Manufacturing, transportation and storage are the following industries with a great number of incidents and casualties.
Although there are various types of warehouses – distribution centre, private or climate-controlled – and they are not only used in the construction industry, there are recurring types of risks present in all of them. Here we mention 8 of the most frequent hazards and the corrective actions to be taken to prevent them.
For hazardous chemicals, there must be an assessment plan to store and control the transportation logistics, when they enter and leave the warehouse. In addition to transportation and logistics, the plan should consider the signalling of pedestrian paths and clearly define the routes forklifts and trucks follow to move the loads around.
The warehouse should be classified in areas to store different chemicals. For example, gas cylinders are put in a ventilated, dry and flat part of the warehouse, wherever external heat doesn’t reach them and away from the established routes for heavy machines and vehicles.
Gas cylinders or flammable liquids are only part of the frequently stored chemical materials. Other substances such as petrol, diesel fuel, cosmetic, cleaning and corrosive materials are as well considered in the risk assessment plan.
Moving Machine Parts
For warehouse constantly relocating moving items and heavy loads, machine operators are trained to be careful with pedestrians around them. However, there are plenty of blind spots for machinists and it is the responsibility of pedestrians to attentively carry on with their activities while operators work in the surrounding areas.
For this end, employees executing duties inside of warehouses with machines constantly moving are trained to anticipate dangers.
In other words, safety precautions and plans are implemented and reinforced for both machine operators and pedestrians. On one side, machine operators should be aware of the activities other employees perform inside of the warehouse. On the other, workers understand the warning labels and take the right measurements to avoid dangers.
Lack of supervision and experience during dock loading are only two of the most common situations that increase the risk of injuries inside warehouses. Workers finding themselves trapped between forklifts and loading trucks are not a very uncommon situation.
To prevent accidents to happen, supervisors, operators and workers inside of the warehouse should be aware of slippery surfaces while being close to a loading truck, so they don’t fall in blind spots. In general, there should be common knowledge of the zones where the materials are discharged, located or relocated, and at what time there is higher traffic of loading docks.
Marking zone floors, cleaning the floors, well-secured goods and visible loading schedules are effective ways to decrease the number of accidents in warehouses.
Forklift drivers have blind spots in every direction. Although a forklift is constantly moving in reverse, the machine configuration itself partly or completely impedes to see the back part. The same happens when the machinist is moving forwards, the load size unable operators to have a full awareness of the space in front of them.
The consequence of visibility problems and poor space management inside of the warehouse affects the safety of the employees, the driver and the items in the warehouse. Often, the lack of training for operators ends up decreasing productivity and adding extra cost to warehouse management.
Sometimes, piercing goods don’t incur to larger expense, but performing maintenance to the machinery itself due to poor handling does. In the same line, dropping and hitting the load bring extra spending to the chief management office to replace the damaged goods. Piercing and pushing loads are situations that should be prevented as much as accidents with workers.
Many companies opt to buy or rent forklifts with cameras and train the operators on how to use them efficiently. Lasers on the forklift carrier also assist drivers on recalculate distance and decrease the trial and error attempts when lifting and locating loads.
Electricity and Energy
Warehouses should include a clearly delimited zone to refuel machinery and charge equipment whenever necessary. Electrical equipment as well should be stored in specific places.
For zones where refuelling is taking place, employees must make sure the floors are clean of fuel and oils to avoid slipping. For electrical equipment, there should be special attention to the zone where the wiring goes through in order to prevent machinery to run over it or people tripping with it.
But besides the risk cables and cords around the floor can bring, multiple extensions are prompt to short circuit when they are not maintained properly. Workers sometimes see sparkles when connecting the wires for the equipment but they don’t report the possible damage to their supervisors.
It is vital to make operators understand that it is for the best interest of the company and themselves to report if there are electrical problems with the machinery.
Misplaced objects, from wires, debris and small boxes cause most of the accidents inside of warehouses. Slips and trips are sometimes unavoidable – as human errors and distractions are most of the time difficult to prevent.
With that said, the staff inside warehouses must be trained to have a critical eye on what the ongoing conditions of the warehouse are in comparison with how it should be. They should know also the location of the equipment and the potential dangers of misplacing objects.
Musculoskeletal injuries caused by lifting and carrying items in an improper position are much difficult to prevent. It is hard to measure the strength and endurance of workers, and in many cases, they would attempt to carry bigger and heavier weights than they should.
For that reason, ergonomics education is key to prevent short and long-lasting injuries. The company must create a program with physical training to place and pick heavy and light items, besides providing the right mechanical equipment to lift objects.
Encouraging self-awareness of their own limitations is the best way to prevent hazardous situations. Also, information about the possible consequences in the future health of adding extra weight each day should be available.
Falling objects are not a situation exclusive to when works at height take place inside of the warehouse. Misplaced objects by forklifts and loading machines can cause big and small loads to fall, the same happens if operators mistakenly drive too close to items and push them causing a domino effect.
Depending on the task they perform, it is hard to advise workers to stay away from where big and small loads are getting relocated, or the areas staff conduct work at height. For that reason, the safety equipment should be on even if there are no immediate threats and constant training on how to place objects in shelves must be part of the agenda.