Working in a warehouse comes with a set of health and safety risks. When not properly managed, this can lead to injuries, illness, low performance, lost workdays, legal issues and high employee turnover. 

According to The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, all employers will be held responsible for the safety of the working environment they provide for their employees. It’s their duty to carry out the necessary safety measures. Unfortunately, warehouses are complex and dynamic operations, making it easy to lose sight of safety practices. 

Not only can inadequate safety practices lead to injuries and litigation issues, but they can also be very costly to companies. Accidents can damage the warehouse itself and require a lot of paperwork and sometimes having to shut down a section. 

Although accidents can still happen even if the staff is highly qualified and has received proper training, they tend to occur less frequently. Like in many other market sectors, warehouse jobs are abundant with not enough workforce to fill them. As older workers are retiring, there are fewer workers interested in warehousing as a long-term career. This translated to a shortage of qualified middle management applicants. 

At the entry-level, warehousing is a demanding line of work with relatively low wages, so there’s a high turnover. The shortage of warehouse workers is especially noticeable now that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a surge in online shopping

With more stock and not enough workers, warehouses are filling up and creating dangerous working conditions, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries. Warehousing is challenging even under safe conditions. Workers have to be on their feet all the time, walking, bending and lifting. The workload also changes from one day to the other and sometimes even hour-to-hour. 

We also have to consider factors like noise levels, poor lighting and temperature, which, when not properly managed, can have a negative impact on the worker’s safety and health.

Employee Training

Providing your employees with health and safety training is required by law. They need to understand the safety control measures and how to safely operate the warehouse equipment. As we mentioned before, qualified workers who have received proper training reduce the risk of injuries. It’s up to you to make sure that the training your company provides is comprehensive and applicable.

When deciding between training programs, look for the ones that apply to all your workers and then for the more specific ones. Everyone needs to know how to handle hazardous material spills, while only forklift operators will need to receive detailed forklift training. All your workers need to know how to minimize the different types of hazards inherent to warehouses.

You’ll have to go through health and safety training as well, and you should bear in mind that different standards apply so you’ll need more training than the workers.

You should already have written safety measures for the warehouse, including guidelines on how to use the equipment and training for new hires. Still, during busy times, these practices may fall by the wayside, which is why it’s so important to encourage employees to report hazards immediately. This will enable you or other senior staff measures to take swift action and prevent accidents.

Safe Equipment Operation

This is particularly important when it comes to forklifts. Ensure that only certified workers operate forklifts and other heavy equipment around the warehouse and do so following strict guidelines.

Operators should inspect the forklifts before each use, wear a seatbelt and respect the speed limit. They should avoid reversing as much as possible since it increases the risk of accidents. Plan routes and set up one-way systems to make it easier for workers to operate the forklifts without reversing.

If they do have to reverse, they should have some sort of visibility support or someone to spot them. You can also increase visibility by setting up mirrors around corners. Forklift operators should always sound the horn at intersections, crosswalks and busy areas to minimize the risk for the other workers.

Forklifts need to have designated paths, and the operator should always check every direction before operating the forklift or making turns. Any dangerous misuse of forklifts, such as racing, should have strict disciplinary consequences.

For additional protection, equip racking, columns and dock areas with bumpers to reduce the risk of damage to the forklift. The forklifts should also receive regular inspection and maintenance according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

You’re legally required to provide warehouse workers with personal protective equipment. You’ll need to also provide them with training regarding the proper use and care of PPE. The responsibility isn’t just one-sided since your employees have to attend training, wear, care for, clean and store the PPE. They also have to inform you when the PPE needs to be replaced or repaired.

Warehouse protective equipment usually includes:

  • Hard hats –Hard hats need to comply with manufacturing standards.
  • High visibility jackets – High visibility jackets help prevent vehicle accidents in the warehouse.
  • Safety shoes – Safety shoes have anti-slip shoes to prevent slips and steel toe caps to prevent injuries from impact or crush.
  • Safety glasses – Safety glasses protect the eyes from debris.
  • Hearing protection – Hearing Protection usually comes in the form of ear defenders or plugs that protect the eardrum from loud noise exposure.
  • Overalls

You need to evaluate the risks your warehouse workers are exposed to and determine what type of PPE is most suitable. Hard hats and high visibility jackets are the most common PPE used in warehouses. You can get more information or risks, types of PPE and legislation through certified health and safety training.

Shelving and Racking Safely

Most warehouses need their staff to load and unload pallets or other items on racking, either manually or with equipment. They need to know how to do this safely, so they don’t get injured, injure other workers, and damage the equipment or the racking.

Problems with shelving and racking, either stemming from misuse or poor quality is very dangerous. Make sure your employees get the training they need to learn how to distribute weight on a shelf, how to stack boxes and how much weight a rack can sustain.

Inspect the racking regularly to see if it’s still in working order and does not pose risks to the employees. You can also use special racking protection such as bumpers.

Make sure your employees do not use the forklifts or pellets to reach higher shelves. They should only use suitable equipment such as a ladder. They should also be aware of the safe stacking height and weight as per the manufacturer’s recommendations. You can remind them by painting or posting this information on the walls.

Author's Bio: 

Cynthia Madison