6 Most Common Warehouse Hazards and How to Prevent Them
Whether it’s repetitive strain injuries in the manufacturing industry or back pain from long periods of sitting poorly in the office, all jobs come with health hazards of their own. However, when it comes to work-related risks, warehouses are a kind of their own. The average warehouse contains thousands of tons stacked over each other and organized along narrow aisles where people and heavy machinery mingle every day. In such a congested and fast-paced environment, it might be difficult to identify hazards even while they exist in every corner of your warehouse. Don’t worry, we’ve taken all the guess work out of common warehouse hazards. Here’s our take on the 6 most common warehouse hazards and how you might address them.
- 6 Most Common Warehouse Hazards and How to Prevent Them
- 1. Heavy plant & machinery
- 2. Slips, falls, and trips
- What you can do about slips, trips and falls in warehouses
- 3. Poor ergonomics
- 4. Fires
- 5. Harmful substances and materials
- 6. Loading dock accidents
- The bottom line for warehouse safety and managing common warehouse hazards
1. Heavy plant & machinery
Any environment where heavy plant/ machinery and people mingle is incredibly dangerous for pedestrians. Warehouses, like your average streets and roads, should have designated lanes to separate humans and machines as much as possible. Understanding the fact that warehouse workers and forklifts don’t’ just interact in loading areas, but might also bump into each other on intersections and shared aisles — with sometimes fatal consequences is a key to managing the risk. Plant and machinery is a common warehouse hazard and a common cause of all serious injuries.
What you can do about managing heavy plant and machinery safety
Prevention starts with reducing, or at least regulating as much as possible, the number of areas where machines and pedestrians interact (interaction points). Using curbs, guard rails, and, gates to physically divide your warehouse into foot and wheeled traffic areas will reduce unnecessary interactions and the risk of collisions. However, wherever traffic interacts, warehouses can use high-visibility signs, designated paths, sensor-based warning systems, temporary barriers, and supervisors to enforce their traffic management plans.
2. Slips, falls, and trips
Whether they’re picking an order or managing inventory, warehouse workers are always on the move. Unfortunately, in a job where the whole warehouse is your office, the chances of stepping in the wrong direction are huge. Product spills and liquids are hard to spot and often go unnoticed. However, even if your floors are kept swept and clean, an employee might slip from a slippery concrete floor, trip on a misplaced pallet, or fall while working from a high position — like a stair or an order picker’s elevated platform.
What you can do about slips, trips and falls in warehouses
Avoidance starts with training employees and ensuring your main working areas are safe for access. All warehouse workers should know how to deal with spills, the importance of safety footwear, and how to use protective equipment and barriers to protect themselves while working on elevated surfaces. You can also consider the use of anti-slip paint or tape on your floors to add an extra layer of security and give your staff a much-needed grip on the floor. Finally, by completing regular safety inspections, supervisors and staff will be able to identify spilled liquids, loose materials, poorly-placed boxes, and other risks before they can endanger your crew.
3. Poor ergonomics
Warehouse workers risk their health on a daily basis, often without realizing it. In the heat of the moment, working harder might sound like a better solution than working smarter. In reality, ignoring ergonomic issues — such as improperly lifting too much weight or repeating the same movements over and over again — may lead to injuries and loss of productivity in the long run.
What you can do about warehouse ergonomics?
To reduce injuries, its important to assess the risk of injury from particular activities at the warehouse. Having all you Warehouse workers understand their own limitations for work and how to maintain a neutral posture that avoids both awkward back flexes (both forward and back) and excessive twisting of the waist. Training has its limits, though, and that’s why warehouses must streamline their operations to meet their workers’ ergonomics. For example, around conveyor systems, teaching employees how to twist and lift properly can help a lot to prevent back injuries. Other improvements, like using proper utility knives or standardizing packages’ weight may also improve workers’ health and reduce the incidence of sick leave.
While slips or collisions can hurt a few of your employees, fires are a serious hazard to your staff’s health and your inventory and are a common warehouse hazard. Warehouses are filled with cardboard, plastic, wood, and other highly-flammable materials that can accelerate a fire and make it uncontrollable within minutes. Disgruntled employees, faulty electric wiring, and unsafe heating equipment can all start a fire when you least expect it.
What you can do about preventing warehouse fires?
The first step of prevention is making sure you have the right building permits and carry out regular inspections to ensure your warehouse complies with fire protection regulations — such as having marked exits and charged and tested fire extinguishers. Thermographic surveys can help identify hot spots on electrical boards, wiring and other and potential ignition points. Flammable products, and anything else that represents a fire hazard should be isolated as much as possible from sources of ignition. However, when push comes to shove, you’ll want to have a fire alarm and sprinkler system that can stop a fire in its tracks or at least slow it down awaiting the arrival of the fire department.
5. Harmful substances and materials
Acids, paints, solvents, disinfectants, glues, and other chemical products represent a health hazard to your workers. The danger that harmful and hazardous chemicals represent to your staff will vary widely depending on what you’re storing. However, if your warehouse was built before asbestos was banned in 2003, there’s a good chance that asbestos could be used in your cement roof, ceiling tiles, cement gutter, or as insulation for your pipes and boilers.
What you can do about hazardous chemicals in warehouses
Harmful chemicals and substances must be kept in separate (preferably segregated) storage areas. Workers must be properly trained and equipped to handle them in accordance with information on a Safety Data Sheet — including the use of PPE like gloves, goggles, face masks and shields, hazmat suits, etc. — and have enough agents like water and soap at hand to decontaminate themselves. Obviously if asbestos is used in any part of your warehouse, don’t risk your employees’ health (or a lawsuit) by making them remove it. Rather, call a licensed asbestos removal company and let them take care of your problem.
6. Loading dock accidents
Loading dock are one of the the most trafficked areas in any warehouse and are loaded with common warehouse hazards. On any given day, a warehouse might receive and/or send dozens of trucks which must be unloaded by a forklift and might need foot workers to keep the floor dry, check pallets, give last minute shrink wrapping, etc. Loading docks are often congested, noisy places, where one mistake could lead to an employee being pinned by a forklift and cost him a serious injury, a limb, or even his life.
What you can do about loading dock safety
Like plant and equipment, you must identify all potential interaction points between equipment working on a loading dock and seek to mitigate potential interactions. Cooperation and co-ordination is one of the keys to safety in loading dock areas.
Pedestrians entering the area must understand the risks of not being seen by forklift drivers and, likewise, drivers must always know where pedestrians are located at all times. Designated walking areas are a must. Workers must also make sure that the trailer/truck is supported, has its wheels preferably chocked, and is in no way separated from the bay before the forklifts can go enter it. Loading docks are complicated areas and ensuring that you have the best systems in place to manage the plant and machinery and personnel is a must.
The bottom line for warehouse safety and managing common warehouse hazards
It’s difficult to tell warehouse managers to prioritize health over safety. After all, warehouses serve a logistical purpose. However, that doesn’t mean safety should come second. Safeguarding your employees from disease, injury, and even death isn’t just the moral decision, but the best investment you could make.
So make sure your team makes these health hazards their top priority, and pretty soon you’ll see how your downtime, injury rates, and legal fees plummet as productivity kicks in!
If you need more help in managing your warehouse risks or identifying you current level of compliance, Safetysure consultants can help with warehouse safety services. Simply call us on 1300087888 to speak with a consultant or chat in the chat panel below. We’d love to help.