A warehouse is one of the world’s most dangerous work environments. With so much heavy equipment and machinery packed into one place, accidents and injuries are all too common.
Warehouse managers and other logistics professionals must be thorough and meticulous with their risk and vulnerability assessments.
The most logical place to start is identifying the warehouse’s known internal risks. These are the most common risks that warehouse managers must be sure to document:
- Unstable surfaces: Warehouse floors can become slippery from grease or residue buildup. Employees can also trip on tools, vehicles, wires, and other objects on the warehouse floor.
- Vehicle accidents: Employees can get entangled in forklifts, hand trucks, and other warehouse vehicles. They could also mishandle the vehicles and cause damage to other employees or parts of the warehouse.
- Chemical exposure: Warehouses that store hazardous chemicals are vulnerable to accidental spills and leaks.
- Electrical shock: Employees might be exposed to electrical hazards while using machines or touching line-to-ground faults.
- Falls from heights: Employees can fall from great heights when working on the warehouse’s tallest shelves and using the largest equipment.
- Falling objects: Objects can also fall from shelves due to human error and injure employees standing below.
- Stressful work environment: Long hours of manual labor can lead to all kinds of aches and pains, from minor muscle sprains to more severe injuries such as fractures and hernias. Work performance can also decline and create an unsafe environment.
Spotting and recording these risks is extremely important because they’re often the results of human error. Warehouse managers must be meticulous with their risk documentation to raise employee awareness and prevent man-made risks from arising.
Aside from preventable internal risks, there are also some external risks that are largely out of the warehouse workforce’s control. Fires, floods, and other natural disasters are the most obvious external risks. No one can prevent them, but warehouse professionals must still take measures to keep their employees safe.
To demonstrate the stakes of emergency preparedness, it’s worth recalling a recent story that made national news. An Amazon warehouse in Illinois had poor evacuation procedures and failed to take action when a tornado struck in 2021, leading to the deaths of six employees. Having detailed emergency procedures saves lives.
Illness is another unpredictable risk that managers must plan for. Warehouses are unsanitary compared to other work settings, with many employees working in tight spaces and sharing the same equipment. Contagious diseases can spread easily in this environment.
Workplace violence is also a greater risk than most warehouse workers realize. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that 2 million people are affected by workplace violence every year. Verbal or physical abuse, cyberattacks, data breaches, and other similar events contribute to these numbers.
Employee training, protective gear, and compliance with industry safety protocols are the four essential strategies for preventing internal and external risks.
A well-trained staff is the most crucial ingredient of a safe warehouse. Employees should know all the risks – and their consequences – when entering the workplace. Managers must train them to properly handle equipment and navigate the warehouse without interfering with other employees.
A warehouse can quickly become cluttered and chaotic, so employees have to take tidiness seriously. Managers must train them to keep their workspaces clean and organized. There should be no loose wires, unattended equipment, or disordered shelves. Every item needs to be accounted for.
Workers must also have the knowledge and awareness to report risks when they emerge. This responsibility requires managers to implement effective communication strategies. Warehouse managers should encourage an open dialogue and reward employees when they make a report. Bad news isn’t pleasant to hear, but it makes the workplace safer in the long run.
When everyone in the building can identify and discuss potential hazards, warehouses get a more detailed and accurate picture of the hazards in their unique environment. Thorough employee training enables the management staff to make more informed adjustments to their safety rules and procedures.
To avoid complacency, warehouse managers should do periodic unannounced emergency drills. The drills will keep employees engaged and give them much-needed practice in case a real emergency occurs.
Warehouse professionals must also utilize protective equipment for employees and the workspace itself.
Loose-fitting clothes are safety hazards because they can get caught in a machine and cause injuries. Workers should wear tight, breathable clothes to stay comfortable and hard hats, gloves, vests, and eyewear to protect themselves.
The air quality in warehouses can also become dangerous, so industrial masks might even be necessary when handling certain products.
Some companies have started using wearable technology to track employee activity and monitor their physical well-being. This technology can measure activity levels, heart rate, local air quality, and other important information. It’s also a reliable hands-free communication tool that can help employees report safety concerns to each other.
Certain parts of the workplace need protective labeling. All hazardous objects and zones should have bright, readable signs to warn employees. Signage should also be posted in break rooms and other common areas to serve as constant reminders.
Industry Safety Standards
Aside from warehouse-specific safety measures, OSHA has universal guidelines to prevent slips and falls, protect workers from hazardous materials, and prevent them from getting tangled in equipment.
For example, OSHA requires workers to wear hard hats to avoid injury from items falling from warehouse shelves. There must be an adequate number of first aid kits, CPR kits, and fire extinguishers on the floor. Each room must display written evacuation procedures for chemical spills, gas leaks, electrical malfunctions, and other such emergencies.
OSHA’s optimal warehouse temperature is between 68°F and 72°F. Managers must guarantee proper ventilation by airing the building out and adding strong exhaust fans. An upgraded HVAC system might be necessary in some cases.
OSHA also pays close attention to employee work habits. It expects shelves to stay organized and workers to handle equipment responsibly. Warehouse staff must abide by these standards for their personal safety and the company’s integrity.
Risk Assessment Is an Ongoing Process
Performing a thorough risk and vulnerability assessment is extremely important, but it’s not the ultimate solution. In reality, risk assessment is an ongoing process. New hazards will emerge when you least expect them. Human error also makes certain risks impossible to predict. That’s why managers must prepare for every possibility when assessing their warehouse’s safety.
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