As a small business owner, warehouse safety procedures may seem like a responsibility that's best reserved for your distribution center manager, but ultimately, it's your job. If you want to avoid workplace injuries, expensive lawsuits, and outside scrutiny, you must start giving more thought to the protocols that you have in place.
The Significance of Warehouse Safety
Business owners have a lot to worry about, but the health and safety of employees must be a top priority. Deaths and injuries on the job are not only catastrophic for those directly affected, but they also greatly harm a brand's image and tie up resources in legal battles.
While there's a number of ways to improve workplace health and safety, not enough attention is being given to warehouses and distribution centers. With that said, consider the following statistics pulled from this infographic on warehouse safety:
• Each year, 20,000 employees are seriously injured in warehouse forklift-related accidents. Roughly 100 employees are killed by forklift-related accidents each year - with one out of every four fatalities caused by the forklift overturning.
• In addition to forklift-related accidents, ergonomic related issues and slips, trips, and falls make up the top three warehouse injuries.
• The five most accident-prone areas and activities in warehouses are docks, forklifts, conveyors, materials storage, and manual lifting and handling.
• Damage to pallet racks commonly lead to injury because it's often challenging to detect damage upon first glance. There must be stringent protocol for repair.
• Unsafe working conditions may lead to hefty Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) fines, lost employee time, lost product, and workers' compensation increases. OSHA fines start at $7,000 for non-serious violations and scale all the way to $70,000 for repeat offenders.
• The average work-related injury leads to $38,000 in direct expenses and $150,000 in indirect costs. This means that a single injury could cost your business a total of $188,000.
• OSHA citations are issued in 10 common areas: forklifts, hazard communication, electrical wiring methods, electrical system design, guarding floor and wall openings, exits, mechanical power transmission, respiratory protection, lockout, and portable fire extinguishers.
• Since OSHA was created in 1970, occupational deaths have reduced by 62 percent, while injuries have experienced a 42 percent reduction. However, warehouse-related incidents still remain higher than national industry averages.
As you can see, warehouse safety is a big deal. It can't be something that you skim through during the hiring process and forget thereafter. Safety must be a priority for your warehouse employees.
Four Practical Tips for Improving Warehouse Safety
While certain aspects change depending on the size of the warehouse and your total number of employees, the same basic principles can be applied universally, from one company to another. In an effort to improve worker safety, and reduce the risk of accidents, let's review the following tips:
1. Use the Right Warning Signs and Labels
Because safety transcends language, the International Standards Organization (ISO) has developed a standardized warning label system that can be recognized all over the world. This eliminates confusion and ensures that anyone anywhere can understand when dangers are present.
"The key, here, is that your system of product safety labels must be tailored to match the safety communication needs of your product, take into account the characteristics of the people you are communicating with, and comply with the latest safety label standards for your market," Clarion Safety Systems reports. "If your labels fail in any one of these three areas, safety communication and compliance will not be optimal."
While it may seem like just another expense or complicated step, it's important that you use the appropriate signage to create an environment that's conducive to safety.
2. Train Forklift Drivers Carefully
As you noticed in the statistics referenced at the beginning of the article, forklift-related accidents are incredibly pervasive in warehouses. And, not only are they frequent, but they also cause significant harm. While it's important that forklift lanes are designated and marked, the biggest key to enhancing safety is making sure that drivers are trained thoroughly.
While annual OSHA forklift training isn't required, it's not a bad idea to revisit protocol on a regular basis. The most seasoned drivers are often the most dangerous, as they tend to get stuck in their ways, forgetting about proper rules and procedures. New drivers should undergo extensive training before being allowed to operate forklifts, and they also need to be paired up with other drivers for a probationary period.
3. Reevaluate Racking Strategies
Poor racking strategies can lead to serious injuries if you aren't careful. Because of this, OSHA is always on the lookout for issues during inspections. While there's a long list of racking strategies, you can't judge based on price. You must think about safety, and have a system in place for dealing with problems.
"There can be no grey areas when it comes to racking safety," writes safety expert Justin O'Sullivan. "Decide well ahead of time what your business considers to be a yellow alert and what your business considers to be a red alert. Racking safety is not like poetry class; there is no room for interpretation."
4. Offer Incentives and Rewards
While you have hundreds of thousands of incentives to enhance warehouse safety - speaking in dollar signs, of course - it's important that you put yourself in the shoes of your employees. Other than for personal reasons, what's going to make them care about improving overall safety for the organization?
Offering rewards and incentives for responsible behavior and smart practices is a great way to get people involved. Make a competition out of it, and reward employees for discouraging irresponsible behaviors and encouraging positive ones. When employees have more skin in the game, they're more likely to make warehouse safety a priority.
Warehouse Safety is No Longer Optional
As a business owner, you shouldn't ever rest when it comes to warehouse safety. Regardless of how long it's been since the last injury, there's always room for improvement. A single slip-up can mean catastrophic results for your brand's image and your company's finances. Keep the aforementioned tips in mind, and work continuously to develop a warehouse environment that's both safe and productive.