There is close to 1.5 million people employed in the warehousing and storage industry, including non-supervisory workers, those involved with production, and supervisors. Many of these individuals work at big-box warehouse stores, which also have customers shopping inside and out. Owing to the high number of employees and other reasons, busy warehouse worksites are known for having hazardous conditions that lead to accidents. This number will only increase in the coming years, as people increase to shop online and order items that must be packaged up and delivered. The pace also picks up around the holidays and other hectic times. As things get busier and often more chaotic, it is essential to understand how to make warehouses safer for employees and customers through accident prevention.
What Accidents Occur in Warehouses?
Forklifts are a common sight in warehouses and a significant hazard when not used properly but are needed to move items around. They can be involved in warehouse accidents when they overturn; this can cause someone to get pinned, crushed, or stuck. Workers can also fall off forklifts or drive into people by mistake. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) reports that on average, two warehouse workers each month lose their lives while working after being crushed by heavy machinery such as this.
A main category of warehouse accidents is falling objects. This happens when merchandise is not stored properly, whether it is up on a high shelf or closer to the floor. If the object is heavy, it can cause serious injuries; imagine a television set falling from a height onto an employee’s head. Odd-shaped objects present an increased for falling and must be stacked and stored accordingly.
Slips, trips, and falls are another source of warehouse accidents. Although the majority of these do not lead to serious injuries or deaths, it is reported that they are responsible for 15 percent of all accidental deaths. Another culprit for these accidents is pallet rack collapses. These material handling systems use frames, beams, and rails to store large amounts of merchandise. Employees use these often, and many times the racks are up in high locations. When these drop, they can turn into projectile hazards.
The last group of warehouse accidents involve hazardous or volatile materials, such as chemicals. Accidental spills can lead to facility shutdowns, and even small spills and leaks can harm workers. There are special safety guidelines to follow when working with these kinds of materials, but companies and employees do not always adhere to these rules.
What Safety Precautions Prevent Falling Objects and Falls?
To prevent items from falling, employees need to use care when stacking objects and working with pallet racks. The heaviest items should always be placed on the bottom, with the smaller, lighter things toward the top. Oddly shaped objects such as tubes, pipes, and cylindrical items are more likely to topple when not stored properly. They can be placed closer to the ground or be stored through cantilever racking. Pallet racks should also be wrapped and stacked with the heaviest items on the bottom and placed with adequate space in between them. This can help prevent collapses when the racks must be moved by lift trucks. Besides that, the racks and storage areas should be inspected regularly for stacking problems and other potential dangers.
Warehouse floors are often made from polished concrete, which can be slippery. Although this is optimal for heavy machinery, these floors can cause traction problems. To prevent slips, trips, and falls, it is essential to clean up warehouse floor spills immediately. It is also important that employees wear footwear with non-skid soles, and many companies install anti-slip surfacing to help as well. Employees should also stay on top of keeping aisles free of merchandise and debris, and supervisors can put signs to alert workers about uneven flooring. Darker areas should be illuminated, and new merchandise should be stored as soon as possible.
How Can Forklift Accidents Be Prevented?
Forklifts must be inspected on a regular basis to ensure that all their components are in proper working condition. The other main way to prevent forklift accidents is through employee training. New hires and more experienced employees all need to be instructed on how to use this machinery, and refresher courses help workers from falling into complacency. Only certified forklift operators should handle the machines and be dressed for this work with appropriate high-visibility jackets, hard hats, and safety shoes; wearing loose clothing is discouraged.
Forklift operators should maintain 360-degree visibility at all times, so it is best to keep the fork lower to the ground. It is also vital to maintain eye contact with others and to look in the direction that forklift is going. Rear-view mirrors add more visibility, and headlights should be used in low-light areas. Some warehouses use floor marking systems, which mark off hazards and things such as emergency switches. Forklifts drivers should also never let their forklifts go over their assigned weight capacities, never drive too fast, never transport extra passengers, and use the horn to alert others when needed.
More Important Warehouse Safety Tips
Warehouses that handle and store hazardous materials need to train their employees well and often. There should be current safety data sheets (SDS) that explain everything about the materials, including what to do in case of an emergency. Employees should also be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety goggles and gloves. This should all be part of the company’s hazmat plan, which can be in place to prepare employees in the event of a chemical spill or if other hazardous materials are released into the environment.
OSHA also requires companies to have maintenance plans, and these should cover every aspect of operations, from forklifts to pallets. Equipment should be tested regularly, whether or not it is being used often. Warehouses also need to be kept clean; anything in the path of a person or forklift could cause an accident. Floors need to be swept, wiped down, and dried, and debris and spills cleaned up right away. The problem of speeding forklifts was already mentioned, but the rule also applies to vehicles going too fast on loading docks and in parking lots. Employees also need to slow down, even when the pressure is on to finish their work. Warehouses have lots of high-traffic areas, entryways, intersections, and corners, and these can all be more dangerous when someone is moving too fast.
Another good idea is to create designated safe walking areas to keep pedestrians and forklifts in different zones. These can be marked off with painted walkways, lights, and safety cones. Finally, any safety hazards should be reported immediately to supervisors, even if they do not seem that harmful. Management can maintain databases that document all these concerns, along with the actions taken to correct the problems. Weekly safety meetings and ongoing training are other proven methods for preventing warehouse accidents.
It is in a company’s best interest to institute these safety programs, because OSHA carries out regular inspections and investigates workplace accidents. They issue citations and considerable fines for violations for a variety of reasons. These can include failures to maintain safe operating conditions, hiring uncertified employees, and failing to train their employees. The most common OSHA warehouse safety violations involve:
- A lack of communication about hazards
- Electrical wiring methods and systems design
- Guarding wall and floor openings and holds
- Mechanical power transmission
- Respiratory protection for employees
- Lockout/tagout procedures and conditions
- Portable fire extinguishers
Wilmington Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC, Help Workers Injured in Warehouse Accidents
Employers are responsible for keeping their workers safe, but even with the best intentions, accidents happen in warehouse and other workplaces. If you have been injured at your place of employment and need legal guidance with a Workers’ Compensation claim, contact the skilled Wilmington Workers’ Compensation lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC. We will investigate the circumstances of your injury and fight to secure the compensation you deserve. Call us today at 302-888-1221 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients in Dover, Newark, and Middletown.