Often, warehouses are used to store and organize inventory and ship a wide variety of products. They can also serve as headquarters for field operations, such as service and distribution. Warehouses are often thought to be one of the safer places to work because employees are not exposed to outside elements or large, noisy machinery. Although they often work in a controlled environment, warehouse employees are subject to a wide variety of hazards that can cause injuries.
Forklifts/Material Handling Equipment
Forklifts and material handling equipment come in various types and sizes to make jobs easier. However, many forklifts weigh as much as or more than an automobile and are designed to move heavy and/or bulky material efficiently. If they are used improperly, forklifts can become a danger in the warehouse.
When using forklifts and material handling equipment:
- Clearly mark aisles and passageways, including doorway and loading dock areas, and keep them clear at all times.
- Stay out of the forklift’s path. Don’t assume that the forklift operator can see you or react in time to stop.
- Take caution when emerging from aisles, doorways, offices, or other areas that create blind spots for forklifts. Make your presence known.
- Avoid walking over skids and pallets. Keep empty pallets stacked in flat, stable piles—never on end.
- Report unsafe conditions or behavior to a supervisor immediately.
Despite advances that make warehouses safer and more efficient, some materials must still be moved by hand. When done improperly, injuries can result. These injuries can affect employees for the rest of their lives. When manually moving and handling materials:
- Use your legs and keep your back in its natural position when lifting.
- Test the load to be lifted. Get help if it is too heavy or bulky to be lifted safely.
- Lift cartons by grasping opposite top and bottom corners of the container.
- Don’t twist your back while carrying a load. Shift your feet and use small steps in the direction you want to turn. Use handling devices to move barrels and drums.
- Keep floors clean and free of slip and trip hazards.
Improper use and storage of chemicals can lead to serious personal injury or fire. When working with chemicals:
- Have material safety data sheets (MSDS) readily available for all chemicals used and stored.
- Be familiar with all chemicals stored, including physical and chemical characteristics, storage requirements, use, and first aid procedures.
- Use proper personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling chemicals.
- Be sure that all chemicals are stored according to manufacturer’s recommendations and local or national fire codes (NFPA).
Falls in a warehouse at floor level or higher, cause numerous injuries. To reduce fall hazards:
- Access racks and shelves above floor level with portable stairs, ladders, or properly-equipped lifting devices.
- Chain off, rope off, or otherwise block exposed or open loading dock doors and areas that employees could fall or walk off.
- Keep floors and aisles clear of clutter, electrical cords, hoses, spills, and other hazards that could cause employees to slip, trip, or fall.
- Use only an approved personnel safety cage when lifting employees on forklifts.
- When accessing racks or shelves above floor level and using an order picker or similar machine, fall protection must be used.
Have an emergency plan that describes what is expected of employees in the event of an emergency. Ensure that all employees are aware of:
- How and when to call 911 or other emergency personnel.
- Emergency exit locations and evacuation procedures, including where to meet after the building is evacuated and procedures to account for all employees and visitors.
- Location and use of fire extinguishers and other emergency equipment, and who is trained to use them and when.
- Procedures for reporting incidents to management, including after-hours telephone numbers and what types of incidents to report.
There are several OSHA regulations that can apply to warehouse operations depending on the type of operation. Some of the most common are:
29 CFR 1910 Subpart E - Means of Egress
29 CFR 1910 Subpart H - Hazardous Materials
29 CFR 1910 Subpart N - Materials Handling and Storage
WCF Insurance Safety Department
NOTICE: This guide may make reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations; however the guide is not legal advice as to compliance with OSHA or other safety laws, codes, or regulations. Compliance with OSHA and other safety laws codes or regulations, and maintaining a safe work environment for your employees remains your responsibility. WCF Insurance does not undertake to perform the duty of any person to provide for the health or safety of your employees. WCF Insurance does not warrant that your workplace is safe or healthful, or that it complies with any laws, regulations, codes, or standards.