Warehouse employees play essential roles in keeping our supply chains moving. Unfortunately, this work environment has many safety hazards that result in frequent accidents.
This guide will help floor managers implement effective safety procedures to avoid the six most common types of warehouse accidents.
1. Slips, Trips and Falls
Warehouses are full of hazards that might cause employees to fall and injure themselves. The floors can become slippery from residue and employees can trip over boxes, pallets, wires and many other objects. According to the latest occupational injury statistics from 2021, there were 850 work-related fatalities due to slips, trips and falls — a marked increase from 805 in 2020.
Moreover, a total of 211,650 employees suffered non-fatal injuries from falling in 2020 that caused them to take time off from work. As a result, slip, trip and fall injuries are the top contributors to missed work days and worker’s compensation claims.
Warehouse managers can minimize the risk of these accidents by establishing strict workplace cleanliness policies. Whenever something spills or leaks, cleaning up the mess should become the first priority. Everything must also have an assigned location so the floor doesn’t become cluttered with tripping hazards. This policy only works with strict enforcement.
There are various other resources that can prevent these types of accidents — cautionary signage around the building, better overhead lighting to improve visibility, floor tape to create safe walking paths and non-slip footwear for employees.
2. Heavy Machinery Accidents
Although slips, trips and falls happen more often, heavy machinery accidents account for the most workplace fatalities by a considerable margin. There were 1,982 fatal injuries from transportation and moving materials, which made up 38.2% of all workplace deaths and marked an 11.5% increase from 2020.
Various types of forklifts are the most common machines involved in these accidents. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires all employees to receive forklift safety training, but this requirement isn’t thorough enough on its own. There are many other initiatives that can reduce the chance of accidents:
- Perform frequent inspections of all equipment.
- Avoid long and loose clothing and enforce employee dress codes.
- Operate machines within their speed limits.
- Don’t strain the machines by going over their maximum weight capacity.
- Use audible signals like horns and alarms to alert nearby workers.
- Never use a machine outside of its intended purpose.
One of the most important safety protocols is to maintain 360-degree visibility around all machines during operation. Maintaining full visibility requires warehouse managers to create a spacious and organized floor layout so employees can safely make different maneuvers and steer clear of hazards.
3. Exposure to Harmful Substances or Environments
This category of accidents includes exposure to electricity, extreme temperatures and harmful substances. A total of 798 workers died from these causes in 2021. Most warehouses are full of chemicals and electrical hazards that might lead to fatal exposure. Their temperatures can also reach dangerous levels without proper air conditioning and ventilation.
OSHA emphasizes four control methods to minimize exposure in an enclosed workspace:
- Elimination/substitution: Constantly aim to substitute existing procedures with safer alternatives.
- Engineering controls: Isolate or enclose hazardous areas, use wet cleaning methods to reduce generation of particulate matter, use a general dilution ventilation system
- Administrative and work practice controls: Rotate job assignments and adjust work schedules so employees aren’t overexposed.
- Personal protective equipment: Have employees wear goggles, gloves, respiratory equipment and chemical protection clothing when working with hazardous materials.
Warehouses can also do simple daily things to reduce exposure, such as opening the overhead doors to improve airflow and giving employees more time outdoors. They shouldn’t spend a full eight-hour shift inside the warehouse with no interruptions. They need plenty of fresh air — not only for safety reasons, but to boost their morale and productivity.
4. Struck-By Incidents
Struck-by incidents include a handful of different accidents. Employees might be struck by a moving vehicle, a falling object or a flying object that was discharged. These accidents caused 705 workplace fatalities in 2021 and more than 50,000 injuries every year. Even small objects like cell phones and radios can cause serious damage.
These OSHA guidelines should be foundational parts of a warehouse’s safety protocols to avoid struck-by incidents:
- Secure tools and materials to prevent them from falling.
- Barricade hazardous areas and post warning signs around them.
- Use scaffolds or screens on guardrails to prevent falling objects.
- Use catch platforms, debris nets or canopies to deflect or catch falling objects.
The International Safety Equipment Association passed the Dropped Objects Protection Act in 2018 to improve testing and performance standards and develop new tethering products. These new products include tool tethers, tool attachments, anchor attachments, containers and bags. Warehouses should utilize all of these recommended resources.
5. Fires and Explosions
Warehouses need to address another lethal hazard in the workplace — fire. Flammable items are all over the place, including paperwork, packaging materials, pallets and heavy machinery. Fortunately, the number of fatalities caused by fires and explosions has decreased year-over-year from 123 in 2017 to just 76 in 2021.
The main reasons for the decline in fire-related deaths are the prioritization of clearly-marked emergency exits, evacuation routes and fire extinguishers. Every warehouse building is lined with fire exits and has extinguishers on every floor, per OSHA’s recommendations. However, employee training must also be up to standard.
Warehouse managers should train employees to clean up unidentified spills, cover exposed wires and shut down any area where a fire hazard is detected. Using heavy machinery as instructed will also reduce the risk of a vehicle fire or explosion.
6. Repetitive Stress Injuries
Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) don’t have any reliable yearly statistics because it’s difficult to prove whether most injuries are definitively work-related. However, it’s worth noting that businesses in the United States spend $120 billion annually on worker’s compensation costs, employee turnover, lost productivity and other expenses related to RSIs.
Warehouse managers can help their employees avoid RSIs by prioritizing diet and exercise in their training programs. They should also institute a strict limit on overtime hours so employees don’t overstrain themselves and cause an injury. Many businesses are investing in wearable fitness devices that monitor vital signs and activity levels to prevent health emergencies.
A Safe Warehouse Is a Productive Warehouse
Warehouses have long held a negative reputation for cutting corners when it comes to safety procedures, but this stigma is starting to change.
Responsible managers are doing more than ever to address recurring workplace hazards and avoid accidents, including these six common mishaps. A safer environment leads to a healthier and happier workforce, which leads to a more productive warehouse.