How to prevent warehouse accidents

Within the logistics arena, there are a myriad of scenarios where safety can be compromised. In a highly controlled environment like a warehouse, accidents are still highly likely to occur and even more so if the cargo stored consists of hazardous goods. In the US alone, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicated that across the United States, there were over 150,000 people working in warehouses across the country. So if one considers the immense amount of cargo movement all across the Asia Pacific region, these numbers would easily surpass the US.

With the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and mining sector growing rapidly, 3PLs have had to increase their agility in terms of turnaround times. The result is a surge in workload in this region, which in turn creates a simultaneous focus on the safety and ergonomics in the warehouses. This then brings about key concerns centring around operations involving lifting actions, vehicular movement and electrical functions, or a combination of all.

Forklifts, electrical and wiring, hazard communication, exits, mechanical power transmission and respiratory protection are just some of the hotspots identified by Safework Australia over the years that can be applicable to a warehouse just about anywhere. Thus it would be bad for the business if an employer ignores these elements that constitute a good and safe work environment.

Infusing the mindset of the integration of a pro-active approach to the management of safety, providing due attention and budgets on injury prevention into corporate culture would go a long way in reaping productivity and efficiency in the facility. Nobody would be looking forward to a 3PL version of Deepwater Horizon.

Safety guidelines in most industrial facilities are mandatory especially when it comes to hazardous materials. Attention needs to be given to liquid spills, which should to be cleaned as soon as possible because the exposure to workers is very high and can cause many problems so fixing damaged equipment is paramount. Preventing or reducing the chances of injury can be as simple as optimising procedures to manage the physical layout of the warehouse, reduce walking times and making sure access to equipment and material is easy.

In the Asia Pacific, German chemical producer BASF utilises its own Warehouse Safety Assessment (WSA) tool – a standardised questionnaire designed to assess the quality, safety and environmental management systems of third-party warehouses. The trained safety adviser will be responsible for undertaking these WSAs. At the end of each review, corrective and improvement actions will be discussed and agreed between the assessor and the assessed company.

In the packaging arena, containers have been undergoing a redesign because of the introduction of weight limits on containers. On paper, this will look to provide easy access to the product and reduce the stress due to lifting.

Replacing wooden pallets and corrugated boxes to reusable plastic containers will reduce or stamp out the possibilities of injuries. The key is to reduce the bending, reaching, and pulling associated with the tasks in warehouses and manufacturing facilities.

Looking for ergonomic options that increase the comfort of the operator when choosing a new forklift or automation technology for your warehouse will likely see higher productivity together with improved health and energy levels. The assist devices for moving containers could also include vacuum lift machines that use a vacuum of air to grip and lift boxes, or even computer-controlled assist devices that are sensor guided and can make fast, automatic adjustments for accurate container placement.

Manual handling has seen a steady recently as there has been a shift towards the investment in automation of order picking – especially forklifts. For the sake of efficiency these machines are designed for heavy lifting in distribution centres (DCs). Looking at the downside, without proper training and instruction, they can also cause injury to persons and damage to property so manufacturers of this equipment have been looking at ways to prevent these outcomes occurring. One tip is to invest in impact shock switches, which automatically switch the vehicle off upon any collision.

Models by leading forklift producers Junghenrich, Crown and Toyota offer impact resistance, which has increased up to threefold combining aluminium and cast iron in the manufacture, helping the trucks to cope with the normal bumps and scrapes of everyday applications. Linked suspension castors have been fitted to provide maximum load and truck stability on any surface.

Let’s not forget that workers in a warehouse also exert themselves on strenuous ergonomic activity that stress the body, which offers up risks such as repetitive motion strain and other potential injuries. The only way around this is education even if employees should be able to identify tasks that may involve higher risks in the warehouse. Employers need to be proactive and identify tell-tale signs of the symptoms of discomfort.

It is important that employees should ensure that any incident, accident or symptom be reported to their supervisor so that the appropriate measures can be put in place. Following this, the management has to give the appropriate attention to these incidents with documentation for follow up and action.

In Australia, with workers being aware of their rights to a safe work environment, plus the increasing insurance coverage of workers in a workplace, a safe warehouse environment will ultimately see that important cost savings are maintained with increase productivity and reduced equipment downtime.