The warehouse and storage industry is one of the largest in the country, employing more than 1.1 million workers as of September 2019. Warehouse work is safer than it used to be, thanks to President Nixon signing the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) into law.
Since 1970, worker deaths declined by 62%, and injury rates fell by 42%. Still, warehouse employees experience more fatal injuries than any other industry in the country.
Recognize the Top Hazards
Before you can start fixing a problem, you need to recognize there is one. Many preventable injuries occur in the workplace. Start your assessment by considering the five most common OSHA violations, including:
- Fall protection
- Hazard communication
- Scaffolding requirements
- Respiratory protection
- Hazardous energy
Once you know where you look, you can create a plan to keep your workers safe without impeding productivity.
Continue Education and Training
Do you limit safety training to new employees? If so, you risk developing a team that's comfortable ignoring the rules. Training should be an ongoing priority, not a one-and-done event.
Plan safety training and education courses throughout the year to keep concepts fresh in everyone's minds. If seasoned employees don't stick to safety protocols, you can't expect new workers fresh off probation too. Beyond safety techniques, tech employees why the rules matter. How are workers directly effected when someone ignores or forgets crucial protocols?
Keep it Clean
Warehouses are busy places. It's easy to let productivity take precedence over safety and cleanliness. The problem with that mindset is injuries happen quickly — workers are injured every seven seconds in the United States.
Make it a point to keep things clean and employees safe. Dirty, cluttered or wet floors increase the risk for trip-and-fall injuries. Boxes, pallets and packing materials clog up corner and storage. An organization system doesn't just make the facility safer — it can also make it more productive. Employees can easily accomplish tasks when dirt and clutter don't get in the way.
Create a Culture of Safety
Safety isn't the sole responsibility of warehouse management. It's also not the total responsibility of the workers. Instead, it's an issue that everyone should tackle. Take the time to create a culture of safety that includes everyone from the CEO to the newest hire.
Give everyone a role in keeping the facility safe, no matter how big or small it may be. Once safety becomes part of their daily mindset — something to work toward, not avoid — you'll experience fewer accidents in the workplace.
Are you a supervisor with a constantly closed door? If so, you won't know about a safety concern until someone gets hurt. Promote communication in the workplace. Ensure each employee knows they can come to you with a problem or concern, especially regarding safety protocols.
An open-door policy will spur employees to speak out. When you identify and correct issues before they appear, you can prevent injuries and save money. Implement a system for those afraid to speak face-to-face. For example, consider a suggestion box, tip line or dedicated email.
Safety should be on everyone's mind in a warehouse. Owners and supervisors must implement policies that focus on worker security. Conduct regular training classes and encourage employee participation. You should also establish open-door policies to encourage workers to speak up. Companies can encourage open communication through anonymous means, too,
The onus is not merely on management, however. Employees must consider risk from a personal perspective. Speak out against problems on the floor and advocate for systematic change. If you act as a role model in the workplace, others will follow suit.