Appropriate Tools to Promote Warehouse Safety

November 19, 2013

No matter what the industry, safety procedures and good housekeeping practices are key to the wellbeing of employees and company profitability.

In fact, the two are intertwined. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created to assure safety standards and to protect American workers. Many furniture companies work with their warehouses and distribution centers to meet and exceed those standards to ensure their workers’ safety. However, what do companies do to ensure compliance?

Steinhafels_Oval_Logo-13Based in Wisconsin, Steinhafels employs 245 warehouse employees in its Wisconsin and Illinois facilities. To ensure staff safety, human relations specialist Linda Malmberg said their safety committee “makes recommendations to the owners as to things that need to be improved. We also do semi-annual [safety] drills,” as well as provide regularly scheduled safety training.


Steinhafels offers 10 online training courses annually. Reports detail those who have and have not received training. This allows managers to ensure staff can verify their safety knowledge for their areas. Malmberg added, “Safety posters are all over. When an employee gets hurt, we ask him to describe the event and tell how he could have [handled] that situation better to avoid injuries.”

The company shares safety results and their implications with its employees. “We do a lot of education about how results impact insurance premiums,” said Malmberg. “We tell them ‘Here’s how you can keep insurance premiums to a minimum’ and ensure we stay financially viable and they can stay employed. For a lot of people, this was a real eye-opener.”

In addition to workplace postings and weekly safety meetings at Steinhafels, they hold weekly safety drawings after weeks when no injuries occur. “If we have a better workman’s comp claim year than the prior year, each associate gets a gift card,” Malmberg said. “It may not sound like a lot, but [staff] can get quite competitive to do better than last year.”


roomplace-logoWith its 21 stores in Indiana and Illinois, The RoomPlace has a distribution center staff of 125 members, including a full time safety inspector. Safety is stressed from the first day of work.


“At our startup meetings, we have conversations about safety—like trip hazards, especially with things that are seasonal,” said Mike Yanke, RoomPlace distribution center director. “We do audits and spot checks and have zero tolerance. Any infraction, even something as minor as not filling out their inspection sheets on a daily basis, will result in them being taken off equipment and require them to recertify. These are pretty strict rules, but, in my seven years here, our damage on the forklift has gone down drastically. We would rather terminate someone immediately than see them be killed.”

Safety Bingo is one fun way Yanke helps reinforce the safety messages (see the sidebar to learn how to play). Yanke consistently engages his staff in other ways too. With the safety inspector also involved in training and acting as an integral part of the team, Yanke is in the process of reinstating what he calls behavior-based safety. “It is kind of a peer review process where people watch others do their jobs and try to identify the risks we put ourselves at so we can change or fix the process. A lot of companies are reactive after someone gets hurt; we are trying to get ahead of that curve and fix things before someone gets hurt.”

These methods have paid off for The RoomPlace; Yanke’s team just celebrated one year with no loss time and awarded each employee $100 for this safety success. “Safety involves everyone,” said Yanke. “We are very focused on safety, not only for our employees but also for our customers.”


ArtVan_logoAt Art Van Furniture in Michigan, the director of loss prevention, Michael F. Case, CESCO, oversees two facilities and five hub stores with more than 650 employees. Its extensive safety training includes “a number of [customized] training videos and presentations featured on our in-house TV, called AVTV. Any associate in any location,” he said, “can access the training simply by selecting the loss prevention channel and identifying the training they need.” Handouts accompany most training sessions and both the employees and their managers must sign off on any training they receive.


The warehouse director and vice president of operations lead monthly warehouse safety meetings, including representation from all staff areas as well as from property management, loss prevention and workman’s compensation. Case explained, “Each brings their own perspective as it relates to their jobs and provides insights and suggestions on how to make the overall operation a safer one. It is important that our warehouse associates know that safety, as well as their ideas, are important to a safe environment and are supported by leadership at the highest levels.”

In addition to meetings, training and compliance audits, Case said managers are continually on the lookout for safety violations. “Those observed are immediately counseled and, in most cases, [offenders]receive corrective action or discipline,” said Case. “We have a goal for each associate to go home at the end of the day as healthy and safe as when they arrived at work that morning.”

Art Van is “not big into incentive programs but does recognize locations for high scores on their audits,” said Case, “and individual departments are recognized for injury reduction.” The company also sponsors safety poster and banner creation contests, as well as general recognition or pizza parties for departments with low and no injury rates. Case explained they do not want to create an environment that suppresses “injury and near-miss reports to keep a zero injury rate. We would rather recognize good behavior and performance.”

“Quality practices include continuing to integrate safety into your culture and keeping safety awareness top-of-mind,” said Malmberg. “If you do that, you will have a successful safety program.” She added, “If [employees] are happier with us as a company, they feel good about coming to work because they know we care about them and that this is a safe place to work. It is just a better overall employee experience.”

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