Warehouses range from product distribution centers to popular retailers that sell oversize and bulk products. Whether it is an industrial, commercial or retail facility, warehouse workers should follow safety guidelines for loading docks, conveyor systems, forklifts and pallet jacks, material storage and handling and good housekeeping.
Products enter and exit warehouses through truck and loading dock systems that are usually at a height above the ground. When loading and unloading materials, workers should pay special attention to avoid falls from elevated docks and ramps; yellow striping can draw attention to edges. Trucks delivering goods should be treated cautiously while they are parked at the loading dock. The area between the dock and truck is hazardous because a rolling truck can cause a crush injury; truck wheels should be chocked while unloading.
Forklifts and pallet jacks help move products from the shipping area into and around the warehouse. Forklifts are powered industrial trucks; forklift operators require training and certification while pallet jack operators require training only. Loads should be properly lifted on forks and stabilized, then slowly and deliberately taken to their assigned location. Forklifts and pallet jacks should never be used as rides or man lifts.
When large, awkward, and/or heavy items are warehoused, they become a challenge to store in a safe manner. Storage shelving and rack systems should be sturdy, braced, and spacious enough to allow people and equipment to move freely. When goods are shelved, they require slow and careful placement to avoid disturbing or pushing products off the facing aisle on to co-workers below. Products should be stored flat and inside the shelving units with aisle ways kept clear.
Pallets used for stacking products should be sturdy and in good condition; damaged or unstable pallet items should be restacked on a new one. Where possible, palleted products should be shrink-wrapped or baled for stability.
Workers can protect themselves on the job with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as steel-toed shoes, gloves and hard hats or bump caps. Proper lifting techniques protect backs. Safe lifting also prevents loads from shifting, falling, and crushing fingers, hands and toes.
Good housekeeping in a warehouse requires keeping dirt, oil and debris off the docks and floors. Floors should be non-slippery and free from pits and dents. Excess garbage, boxes, baling materials, and other recyclables should be removed and stored properly. Training on the hazards and attention to procedures will make sure warehouse workers stay safe.
Eric Martin, MBA, is a Senior Vice President at The American Consulting Group, Mission Viejo, CA, which assists organizations on a broad range of human resources, employee relations, and employer safety compliance issues. A Senior Consultant with the company’s HR and Safety Advisory Group, he has also helped hundreds of small and medium-size companies in wage and hour auditing, supervisory / management training, and complaint response, among other areas. He can be reached at (949) 452-1840 ext. 237