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Protecting Warehouse Workers

Protecting Warehouse Workers


In a recent article, we discussed the overall hazards forklift use in a warehouse poses and what you need to do to have a successful safety program in such a situation.  However, let’s drill down a little further to see not only how we can protect our workers from forklift hazards, but also how to protect them from other hazards that exist in warehouse environments.

Impact Protection

One of the most prolific hazards in warehouse environments would be impact hazards, or what OSHA calls “Struck-By Hazards” (though, there is a fine line between struck-by and caught between – for instance, being hit by a forklift would be struck-by, while being pinned between a forklift and a wall would be a caught-between).  We know that powered vehicles pose a great risk, but so does product that’s being moved around and stacked up.  Poorly wrapped pallets, product stacked too high, and awkward shaped/weighted material increases the chance of having an incident. Aside from training your operators to stack material properly and drive safely, the most effective means of protection is to physically keep people away from areas that could be hazardous.

Various products exist that help to keep your machines and your people from any unwanted meetings with each other.  Bollards, for instance, are great for protecting an area from forklift entry while still allowing easy pedestrian access.  A battery charging station would be a great example of where you might want to use these.  You can set them close enough to the chargers to allow you to get the forklift where it needs to be, but still eliminate a collision with the equipment.  Meanwhile, your personnel can still get to the chargers without having to climb over anything or go around any significant distance.

For areas where you don’t necessarily need pedestrian access, there are other impact barriers available that resemble more of a sturdy fencing system.  These are great for use along pedestrian walkways where you don’t want a break in the protection. 

Sometimes, a change in operation leads to the need to protect an area you weren’t considering when designing your warehouse layout.  Luckily, products like this “Kwik Kit” are available.  Quick and easy to set up, these types of systems can be configured to whatever you need.  Whether a temporary work area to accommodate seasonal business or a new process that will be around for a while, one of these kits can be quickly assembled for fast, easy protection.

Fall Protection

Fall protection isn’t something that necessarily comes to mind when you’re first discussing warehouse safety hazards, but just like anywhere else, fall hazards exist.  Keep in mind, since warehousing and maintenance work fall under OSHA’s General Industry standards, all it takes is an exposure to a 4’ drop to require fall protection.  Warehouses that have mezzanines are especially susceptible to this.  Sure, a simple railing protects the edge, but what do you do when you need to get material up to that level? 
Unless you have the capability to drop pallets in over a railing, you are going to need to have a gate.  And, what happens when that gate opens?  Fall hazard.  Unfortunately, this fall hazard is often overlooked or ignored.  Standing behind a railing waiting for a load does nothing when there’s a break in the railing inches away.  One option is to ensure that all of your personnel on the mezzanine are tied-off whenever the gate is open, but this allows for human error.  A better option is to consider installing gates that don’t allow for exposure.  This method eliminates your personnel “forgetting” to tie-off, choosing a bad anchor point, or not properly inspecting their equipment.

Fire Hazards

Besides the storage of material that could be flammable, the very existence of powered equipment brings in a potential fire hazard (not to mention an atmospheric hazard if you’re using gas, diesel, or propane fueled machines).  It is important to ensure that your sprinkler systems are tested as required, that you are not stacking material too close to the sprinklers, that you are not stacking empty pallets too high (in many cases, a stack of empty pallets more than 6’ high could burn too hot for a sprinkler system to put out), and that you have enough fire extinguishers throughout your facility that are properly inspected and maintained.

Conclusion

While, for the most part, warehouse hazards tend to be similar in nature, where and how they happen can be as varied as the different types of product you store.  Evaluating your situation is critical before you begin operations, but if you haven’t done a thorough evaluation yet, now is the time to do it.  Remember, a good pedestrian in a warehouse walks cautiously, ensures operators know where they are at all times, sticks to designated walkways, and pays attention to mirrors mounted at blind corners.  The only problem is that not all pedestrians are good pedestrians.  Don’t leave safety to chance.  Evaluate, plan, implement, and review so that you can ensure the well-being of not only your employees, but everybody that sets foot in your facility.

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This post contributed by:

John Braun, CSP, CHST

Co-Owner, Signature Safety, LLC.

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http://www.signaturesafety.net

John Braun has been in the EHS field for more than 14 years. He achieved his CHST in 2005 and his CSP in 2010. Though he focuses on construction, his background includes manufacturing, recycling, and warehousing facilities as well. John holds a Bachelor's degree in English from The College of NJ.

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