Keeping Your People Safe on the Warehouse Floor
Warehouse floors tend to be more dangerous than people think - from forklifts to conveyors, potential warehouse hazards linger everywhere and, because of the more static nature of the operation (compared to, say, construction), are often underestimated. Sometimes static operations can be more dangerous than dynamic operations because the repetitive or consistent nature of the work leads to complacency.
No matter the type of work, hazards need to be mitigated and people need to be protected. A full hazard analysis of your workspace can determine what measures need to be put into place to help mitigate the potential hazards your operation creates. However, there are a few easy steps to take to mitigate hazards in your warehouse:
While there could be such thing as overcommunication, it really takes a lot to get there. In general, posting signage to remind people of forklift traffic, to remind operators of pedestrian traffic, to guide the flow of traffic, or to notify of low overhead obstructions, among other things, can only help keep your operation safe. Analyze your warehouse traffic, both pedestrian and vehicle, and post the signs where the reminders are needed most (think aisle ends, intersections, doorways, and the like). Keep the following in mind when selecting your signs to help ensure effectiveness:
- Make the signs short and to the point and utilize graphics to get your point across quickly.
- Make the signs visible and then keep them visible. Ensure that your staff is trained to not block signage with product, even temporarily.
- Don’t just grab any signs. While the ANSI standards incorporated by reference in the OSHA 29 CFR 1910 have been inactivated, OSHA has endorsed the replacements document ANSI/NEMA Z535. For compliance and recognizability, make sure your sign vendor utilizes these standards.
2. Warehouse Mirrors
Visibility is difficult enough on a forklift when you’re simply driving forward or backward. Add in corners, intersections, and doorways and you could have a recipe for disaster. Strategically placed mirrors give your operators a chance to see who is walking nearby and give your pedestrians a chance to see oncoming forklifts.
- Ensure that your mirrors are placed at proper heights and set at proper angles to reduce/eliminate blind spots.
- Evaluate your traffic flow to determine where mirrors are needed. Involve your warehouse staff, encouraging them to notify you if they feel a mirror is needed in a location your evaluation may have missed. You have no better resource than the people doing the job.
3. Pedestrian Walkway Traffic
One of the best ways to keep your warehouse personnel and visitors safe is to know exactly where they’re going to be. Controlling the location and flow of foot traffic means your forklift operators know what to expect. While it doesn’t free them from operating cautiously elsewhere, it gives them specific locations where they can pay extra attention. These walkways can simply be yellow lines painted on the floor, safety bollards set along the walkways, or even Guardrails with self-closing gates. Many configurable products exist which allow you to develop the setup you need for your facility.
4. Guardrails and Barricades to Protect Workers
Guardrails and barricades are an important part of warehouse safety. Without these in place, your protections rely heavily on workers’ ability to do things right, not get distracted, and not take shortcuts. There’s a lot to be said for eliminating these concerns. Just like a railing is much safer at a roof’s edge than a string of flags is, a hard barricade will protect your workers even when they’re not paying attention to being protected. However, there’s more to it than just passive protection (meaning your worker does not have to take direct action to be protected). Forklift operators are simply less likely to hit a barricade than they are to drive over a painted line. The uprights are much more visible than a painted floor. Pedestrians are much more likely to stay within the walkway when they physically can’t wander out of it. In other words, sometimes warehouse personnel and visitors see a painted floor as a suggestion, while a rail-enclosed walkway will leave no doubt that its use is required.
Barriers and guardrail are critical when protecting machinary, racking, conveyor systems, and production areas from accidental damage from forklifts or other vehicle traffic. It doesn’t take much effort to find a video on the internet of a forklift taking out an entire rack or even most of a warehouse from one crash. Another high trafficked area to secure is loading docks. These areas tend, similar to access points on a rooftop, are used twice as frequently, trucks pulling in and out - employees loading and unloading. These areas can be extremely dangerous. Railing and guardrail are essential. Employee safety and well-being aside, you don’t want your facility to be the subject of the next viral video.
There are a number of products on the market that can assist in your warehouse safety program, but the keyword here is to assist. No product is foolproof and some aren’t even useful if your staff isn’t trained how to use them as well as the dangers in failing to do so. Perform a hazard assessment, select the best protection for your people, eliminate as much of the human factor as you can, and train your workforce so that you can maximize the effectiveness of your safety program. Incorporate signs, mirrors, pedestrian walkways, and barriers into your warehouse operations in order to give your employees a safe environment in which to work.