Warehouse Safety

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Employees can be exposed to many hazards in a warehouse environment.  They may include:

  • Unsafe use of forklifts
  • Improper stacking of products
  • Failure and improper use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
  • Failure to follow proper lockout/tagout procedures
  • Inadequate fire safety controls
  • Repetitive motion injuries

Warehousing affects how materials are received, stored, and dispersed within your facility and shipped to customers.  With a great amount of inventory to control, deadlines to meet, and employees to oversee, warehouses may create more hazards than other areas. When working in a warehouse, it is important to keep safety in mind at all times and to remain focused on the task at hand.  The following controls for each warehouse area can minimize chances of a work-related injury or a potential OSHA citation and fine.

Injuries can occur at the docks when an employee falls, products fall on or strike an employee, or when a forklift runs off the dock.

  • Drive forklifts slowly and cautiously.
  • Keep the forklift clear of dock edges.
  • Provide visual warnings near dock edges.
  • Rope off areas where employees could fall 4 feet or more, such as exposed or open bay doors.
  • Prohibit employees from jumping from docks.
  • Secure dock plates and ensure they have the ability to safely support the load.
  • Ensure ladders and stairs used at the docks meet OSHA guidelines.

Operating a forklift can be very dangerous.  Forklift turnovers account for the majority of forklift-related fatalities.  Depending upon the size and purpose of your warehouse, you may have a significant amount of forklift traffic.

  • Ensure that all operators are properly trained, evaluated and certified to safely operate a forklift.
  • Do not allow anyone under 18 years of age to operate a forklift.
  • Implement a preventative maintenance and inspection program to ensure that the forklifts are in safe working order.
  • Inspect forklifts prior to each use.
  • Report, tag and remove defective forklifts from service until repaired.
  • Ensure operators wear a seatbelt at all times.
  • Follow safe operating procedures for picking up, putting down and stacking loads.
  • Never handle loads that are heavier than the forklift’s capacity.
  • Always drive safely, while never exceeding 5 m.p.h.
  • Slow down in congested areas or areas with slick or slippery surfaces.
  • Prohibit horseplay and stunt driving.
  • Ensure operators never drive up to employees or others standing in front of a fixed object, such as a wall or shelving.
  • Maintain safe clearances for aisles, loading docks and passages.
  • Maintain engine exhaust gases below acceptable limits through adequate ventilation.
  • Train employees regarding the hazards associated with combustion byproducts of forklift operations, i.e., carbon monoxides.
  • Protect open pits, tanks, vats and ditches by use of covers or guardrails.
  • Ensure all manufacturers’ labels with load capacities are attached to the forklift.

Conveyors pose pinch-point and nip-point hazards for employees.  Employees can also be struck by falling objects.  They may also develop musculoskeletal disorders through repetitive motions and awkward positions.

  • Inspect conveyors on a regular basis.
  • Guard pinch points.
  • Do not wear jewelry or loose clothing around conveyors.
  • Never ride on a conveyor or crawl across or under it.
  • Develop and implement proper procedures for locking out conveyors  and train employees regarding use of same.
  • Maintain proper lighting and proper working surfaces in areas around conveyors.

Materials Storage & Handling
An improperly stored material has the potential to fall on employees, resulting in injury or fatality.

  • Stack loads evenly and straight.
  • Place heavier loads on lower to middle shelving.
  • Do not stack items so high that they could block sprinklers or come in contact with overhead lights or pipes.
  • Remove objects from the shelves one piece at a time.
  • Keep aisles and passageways clear and ensure there are safe clearances for equipment.  Aisles and loading docks should be appropriately marked.
  • To prevent falling hazards, ensure loose and unboxed materials are stacked by blocking or interlocking or by limiting the height of the stack.
  • Store materials that are bagged, in containers, in bundles, etc., in tiers that are stacked, blocked, interlocked and limited in height to prevent them from collapsing or sliding.
  • Provide guardrails and other covers to protect employees from stair openings in floors, meter or equipment pits.

Material handling is not the only potential source of injury within a warehouse.  Items may have to be stacked so that space is used more effectively.  Ladders may be used to reach the top of shelves or racks.  Choosing the right ladder for the job and using it for its intended use will minimize your risk of injury.

  • Inspect ladders before use and do not use defective ladders.
  • Do not use a metal ladder around electricity.
  • Always place ladders on firm and level surfaces.
  • A ladder’s feet should be a distance from the wall that equals one-fourth its length.  For example, set the bottom of a 12 foot ladder 3 feet from the wall.
  • Do not place a ladder against a window, unlocked door, loose boxes or anything  unstable.
  • Ensure that the bottom of the ladder is secure or have someone hold it.

Manual Lifting & Handling
When manual lifting and material handling is required, employees are exposed to injury often resulting in strains and pulled muscles, especially to the back.

  • Provide general ergonomics training and task-specific training to all employees.
  • Implement good design and engineering practices to minimize the risk associated with manual lifting & handling.
  • Use proper lifting techniques and ask for help if loads are too heavy.

Packing & Unpacking
Employees in your warehouse may be responsible for packing and unpacking materials or merchandise.  Any cutting tool must be used safely and with caution.  Metal and plastic strapping can be dangerous as well if not handled safety.

  • Train employees on how to properly hold the cutting tool so that they won’t cut themselves or someone else.
  • Do not leave a blade open or leave it on the floor, table or drawer.
  • Wear heavy gloves and goggles when attaching or removing strapping.
  • Use cutting tools that will not leave sharp edges.
  • Do not lift materials by the strapping unless it is designed for this purpose.
  • Be sure to place strapping on materials with the right tension, not too loose or too tight.
  • When removing straps, use one hand to hold the strap down and the other to cut.
  • Place straps in the appropriate trash container, and do not leave them lying on the floor, as it creates a trip hazard.

Hazard Communication
Injuries from chemical spills can occur if hazardous chemicals are present in your facility.

  • Maintain a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for each chemical to which workers are exposed to in the facility.
  • Develop a plan to keep an up-to-date list of hazardous chemicals and a system to check that each incoming chemical has an SDS.
  • SDS must be readily available to all employees working in the facility.
  • Follow instructions on the SDS for handling chemical products.
  • All hazardous materials containers should have labels that indicate the chemical’s identity, manufacturer’s name & address, and appropriate hazard warning.
  • Spill cleanup kits must be provided in the areas where chemicals are stored.
  • Develop and implement a spill control plan.
  • Train employees on proper spill and disposal procedures.
  • Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for handling chemicals and spills.
  • Store chemicals securely, safely and away from forklift traffic.
  • Store chemicals according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and local and national fire codes.
  • Implement a written program that covers hazard determination, SDS, labeling and employee training.
  • Ensure employee training covers the HAZCOM standard, the chemical hazards to which employees may be exposed, how to read & understand SDS and labels and what steps to take to prevent chemical exposure.  Training must be documented!
  • Provide to outside contractors and vendors a complete list of chemicals at your facility along with the hazards and precautions.

Charging Stations
Charging stations may pose a risk of fire and explosions.  Proper procedure is imperative.

  • Do not allow smoking in the warehouse in any area, specifically around charging stations.  This should include any other open flames.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation to disperse fumes from gassing batteries.
  • Provide fully charged fire extinguishers.
  • Provide rubber gloves, eye protection and face protection to employees.
  • Provide eyewash and emergency safety showers for employees who are exposed to battery acids.
  • Prior to attempting to change or charge a battery in a forklift, apply the brakes and properly position the forklift.
  • Follow proper safety procedures when refueling forklifts.
  • Provide proper material handling equipment such as overhead hoists, cranes or conveyors when charging or changing a battery.

Ergonomic Issues
Musculoskeletal disorders may be caused by repetitive motions, improper lifting techniques or poor workplace design.

  • Whenever possible, eliminate the use of manual lifting by using forklifts, pallet jacks and other material handling equipment.
  • Reposition shelves or bins to reduce lifts from the ground and from shoulder height.
  • Always use your legs when lifting, and keep your back in a natural position.
  • Prior to lifting a load, check it to estimate the size and bulk and to determine if the weight may shift.
  • Check for a good grip prior to lifting.
  • If the load is too heavy, GET HELP!!!
  • Do not shift your waist while carrying the load; pivot with your feet, and take small but sure steps.
  • Keep floors clear of all slip, trip and fall hazards.
  • Factor safe work practices into the time it takes for employees to perform their tasks.
  • Provide new hires with general ergonomics training and safety procedures training for their specific tasks.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
A site hazard assessment should be performed at your warehouse to determine what PPE will be worn.  The PPE will be based on the present hazards.  Employees should be properly trained on proper PPE selection, use and maintenance.

Other Safety Issues
Ensure that your facility has a lockout/tagout program to prevent equipment from being accidentally energized.  All employees should have a general understanding of how this program works.  Employees performing the particular work should receive task specific training.

Another important element in protecting warehouse workers is to have a comprehensive emergency action plan.  This plan should outline what management’s responsibilities are and what is expected of employees.  The plan should also include:

  • Evacuation procedures and provisions for emergency exit locations;
  • Procedures for employee, customer and vendor head counts;
  • Location and use of fire extinguishers and other emergency equipment in your warehouse.

Some warehouses can be extremely hot during the summer and very cold during the winter.  Ensure that your warehouse has adequate heating, cooling and ventilation systems.  Employees should also be trained on how to avoid heat stress and how to protect themselves in colder environments.

Cleanliness is safety!  Ensure that storage areas are kept free from clutter and accumulation of materials.  Such conditions can lead to slip, trip or fall injuries, fire, explosions and possible infestations.  Also ensure that entrances to buildings are kept free of slip, trip or fall hazards, excessive vegetation or other visual obstructions.

Watch out for splinter or protruding nails from pallets or crates!  Have a plan in place to inspect pallets or crates and replace them as needed.

KEMI does not assume liability for the content of information contained herein. Safety and health remain your responsibility. This information is to be used for informational purposes only and not intended to be exhaustive or a substitute for proper training, supervision or manufacturers’ instructions/recommendations. KEMI, by publication of this information, does not assume liability for damage or injury arising from reliance upon it. Compliance with this information is not a guarantee or warranty that you will be in conformity with any laws or regulations nor does it ensure the absolute safety of any person, place or object, including, but not limited to, you, your occupation, employees, customers or place of business.