Understanding Warehouse Safety and Occupational Risk

Accidents at the workplace result in large-scale losses to companies besides injuries and fatalities. Loss can be as a result of damage to resources and equipment, work stoppage, in treatment of injuries of staff, replacement costs, etc.

Injuries that cause disabilities can be a traumatic experience for anyone. Fatalities can be devastating for the concerned families and friends.

On a global level, at least a million workplace-related fatalities are recorded every year, besides several million other non-fatal workplace-related incidents.

Occupational Risk

Besides accidents, certain warehouse environments can cause illness to the staff who are exposed to such environments. Accidents and illness at the workplace are commonly referred to as Occupational Risks. Organizations have the responsibility of ensuring the safety of their employees as well as the surroundings.

The field of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) works to improve safety standards and health practices at the workplace. Its aim is to suggest methods of improving work processes so that accidents and other hazards are avoided without affecting the functioning of the organization negatively.

Occupational Risk

OHS sets safety standards at the workplace to avoid accidents and their consequences. It also covers ailments caused by exposure to elements at the workplace and wrong ergonomics.

OHS studies accidents and injuries caused at a workplace, as well as gathers information on near-miss situations that may have happened.

This data is used in formulating safety standards and introducing them at the workplace. It covers risk factors as a result of exposure to certain chemicals or biological agents, workplace ergonomics, unsafe machinery or tools, etc.

The most common workplace dangers are:

  • Hearing loss
  • Back pain
  • Asthma
  • Lung cancer
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Injuries
  • Burns

Warehouse Safety

How does an organization ensure a safe work environment?

Planning and implementing warehouse safety procedures and installing safety features is crucial to avoid or minimize workplace injuries and related illnesses.

Warehouse Safety

Most workplace dangers can be avoided by using the right safety gear and following workhouse safety procedures. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) consisting of PPE suits, hard hats, reflective safety vests, gloves, masks, and eye-protection glasses help prevent workplace incidents to a large extent.

Noise

Industries and warehouses are always buzzing with activities. The noise from warehouse machinery, air conditioners, or the constant sound of a truck engine can have an adverse effect on the human auditory sense.

For example, we normally whisper at 30 decibels (dBA), heavy traffic is 80 – 90 dBA, a chainsaw has a noise level of 105 – 115 dBA. Over a period, human exposure to any sound above 75 dBA is considered unsafe. Prolonged exposure to such noise can lead to reduced hearing or even complete hearing loss.

Noise

Industrial earmuffs and earplugs help to protect one from this danger. They basically lower the volume of loud and harmful noise by blocking it. Frequencies that cause stress are reduced drastically by using such personal protective equipment. Most certified industrial ear muffs and plugs help with the attenuation of loud and constant noise, to levels below 40 dBA.

Work Ergonomics

Work Ergonomics

An estimated 7% of the world’s population is plagued by lower back pain (LBP). The main cause for this has been attributed to poor ergonomics at the workplace – be it lifting a box, standing for long hours, incorrect posture while operating machinery or tool, or sitting hunched over the warehouse office desk. Ergonomics is the science of ensuring human wellbeing in relation to the workplace.

Organizations should pay attention to human–workplace ergonomics. All the risk factors that cause injuries must be addressed and removed. Educating the workforce on the hazards of poor work ergonomics and regular reinforcement of operational and safety procedures is important to ensure an injuries-free environment.

Respiratory Health

Just as in an industrial environment, the health of the workforce of a warehouse can be affected by vapors, gases, dust, fumes, or smoke. Without proper safety precautions and protection, diseases such as asthma, lung cancer, silicosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), etc. can be the result. In most cases of lung diseases, fine particulate matter found in such polluted environments, that gets into the human lungs is the culprit.

Though the main cause for COPD on a global level is considered to be cigarette smoke and air pollution, a poor and ill-ventilated work environment is another reason for the disease.

Respiratory Health

Asbestos which is banned in several countries is known to cause lung cancer or silicosis. Chemicals that are stored in a warehouse may sometimes spill and cause burns or irritation when it comes into contact with human skin. If certain chemicals are not stored properly, they may emit fumes that can be dangerous when inhaled.

Industrial face masks, coverings, or even respirators should be used when working in known-risk environments. Masks to suit the different situations, that filter particulate matter, smoke, gases, or bacteria are available in the market. A well-ventilated warehouse and working environment ensure that fumes and gases do not stagnate and there is always a fresh supply of air. Industrial exhaust fans are great for air circulation.

Physical Injuries

The most common injuries at a warehouse are caused by Material Handling Equipment (MHE) such as reach trucks, forklifts, conveyor systems, pallets, loaded boxes, etc. Warehouse employees are often hit by such equipment or they fall from a raised platform or height. Boxes or cargo can sometimes fall on them causing grave injuries.

Uneven or slippery floor surfaces can cause falls. Clothing material can get caught in a conveyor system or other moving equipment and drag a person along. The possibilities are countless unless care is taken to adhere to warehouse safety policies and procedures.

Physical Injuries

Why do accidents and injuries happen?

One main reason for this is an overcrowded warehouse. When the machinery and equipment are ill-maintained or the staff lacks safety training, it can also lead to accidents.

The appropriate MHE must be used to lift weights or move them around the warehouse or onto and from transport vehicles to prevent back injuries. Following the weight and stacking instructions suggested by manufacturers of racks and shelves helps prevent accidents.

The warehouse housekeeping must ensure that the warehouse floor is free of unnecessary objects and liquids to prevent accidents.

Goods and the necessary equipment must be kept only in their designated places. Warehouse aisles must be free of any obstructions. Loose cables must be secured or any spilled liquids cleaned immediately. MHE such as lifts, cranes, forklifts, conveyor belts, etc. must be switched off when not in use. Conveyor belts must have a protective covering to prevent entanglement of clothing material, hair, etc.

Only qualified and permitted drivers should be allowed to drive the warehouse vehicles. Speed restriction must be strictly enforced within the warehouse premises. Reckless driving of warehouse vehicles must be checked and strict action taken against offenders.

Burns

Typically burns are caused by exposed flames, very hot objects or liquids, chemicals or acids, or by electricity.

Thermal burns are caused by hot liquids and objects or flames.

Chemical burns are caused by strong acids and other types of corrosive materials.

Electrical burns are caused by electricity.

First-degree burns are considered superficial while fourth-degree burns can cause extensive damage to the skin, muscles, tendons, and bones.

Burns

Organizations should ensure that fire and smoke alarms are installed on their premises. These should be serviced, maintained, and tested regularly to make sure they are in working order. Emergency exits must be conspicuous and clearly marked for emergency evacuations.

Fire drills and emergency evacuation drills must be held at specified intervals – at least once in six months, to ensure that the employees know how to react and what to do in case of workplace accidents.

Safety Signage

Safety signs posted at clearly visible areas inside and outside the warehouse helps to identify hazards and warn employees of potential dangers. Some safety signs used in a warehouse environment are shown below:

safety warehouse

First Aid

Injuries and illness at the workplace are common. Unless the victim is administered first aid immediately, the chances of aggravating an injury or illness are more. All staff should go through basic first aid training with the key staff being trained to provide advanced first aid when the situation calls for it.

Advanced first aid includes procedures from cleaning and dressing wounds to providing Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The work timetable must take into account the availability of at least a few of these first aiders throughout the company’s working hours.

Current and well-stocked first aid kits and phones to contact the local emergency number must be located at strategic points of the warehouse.

First Aid

Analyzing workplace injuries and understanding what is causing them is very important for formulating warehouse safety processes and procedures (WSPP). These should be implemented with a zero-tolerance policy towards failure to follow any of the WSPP.

Warehouse staff should be provided with the appropriate training in warehouse safety and first aid. They must be aware of the need to exercise caution while operating machinery and moving around the warehouse. They should be well aware of safety signs and first-aid procedures.

Employees should be encouraged to report near-miss incidents to their supervisors. Besides taking care of themselves, they should be able to take care of others at the workplace, should the situation arise.

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Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

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