Learn about the basics of warehouse safety, OSHA warehousing standards, and tips to help ensure health and safety in warehouses.
Published September 11th, 2020
What is Warehouse Safety?
Warehouse safety is a set of regulatory guidelines and industry best practices to help warehousing personnel ensure a safe work environment and reinforce safe behavior when working in warehouses. For sustainable warehouse operations, health and safety should be prioritized as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed that the fatal injury rate for the warehousing industry is higher than the national average for all industries.
This article features:
- the importance of warehouse safety;
- OSHA warehousing standards and warehouse safety guidelines;
- the 8 most common safety hazards in a warehouse and how to eliminate them;
- top 3 warehouse safety tips and best practices;
- warehouse safety program, training, and topics; and
- free warehouse safety checklists you can download, customize, and use.
Warehouses can be dangerous places to work in. It is important to understand common warehouse dangers and hazards because they can cause injuries and in extreme cases death. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average of 16 fatalities every year in the U.S. warehousing and storage sector and a reported injury and illness rate of 5 out of every 100 warehouse and storage workers.
While there are no explicit OSHA warehousing regulations, warehouse operations fall under the general industry requirements which include the following OSHA standards:
- Hazard Communication – Warehouse operators should prepare and implement a written Hazard Communication (HazCom) program and warehouse workers who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals should know about them and how to protect themselves.
- Emergency Action Plan (EAP) – If warehouse owners do not have an in-house fire brigade, then they should have a detailed plan describing the actions warehousing employees should take in the event of a fire or other emergency situations.
- Fire Safety – Warehouse management employing more than 10 workers should have a written fire prevention plan, kept in the warehouse and made available to warehouse personnel for review.
- Exit Routes – Warehouses should have at least two well-designed and well-constructed emergency exit routes—located as far away as practical from each other in case one is blocked by fire or smoke—that are regularly inspected for maintenance, safeguards, and operational features.
- Walking / Working Surfaces – Warehouse and storage facility workers working at heights, especially on elevated platforms, should have fall protection systems to protect themselves from falls which is among the leading causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths.
- Medical and First Aid – OSHA requires warehouse operators to provide medical and first-aid personnel and supplies commensurate with warehouse hazards such as faulty pallet racks and racking falls due to unsafe use of forklifts, among others.
Here are 8 of the most common warehouse safety hazards and safety tips and resources to help you identify and control them:
Forklifts are critical pieces of equipment used in warehousing and storage facilities. However, when operated incorrectly can cause serious damage to operators, nearby workers and property. Unsafe use of forklifts is the most often cited hazard in warehousing operations by OSHA. Below are a few basic warehouse safety tips to follow in forklift use:
- Ensure all forklift operators are competent and have completed certified training. Perform regular refresher training and evaluation when an operator is observed operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner.
- Perform daily pre-start forklift equipment inspections to check for controls and equipment damage.
One of the worst accidents a worker could suffer when working in a warehouse is being pinned or crushed between a forklift truck and the loading dock. This typically occurs when a forklift runs off the dock and strikes a person. Follow the tips below to ensure the safety of workers:
- Forklift operators must be attentive and drive slowly on dock plates, make sure dock edges are clear and safe to support loads.
- Always ensure that warning signs and mechanisms are in place to prevent people from getting near docks.
Conveyor equipment is commonly used in the transportation of goods from warehouse to warehouse. However, conveyors pose serious dangers to workers including getting caught in equipment and being struck by falling objects. To ensure warehouse safety, it is important to do the following:
Improper stacking of loads and storage of materials on shelves can result in unintended slip and trip hazards for nearby workers.
- Keep aisles and passageways clear and in good condition, this prevents workers from slipping, tripping, or falling.
- Loads should be placed evenly and properly positioned, heavier loads must be stacked on lower or middle shelves. Always remember to remove one load at a time.
The most common cause of physical injuries in warehouse and storage facilities involves improper manual lifting and handling. Failure to follow proper procedures can cause musculoskeletal disorders, especially if done with awkward postures, repetitive motions, or overexertion. Warehouse safety during manual lifting or handling can be ensured by doing the following:
- Plan ahead and determine if the need for lifting can be minimized by applying good engineering design techniques.
- Observe proper ergonomic posture when carrying or moving loads. If products are too heavy, ask assistance from a co-worker. Learn more about the principles of ergonomics in the workplace.
When handling hazardous chemicals in your warehouse or storage facilities, a hazard communication program should be implemented. Your hazard communication program should cover effective training on identifying chemical hazards; proper handling, storage, and disposal of chemicals; and the use of appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment). It is imperative that workers and management teams be knowledgeable in conducting better safety inspections and proper handling and storing of hazardous chemicals to ensure warehouse safety.
Charging stations in warehouse facilities are used to refuel or recharge all powered equipment to function. Units may be powered by gasoline, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), or battery. If warehouse safety guidelines are not followed, fires and explosions can occur.
- Charging stations should be away from open flames. Smoking should be prohibited. Fire extinguishers should be available and in good working condition in case of fire.
- An adequate ventilation system must be installed to disperse harmful gases. Proper PPE should be worn. Eye-washing and shower facilities should be present should employees get exposed to acids and chemicals.
A Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) program must be implemented in all warehouse operations to ensure that all energized equipment is properly shut off and to prevent employees from being caught between mechanical parts or being electrocuted. All affected workers must be trained on LOTO procedures and how to apply and remove LOTO devices after performing maintenance to ensure warehouse safety. Check out this collection of digital LOTO checklists to learn more.
Depending on the type of business, there are specific safety rules to be followed due to hazards that are also specific to the type of work people do. However, there are also warehouse safety rules that should be adhered to by workers in any warehouse. Below are a few general tips to follow to ensure warehouse safety, regardless of business or industry.
- Reinforce proper ergonomics at all times.
Warehouse employees do a lot of heavy lifting, and it is important that they are trained in the proper lifting procedures so that they avoid hurting others and themselves. Your warehouse safety program should cover ergonomics in the workplace. Aside from proper lifting and operation of lifting tables, remind employees to maintain proper posture in general. If they have to do manual lifting, train them in the proper techniques that will help protect the back and knees from injury.
- Ensure that all fire hazards are minimized and that appropriate fire safety measures are in place.
If you have an operating warehouse facility, you probably have all the necessary fire alarms, extinguishers, and sprinklers as required by safety regulations in your area. While this is all well and good, it won’t matter if the people in the warehouse aren’t trained in their proper use. Schedule regular training and inspections to ensure that all employees are knowledgeable in fire safety processes and that all fire safety measures are in place and functioning as required.
- Minimize cutting dangers and enforce safe handling of sharp objects.
Workers in a warehouse environment handle a lot of packing and unpacking tasks; they constantly use a lot of corrugated, metal, and plastic straps and plastic pallet wrappings. This is why it’s vital that they use proper PPE and safety knives to avoid serious injury or death. Safety knives should retract automatically, limit the exposed cutting surface, and not require too much sharpening. All workers should also be trained in the proper cutting techniques to ensure warehouse safety at all times.
Setting and maintaining warehouse safety programs is an ongoing process of identifying barriers to safe work and removing them from the warehouse operations. Any warehouse safety program should be tailored to the current condition, needs, and culture of the warehousing workers, but it should at least contain:
- Warehouse Safety Rules – includes OSHA requirements such as appropriate PPE, mandatory safety signages, HazCom program, fire prevention plan, and emergency action plan
- Warehousing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) – especially applies to certain job tasks and for operating specialized pieces of machinery or new equipment
- Warehouse Safety Training – generally includes forklift operator certification, hazardous material handling and storage training, and proper ergonomics and hazard identification in warehousing
- Warehouse Safety Topics – typically covers but is not limited to PPE, forklifts, hazardous materials, working at heights, LOTO procedures, and fire safety
- Warehouse Inspections and Record-keeping – crucial warehousing checks such as racking inspections, 5S audits, daily pre-use forklift inspections, and warehouse tools and equipment preventive maintenance should be adequately documented and kept for a certain period, including safety meeting minutes, corrective actions to safety concerns, training initiatives, incident reporting, and investigative reports
- Warehouse Safety Committee – ideally composed of members from different departments as frontline ambassadors of safety on the warehouse floor
If safety procedures and workplace hazards are disregarded in warehouses to cut costs, it exposes workers to serious risks of accidents and injury. Providing workers training on hazard awareness, conducting safety inspections, and implementing warehouse safety measures can help maintain a safe, secure and healthy working environment.
Warehouse Safety Checklists
Regular warehouse inspections can help you be on top of hazards and risks present in warehousing and storage operations. A digital safety checklist can be a powerful tool to evaluate the overall safety of warehouses. Download these free warehouse safety checklists using iAuditor by SafetyCulture warehouse safety app.