Warehouses vary in size, but what they do have in common is that they’re busy, there are often a number of different operations going on under one roof, heavy machinery is used, heavy goods are often moved, and sometimes hazardous materials are stored and handled.
All of these factors combine to make warehouses inherently risky places to work. In workplaces where the risks are higher, paying attention to health and safety is crucial.
Figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that there are thousands of injuries and accidents each year in warehousing and logistics, ranging from minor injuries to major accidents, amputations, and even fatalities.
If you manage or own a warehouse, health and safety should be at the forefront of your mind. Here’s why warehouse safety is so important, and what you can do to improve safety in your workplace.
Why is workplace health and safety so important?
It’s an employer’s legal and moral obligation to look after the health, safety, and welfare of their employees. In any workplace, safety is important, but in a working environment like a warehouse, it’s paramount. Here’s why:
- Having health and safety procedures and processes in place can reduce the risk of illness and injury. Illness and injury can greatly affect people’s lives and the productivity and profitability of your business.
- Paying attention to health and safety can keep hazards in check. There are potential hazards in every workplace, but in some workplaces, there are more, so good health and safety practices can help you manage them. They can mean the difference between a healthy, safe, and productive workplace, and a place where near-misses happen every day.
- Good health and safety practices can help you comply with the law and avoid some very serious consequences for your business. If you don’t comply with the law, you could be fined, serve time in prison, and/or have your business closed down. Even if you’re not closed down, do you really want the reputation of being the business who doesn’t care about the health and safety of its employees, or of the general public? Who will want to work with you, or for you? Such damage to the reputation of a business can be very difficult to come back from.
The main causes of warehouse injuries and accidents-and how you can reduce the risk
The main causes of injuries and accidents in warehouses are:
Slips and trips
These usually happen because the floor, steps, or other walkways are wet, contaminated, or obstructed somehow. The good news is, slips and trips are preventable. Try:
- Making sure you clean up spillages as soon as possible.
- Wearing the right footwear.
- Removing obstructions and trip hazards like boxes, packaging waste, cables, and wires.
- Checking walkways are even ( be sure to check paths outdoors, are they uneven and full of potholes?).
- Ensuring that lighting is adequate.
Most warehouse jobs involve moving and handling heavy and awkward goods. You should always have a manual handling risk assessment in place. You need to think about how you can minimise the risk of injuries like back pain, neck pain, and other musculoskeletal injuries.
You should provide manual handling training for employees and they should be trained on how to use any manual handling equipment that you invest in.
Working at height
Working at height is a common cause of accidents and injuries in warehouses. If working at height is absolutely necessary to carry out a task, it should be properly planned and risk-assessed, and the right equipment should be used. To make working at height safer:
- Carry out regular inspections of ladders, and never use a ladder without carrying out a visual inspection.
- Make sure that when stepladders or ladders are being used, they are only being used for tasks that aren’t inherently risky and that won’t take long.
- Make sure that employees don’t climb on racking unless is it designed for access purposes
- Make sure that everyone who works at height has been properly trained to do so safely.
Vehicles move around inside and outside of warehouses, so precautions need to be taken to avoid accidents. Here’s how to manage safety when vehicles are around:
- Delivery drivers and visitors should be given relevant safety information prior to visiting your site
- Traffic routes inside and outside of the warehouse should be clearly marked and should be completely separated from pedestrian walkways if possible. Keep both traffic routes and pedestrian walkways well maintained.
- Consider using a one-way system around your site to prevent delivery drivers from having to reverse, which is inherently riskier.
- Have a procedure in place for the safe loading and unloading of vehicles.
Moving or falling objects
If there is any risk of someone being injured by a moving or falling object in your warehouse, make sure the area is clearly marked with warning signs, or try restricting access to that part of the warehouse.
If your warehouse deals with hazardous materials, proper precautions should be taken. It’s easy to get blasé and think that ‘it will never happen here,’ but taking unnecessary risks when you’re dealing with toxic or flammable materials is never worth it. If you work with hazardous materials:
- Have robust safety procedures in place and make sure employees understand them down to the last detail. Employees need to know what to do in the event of a spillage, leak, or contamination.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as safety glasses, masks, and gloves, must always be worn when working with such materials.
How to improve Warehouse safety-some guidelines to remember
Whether or not you think you have mastered health and safety in your warehouse, it never hurts to have a few extra pointers on how you can make it a safe place to work and visit and keep it that way. Here are our top tips on how you can improve warehouse safety.
Always use safety equipment
Even if it’s a ‘quick job’ that needs to be done, corners should never be cut when it comes to health and safety. Use manual handling aids when moving or handling heavy goods. Use PPE when required. Keep everything well- maintained. These are a few simple rules that can save you a lot of trouble down the line.
Remove any trip hazards
As we mentioned earlier, slips and trips are avoidable, so check your warehouse regularly for hazards like stray wires, spillages, or uneven floors.
Display safety signs
Dangerous equipment or materials should be clearly labelled, and pedestrian walkways should be highlighted and signposted, using signs and floor tape. This helps employees and visitors to your site to be aware of potential hazards and of areas they should steer clear of.
Encourage the use of safe lifting techniques
There’s no getting away from it; in workplaces like warehouses, the moving and handling of goods is a daily occurrence. But when it comes to manual handling, proper risk assessment, planning, and safe lifting techniques are not optional, especially when lifting heavy goods. Plan how the item is going to be lifted. If you are lifting goods manually, always use safe lifting techniques. Will you use manual handling equipment? Is it well-maintained, and are employees trained to use it?
If you need to move something from A to B, make sure your route isn’t obstructed and there’s plenty of space for you to unload the goods at the other end.
Make sure your employees are trained and training is kept up to date
Make sure that all employees are given health and safety training, and practical training on specific tasks or equipment associated with their job role. This training should be kept up to date with regular refresher sessions.
Communicate the health and safety message in your workplace
Make sure that health and safety is given time and attention in staff meetings, memos, newsletters, and other employee information literature. Actively encourage employees to be vigilant about their own health and safety, and that of others, and to report any incidences of unsafe practice immediately. Even the most experienced and skilled employee can take their eye off the ball for a split second, and sometimes that’s all it takes for an incident to occur.
Do you make health and safety a priority in your warehouse? Are there any other safety tips you would add to the list?