Contribution by Megan Ray Nichols STEM Writer & Blogger
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, the rate of fatal injuries for warehouse work is higher than the national average. Warehouses are full of potential safety hazards, but employers and workers can minimize these risks by taking proper safety measures.
Being informed about common dangers is vital to protect against them. With that in mind, here are six of the most common warehouse safety hazards and how to avoid them.
1. Slips and Falls
Preventing slips and falls may seem like common sense, but the warehouse environment can make them more common and more dangerous. Workers may encounter tripping hazards, they may have to work at heights and they might be surrounded by equipment they could hit as they fall.
To prevent these types of injuries, warehouses need proper safety training and safety procedure implementation. The workplace should emphasize awareness of surroundings. Floors, doorways and any other areas workers may walk through should always be free of clutter and debris. Be sure also to mark wet floors. OSHA also recommends that any location where an employee could fall 4 feet or more should be blocked off with a chain, rope or another barrier.
2. Falling Objects
Another frequent warehouse accident has to do with workers being struck by falling objects. In 2013, this caused 20 percent of reported injuries and deaths. Depending on what the object is and how much it weighs, these incidents can be serious.
To prevent this threat, workers need training on safe handling and storage of materials, and employers should conduct safety checks regularly. Employees should always stack objects evenly and straight while also interlocking, blocking and limiting the height of piles. Workers should also remove one item at a time from shelving.
3. Forklift Accidents
Operating forklifts is one of the most hazardous warehouse jobs. Improper use of forklifts results in numerous injuries and deaths every year. Overturned forklifts account for about 25 percent of those deaths. Improper operation can presents risks to both the driver and the workers around them.
Before driving a forklift, workers need to participate in training as well as an OHSA-approved safety course and become certified to use the equipment. Those operating the machines should be aware of its load capacity and be careful not to overload it. They also need to be aware of their surroundings at all times and not drive more than 5 mph. You should also conduct safety inspections of your equipment before using it.
4. Electrical Dangers
Electrical equipment can present various risks if relevant safety procedures aren’t followed. Proper wiring, using the right equipment and maintaining quick access to important items all make a difference.
Using multiple extension cords or power strips for one device is a fire hazard as well as potentially a tripping hazard. Extension cords should only ever be a temporary solution. If you need a cord every day for multiple weeks, you should have an electrician install a line and an outlet, rather than using an extension cord. Additionally, be sure that the electrical room is free of clutter and breakers are easily accessible in case something goes wrong.
5. Mishandled Chemicals
Chemicals are sometimes necessary, but they can also be dangerous. Some chemicals present risks any time you use them, while others are only dangerous if handled improperly. Substances that start off relatively safe can become hazardous over time. When stored for about a year, for example, ether can degrade into peroxide, which is explosive.
Every organization that uses chemicals needs to have a control system in place. All containers used to store chemicals should be labeled with their contents and expiration date. You also need a material safety data sheet for every chemical you use. Employees that handle these materials need training on proper use, storage and disposal, and all employees need to know what to do in the event of a spill, chemical burn or other accident.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the safety hazards associated with working in a warehouse. It is a start, though, for understanding some of the most common dangers and what to do about them. Following standards put forth by organizations like OSHA and consulting safety professionals can help you improve your safety procedures, and all employees should get the training they need. No matter what industry you work in, safety should always be a top priority.