According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. warehousing and storage industry employs just under 1.2 million workers as of August 2020. With a warehouse injury rate of 5 out of every 100 workers, 5% of those employees will suffer an injury each year, or nearly 60,000 workers. The rate of serious injuries — those resulting in lost time or requiring the injured worker to be reassigned to other duties — is 3.9 out of 100 workers. Forklifts are a leading cause of injury in warehouses, with approximately 100 fatalities and 95,000 injuries resulting from forklift accidents each year in the United States, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
There’s a constant flow of traffic — goods, foot traffic, vehicles — in a warehouse, leading to many opportunities for on-the-job injury, but most warehouse injuries are preventable. “Most accidents occurred from a lack of safety regulation,” explains Adam Robinson in an article published by Cerasis. “Workplaces with effective safety programs suffered almost no injuries needing treatment or causing productivity loss.”
In addition to implementing effective safety programs, the technologies used in a warehouse can also impact safety. While no single technology can eliminate all warehouse safety risks, the right technology solutions can help to mitigate some challenges. For instance, 6 River Systems’ collaborative mobile robot, Chuck, leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence to optimize pick routes in real-time and prioritize work based on the current conditions on the warehouse floor, reducing unnecessary walking. Chuck uses sensor technology to navigate around obstacles, such as humans and other equipment, and by moving autonomously to guide associates through tasks, Chuck creates a hands-free environment for operators to work safely.
From the technologies used in a warehouse to safety programs, training, your warehouse layout and more, there are many factors that contribute to warehouse safety. To learn more about the biggest mistakes warehouse operators and managers make when it comes to warehouse safety, we reached out to a panel of warehouse professionals and business leaders and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the most common mistake made with warehouse safety (and how do you avoid it)?”
Meet Our Panel of Warehouse Pros and Business Leaders:
Keep reading to learn about these warehouse safety topics and what our contributors had to say about the most common warehouse do’s, don’ts, and mistakes you could be making, and how to avoid them.
Gary Vegh is the co-founder of ERA Environmental, an EH&S automation solution provider. Gary holds a Master’s in Environmental Toxicology and is an active member of the Automotive Suppliers Partnership for the Environment.
“The most common warehouse safety management mistake is…”
The mismanagement of wooden pallets. Wooden pallets represent an almost constant flow of material into your warehouse and are surprisingly difficult to keep on top of during busy periods. That’s why you’ll often see pallets piled somewhat randomly throughout warehouses. If you don’t have a clear safety policy on how and where to store unused pallets that is clearly communicated to your staff, you’ll end up with tripping hazards and falling object hazards strewn about your facility. Pallets should be treated like any other resource — you should know how many come into your site, when and how they leave and where they are stored in the meantime. You need a written policy that is part of your warehouse training, and someone in a H&S team to enforce and check compliance. Another important note is that pallets can very easily be repurposed and sold into the circular economy, so don’t treat your pallets like trash — they’re worth money.
Diana is the President of ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba.
“Warehouses can quickly accumulate dirt, debris and build-up on floors like oil leaks that can pose slipping hazards…”
We encounter these scenarios quite frequently when our Chicago cleaning crew performs warehouse cleaning services. If your team lacks the capacity to implement an in house cleaning plan, outsource your cleaning to a professional commercial cleaning company that is certified and follows OSHA and CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfection. By keeping your warehouse consistently clean, you can improve workplace safety and avoid costly workers’ compensation claims.
Additionally, it’s important to ensure there is an emergency exit plan visible on the walls, as well as safety lights in case of a power outage.
David Bakke is a Warehouse Manager at National Air Warehouse.
“You can’t just have your new hires complete safety training as part of their orientation and leave it at that…”
It has to be ongoing. And if you make that mistake, you open yourself up to a whole host of safety issues and even accidents. It’s a must for training to be ongoing, and even if you have a seasoned and tenured staff, refresher classes should be mandatory. This approach not only ensures that all team members are knowledgeable on all of the safety precautions needed, but it will also remind them that warehouse safety is of utmost importance. And your ongoing safety training program should be monitored and tracked so the organization knows that all classes or courses have been completed. These courses/classes should be conducted once annually at the very least.
Jake is the Vice President of Marketing at Red Stag Fulfillment, Jake is a frequent contributor to Forbes, Business Insider and Entrepreneur on the topics of eCommerce and startups.
“The most common mistake I have seen warehouse security officers and managers make is…”
Quickly forgetting that a setup that rewards handsomely (productivity and efficiency) can also produce negative outcomes (collisions, trips and falls — causing workers varying degrees of injuries or leading to downtime in operations). That said, a large receiving area and marked traffic patterns can reduce the likelihood of vehicle and pedestrian collisions.
Nick Haase is a co-founder of MaintainX, a task-management and connected-workforce platform built for maintenance and operational professionals. He launched the company with the mission of empowering deskless workers with intuitive technology that eliminates unnecessary clipboards, paper stacks and binders. Nick previously founded Loot!
“The most common mistake made by warehouse operators might sound overly simplistic, but it happens a lot…”
And that is failing to implement and document standard operating procedures. Far too often, warehouse operators count on infrequent training seminars and managerial oversight to keep everyone safe. Unfortunately, important corners get cut out over time without routine reminders. The solution is to manage processes with digital safety procedures and operating checklists. Not only can an SOP checklist system prevent oversights with digital audit trails, but it also allows operational leaders to instantly update procedures as regulations change, keeping everyone safe and on the same page.
John McDowell is the quality control manager for Office Move Pro in Toronto, the only moving company in Canada dedicated solely to office and warehouse relocations. With nearly 10 years of industry experience guiding him, John heads the instruction of all health and safety training and oversees the day-to-day operations of a busy 20,000 square foot warehouse.
“The most common mistake I see companies make when it comes to warehouse safety is untidiness…”
An untidy warehouse can lead to trips and falls and dangerously obstructed walkways. All walkways need to be at least 36 inches wide, clear and accessible. Clutter can block emergency escape routes. To avoid this simple mistake, I emphasize the importance of a tidy and organized warehouse to every employee I train. Ongoing training is the key to maintaining warehouse safety.
Andy is the Marketing Director and a Managing Partner at Traverse Bay Farms.
“The most common mistake managers make when it comes to warehouse safety is one-time training…”
Only offering new employees training is a huge mistake. We train and retrain our employees every six months. We have a training course for new employees and require all employees to take a refresher course. This includes walking our warehouse and discussing different areas, safety procedures for inbound and outbound pallets, etc. Doing so allows us to have open communication with our employees, and they can offer any concerns they have about a particular area or procedure.
Yaniv Masjedi is the CMO at Nextiva.
“The lack of regular safety training and orientation jeopardizes the safety of employees…”
It increases their risks of having an accident because of the absence of the necessary knowledge and skills on the proper warehouse practices. The existence of simple training, such as the proper way to lift heavy items, dramatically reduces the risk of injury-related accidents. Otherwise, frequent injuries might occur, especially if your warehouse employees lift heavy objects all the time.
Sarah is the head of marketing and PR at The Fashion Jacket with over 6 years of extensive experience in the eCommerce industry.
“Warehouse safety is often jeopardized due to a poor warehouse layout…”
It’s our job to monitor worker safety just as much as it is to contribute to their productivity. Nitty-gritty issues like a poor layout can cause a messy workspace, which can lead to collisions, trips and injuries. Hence, it’s essential to plan the warehouse’s design in a way that prevents occupational injuries related to poor ergonomics as much as we can. I think the best solution to avoid it is by ensuring patterned warehouse traffic, eliminating the problem of vehicle-worker collision. Moreover, you can put up signs and reflective mirrors, especially hazard signs, so the workers wear protective equipment and take extra care of themselves when in certain areas of the warehouse.
Camille Chulick is the Co-Founder of Averr Aglow.
“A poorly laid out warehouse design is dangerous and likely to cause a variety of problems and injuries…”
Nearly everything that can go wrong with warehouse safety, such as trips, falls, damages, fires, blockades, etc. can happen due to poor layout design. Poor layouts often happen as a business grows quickly and has to add on areas or change the flow of their warehouse multiple times. It’s worth it to spend the time on a redesign and take several more looks at workflow and safety. It will save you money and even employees in the long run.
Jeff Neal is an expert in Epoxy Floors and Industrial Coatings. He is a Project Manager for Capital Coating, an industrial coating installer located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“Something we see a lot of are warehouses looking to promote designated walking paths for their pedestrians…”
Designated walking paths are great for both forklift operators and pedestrians because everyone knows exactly where people should be. Designated walkways do a great job of eliminating people from getting whacked with forklifts or pallets. Walkways should be installed with epoxy due to its adhesion properties that prevent it from scraping up.
Sturgeon Christie is the CEO at Second Skin Audio.
“The most common mistake made with warehouse safety is…”
Not having the proper lifting equipment for your employees to use.
Injuries resulting from workers lifting items that are too heavy for them are some of the most common types of workplace accidents, and that’s why minimizing the amount of manual handling your employees do is critical to warehouse safety.
Warehouses that have the proper equipment to help workers seamlessly lift and move heavy items are safer than those where employees solely do manual handling.
While employees need to be properly trained on all heavy equipment they use to prevent injury while using it, having that lifting equipment available can help prevent back and shoulder pain, which makes up nearly half of all the injury claims filed by warehouse workers.
James Jason is the Assistant HR Manager, Financial Analyst and Currency Trader at Mitrade.
“One of the most common yet overly overlooked warehouse safety mistakes is…”
The lack of proper lifting skills. Improper lifting is so common that it accounts for at least 20 percent of injuries at warehouses.
This mistake leads to serious complications such as expensive medical costs, unnecessary job breaks, loss of employees due to permanent injury, lawsuits and overall reduced productivity.
Improper lifting mostly affects the shoulders and the back. It can be caused by repetitive lifting of extra-heavy weights, improper use of lifting equipment, improper lifting techniques and underestimating the difficulty of a lifting task.
Some ways to correct or prevent this mistake include:
- Employee training on how to estimate weights that are too heavy for their bodies
- Training the staff on proper lifting techniques and use of lifting equipment
- Storing extra-heavy weights that need to be lifted at a height that does not require excess strain
- Ensuring super-heavy goods are only lifted using machines or that extra hands are requested
Nik Raman is the CEO of PhoneX Holdings Inc., a technology company that builds software to connect large scale supply or used smartphones with global demand. Nik has his MBA from Harvard Business School and his undergraduate degree from Duke University.
“One of the most common mistakes made with warehouse safety is…”
The inability to keep all work areas clean and organized. Typically, if work areas are cluttered, poor storage is set up or employees are not well trained, it is easier for incidents to happen. Make sure all work areas are organized well and clean up spills when they occur as soon as possible to prevent any of your employees from slipping or perhaps falling. Another way to prevent injuries is to ensure your staff is well trained on how to lift properly, as back injuries are one of the major and most common injuries among warehouse workers.
John Geddes is a material handling and storage industry veteran with over 30 years of experience. John has helped businesses of all sizes from all different industries store their product smarter and more efficiently.
“One of the most common mistakes with warehouse safety includes…”
The improper storage of your products. In a warehouse, improper storage can cause all types of problems, from messy work areas and obstructed high-traffic areas to falling products. Subsequently, improper storage can create a domino effect including efficiency issues as well as worker injury concerns from problematic product storage.
Ideally, you should have a storage system designed specifically for your products. Whether your storage system is a pallet rack system, shelving, mezzanine, etc., it should be designed to accommodate your products in a way that effectively enables your warehouse staff to access and move products easily.
When choosing a storage system, you should consider the size, shape and weight of the product to be stored. Additional accessories can be used with material handling equipment, like nets for pallet racks for enhanced safety measures.
Warehouse safety begins with an effective warehouse design using the appropriate storage equipment for your product.
Megan Smith is the Chief Executive Officer of Dosha Mat.
“Based on our experience, the most common mistake made with warehouse safety is to…”
Permit messy or disorganized areas in the warehouse. If things are left lying around, the chances that someone will trip or slip and fall dramatically increases. To avoid this mistake, we have implemented a detailed workplace cleanliness and organization protocol that all of our warehouse staff must comply with. By creating a standard written protocol and making sure it is properly communicated to your staff, you can greatly increase the odds of an organized and safe working environment.
Mark Newton is the CEO at Vatix.
“The most common mistake made with warehouse safety is…”
Not making use of relevant, dedicated technology.
For warehouse employees who are required to work from potentially dangerous heights (e.g., on ladders), even with extensive training and attention paid to the potential hazards in the environment, it’s vital to introduce user-friendly solutions such as safety alarms. These solutions allow employers to track their workers’ well-being wherever they happen to be, and they can then be alerted with something like a ‘man down’ notification should an accident happen.
Marshall Cromer is The Forklift Boss. He has over 40 years of experience in the material handling industry, owning and operating Cromer Material Handling. His companies provide forklifts, warehousing supplies and parts & service throughout California and Nevada.
“The biggest mistake we see doesn’t come from the forklift operators – it comes from warehouse employees and visitors, walking around looking at their phones…”
And not paying attention to the equipment moving all around them.
It’s way too easy for someone to step in front of a moving forklift.
The mistake, in this case, is two-fold: It’s made by visitors for not acting in a safe manner and also by warehouse managers for not taking precautions against this behavior. Now, some warehouse managers do recognize the problem and have taken steps to stop it.
We’ve seen managers install blue lights on forklifts that shine on the ground. Some will require all visitors to wear a vest with blinking lights on it. Some will prohibit all cellphone use in the warehouse. All of these are good actions to take.
Willie Greer is the founder of The Product Analyst.
“Warehouses are undeniably the most effective and efficient storage spaces you could use…”
As a business with the number of tools, equipment, supplies, resources and the property you can fit in one, especially if you are a great organizer, or if you are employing one.
Nevertheless, don’t forget that even a highly organized area is far from hazard-free, and if you are not careful, a warehouse can be one of the most hazardous places you can find yourself lost in. Here are some common mistakes to look out for and avoid when it comes to warehouse safety:
- Like any other property, never neglect cleaning and maintaining (basically “housekeeping”) your warehouse, since cramped and dirty places are most ideal habitats for pests and insects to reside in, and having unnecessary clutter all around is generally a hazard-in-waiting.
- Another point to keep in mind and remember is that a warehouse does not have infinite storage space, so take care not to go over your warehouse’s maximum capacity, and make sure to properly stack and secure the contents of the warehouse so you don’t find yourself six feet under a pile of cardboard boxes and pallets.
- When you have staff employed in a warehouse, never let them become complacent and always ensure that they know and follow proper safety guidelines, especially when operating heavy equipment. A lot of work staff injuries happen due to carelessness, like mishandling a forklift, getting pressed between a forklift and loading dock or when a piece of clothing accidentally gets caught on the conveyor belt, so always hold staff meetings in regards to their safety.
- Lastly, always be careful when handling and lifting items in the warehouse as these may cause physical injuries, especially when the load a worker carries is too heavy for them. The first point of keeping the facility clean also applies to this last point.
John Moss is the CEO of English Blinds.
“Thinking that warehouse safety training (and certification) for workers is…”
A once-and-done process is the most common mistake made by employers, and it’s one that can be very costly in many different ways as a result.
New worker inductions always involve health and safety training, as well as a lot of paperwork to be signed regarding the training received, the PPE issued and to indicate an understanding of the rules, guidance and procedures in place.
But many workplaces leave it there and never provide any follow-up or refresher training, nor do they take into account the fact that new employees have to take in a lot of information very quickly. As a result, some specifics are not then actioned immediately so they’re not refreshed to reinforce the message (such as knowing what to do in the event of an accident or spillage) and are usually forgotten in short order.
Health and safety training needs to be updated and refreshed regularly — every six months at least, and more often if something changes or an incident indicates an issue or flaw in current processes — and needs to become ingrained within the company culture.
For all too many warehouses, this is not the case, and safety only becomes flagged or reviewed when a preventable accident or incident occurs.
Mark Stromme is the Sr. Editor of Workplace Safety with J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. He is an OSHA Outreach Construction Trainer and a Walkway Auditor Certificate Holder, with expertise in walkway auditing, cranes, scissor/aerial lifts, electrical safety, fall protection, confined spaces, scaffolding, lockout/tagout and Canadian safety regulations.
“When it comes to warehouse safety, one of the most common mistakes is failing to properly train employees…”
This mistake can have disastrous results.
I’ve worked in and managed two warehouses during the early years of my safety career. The first was a warehouse that stocked consumer products for a mail-order company. I started out as a bin stocker on the picking line and progressed to a warehouse manager, with numerous employees reporting to me.
As a stocker, I received almost no safety training (e.g., ergonomic or safe lifting training). I didn’t even have any formal forklift training, even though I did occasionally operate one. I did get training, however, on injury reporting, which came in handy (pardon the pun) when I sliced my hand with a box cutter.
When I was promoted to warehouse manager, I decided to provide my employees with some safety training. This training included such topics as:
- Safe lifting techniques
- Ergonomics training on preventing repetitive motion injuries
- Evacuation procedures, including fire and tornado drills
Anyone who wasn’t properly trained on using a forklift was not allowed to drive one. The senior in-house forklift operator was tasked with that training.
At the second warehouse, I was the manager for a company that warehoused, sold and delivered products for the printing industry. These products were hazardous chemicals that had to be handled, stored and safely prepped for delivery. Due to organizational changes and staff shortages, there was little guidance for me to follow.
It didn’t take me long, however, to realize there were many areas out of compliance with OSHA and DOT regulations. Because of the disconnect among staff, new employees weren’t being properly trained. Existing workers were left to cobble together training, but it was inconsistent. There were no records of safety training, and there were several instances of untrained employees having forklift accidents — one that resulted in a huge chemical spill inside the warehouse. Due to the lack of training, the spill was likely not properly cleaned up.
As a result, I had to retrain all employees so I could provide a written record of training. The company hired a contractor who specialized in forklift training to get everyone up to speed and aligned with OSHA standards. We also trained on spill prevention, incident reporting and proper segregation of chemicals in the warehouse. There was also training on proper labeling of chemicals and how to read an MSDS (yes, this was before the switch to SDSs). Everyone was given training as required by OSHA. Delivery drivers were specifically trained per the DOT requirements.
Getting the warehouse compliant took six months, but it had to be done. Everyone’s safety depended on it. Fortunately, we didn’t have an OSHA reportable injury during that time. In fact, during my time there we only had a few recordable injuries on our 300 Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. I attribute that to proper training and near-miss reporting, along with the employees understanding that management did care about their safety.
Noman Nalkhande is a former HSE advisor and current founder of WP Adventure. He likes to write about business success, growth, web design and social media marketing.
“I’ve worked as an HSE Officer for a logistics company, and I realize that warehouse safety is crucial. Some of the most common mistakes made are…”
- Blocking access: Your warehouse may have a couple of exits. Ensure that those remain unblocked at all times. It is easy to overlook this, especially if the warehouse is not large enough and space is limited. Your employees may be tempted to stock right in front of these exits, thereby blocking them. Stocking in front of exits can quickly be a cause of concern if something goes wrong and people want to exit quickly.
- Not inspecting instruments and tools: Make sure that the tools and equipment that your employees are using undergo certified inspection at regular intervals. Keeping a file of all the available tools in the warehouse and knowing when the last inspection was done and when it is due makes it easier to follow up on them.
- Not setting up an eyewash/body-wash station: Every warehouse must have an eyewash and full body-wash station available for use at any time. This is extremely crucial in times such as accidental body spillage of chemicals when employees need immediate access to water.
- Not having a dedicated warehouse policy: The unavailability of a warehouse safety policy means that your company may not be able to enforce safety rules on the employees to maintain HSE standards. A warehouse policy must cover the dos-and-don’ts in the warehouse — right from wearing the correct PPE while working in the warehouse to the order of stocking materials on the shelf (heavier objects on the bottom, lighter ones on top, etc.). A warehouse policy is a must to display a company’s dedication towards keeping its employees safe and sound.
Leveraging the right technologies in your warehouse can help reduce safety hazards like worker fatigue and aisle congestion. Learn more about the benefits of collaborative mobile robots, from safety and flexibility to scalability and reliability, by downloading our white paper, 7 Reasons Why Warehouse Robots Beat Traditional Automation.