The distribution industry is reliant on the people who receive, pick, pack and ship the goods that we deliver to our customers.
Our profitability depends on their productivity. Industry is investing in equipment, software and processes to drive productivity, but the best investment is the continuing health and safety of its workers.
There are many inherent risks in warehouse operations that can be mitigated through proper process design, equipment and training. I would like to highlight some of simple, but effective tools and methods that can prevent injury in the warehouse and increase your profitability.
Cardboard cuts hurt worse than paper cuts; they can bleed and incapacitate. In our facilities, cut-resistant gloves are required for every warehouse associate. The proper gloves provide protection while maintaining flexibility, dexterity and a sense of touch.
Workers complain gloves are not comfortable, or effect dexterity. These concerns can easily be addressed by a glove audit through your safety supplier, who can assess each role and recommend the right glove. These audits usually are a free service and involve input from the workers.
Oh, and don't forget to provide moisturizing cream that will keep hands supple under the gloves.
Knives and box-cutters can cause injury when cutting across the opposite hand, but another threat comes when these get put back in a pocket or shirt while the blade is still open. In our facilities, only tools with self-retracting blades can be used.
Ergonomics should be an important criterion for knife selection. In most warehouse operations, we expect 20-30 minutes of knife use throughout the day. Using a safety knife all day where the blade is extended by sliding the thumb along the side of the knife is a tiring exercise that exposes the worker to a different type of hazard.
If there is moving equipment such as forklifts, making sure the operator sees workers standing or walking is vital. High-visibility clothing (vests, arm bands or shirts) can reduce man-machine collision. This is critical for visitors in facilities who will be unaware of traffic flow. Modern equipment can be quiet, so vision is the key.
When an operator is focused on a lift-and-transfer operation, the use of high-visibility clothing by other workers in the area could be the determining factor between life and death.
OSHA regulations cover some workplace elements, such as construction workers and emergency responders, but it should be worker exposure in any job, not government regulations that is the determining factor for the use of this personal protective equipment. Warehouses that use forklift equipment and constantly manage delivery vehicles should deploy high-visibility clothing.
Ample lighting reduces tripping, allows proper reading of labels and improves the contrast between objects on the warehouse floor. Workers who blend into the background of a forklift operation area are more visible to the operator if the lighting is at the correct level.
With the aging workplace population, improper lighting levels cause eye strain and headaches. Craning of the neck and hunching of the shoulders both result from lack of visibility, which leads to subsequent upper body aches and pains.
Improved lighting is a major hazard-control measure, but we shouldn’t forget that personal lights worn on a cap or armband provide that added measure of safety for those areas where the ambient light may not be sufficient.
Around our facilities, we see these few practices as following the KISS principle — Keep It Safety Simple.
Guy Mersereau is president of CenturyVallen and is a member of the ASA Safety Committee, which produces Eye on Safety. For more information, visit www.asa.net/safety.
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