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Warehouses are dynamic environments. Stock in all shapes and sizes gets checked in, moved, and shipped out all day long. There’s a lot to manage logistically and there are many hazards and things that could go wrong – therefore, warehouse health and safety is of paramount importance.
Worryingly, the latest figures produced by the government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that work-related accidents within the storage and warehousing industry remain a major issue, with many thousands of RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) reportable incidents recorded each year.
Creating a safe workplace for employees is vital, not just because it’s a legal requirement, but also because accidents can kill. Workplace injuries take up time and are inconvenient and costly to all involved. Keeping staff safe at work is the right thing to do.
This blog considers some key warehouse safety solutions.
What is warehouse health and safety?
There are many hazards and safety risks in the workplace, especially in warehouse environments. Common ones include:
• Slips, trips and falls
• Lifting and handling
• Moving vehicles
• Fire safety
• Pedestrian safety
• Pallets and racking
• Working at height
• Falling objects
• PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
• Housekeeping (keeping aisles clear etc.)
• Reporting hazards
There are several laws that employers in the UK must abide by to protect the health and safety of their employees. For health and safety in warehouses, these include:
• The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
• The Work at Height Regulations 2005
• The Health and Safety Act 1974
• The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)
• The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER)
• The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
5 ways to improve warehouse safety
We have put together five key warehouse safety tips to help keep staff safe whilst working.
1. Ensure equipment and vehicle operation is safe
Crush injuries are the most common type of accidents that occur from operating pieces of machinery, such as forklift trucks, pallet trucks and packaging machines. These injuries are also often the most severe. Sadly, many are avoidable.
Appropriate training and supervision, and a thorough and timely maintenance schedule for all machinery, are essential to ensure equipment and vehicle operation remains safe.
To maintain vehicle safety, you should:
• Only allow trained staff to drive vehicles
• Ensure speed limits are always maintained
• Keep a one-way system where possible to avoid vehicles reversing (which is when more accidents are likely to happen)
• Install mirrors to increase visibility
• Inspect vehicles regularly, ensure maintenance schedules are kept up to date, and encourage staff to report any faults immediately
• Display worker and driver safety signs throughout the warehouse
• Keep the floor in tip-top condition to prevent vehicles from getting damaged or overturning – use anti-slip paint and make sure floors are level
2. Ensure shelving, racking and pallets are safe
Pallet racking and shelving can easily become a safety risk if not kept in good condition. Most commonly, racking accidents occur due to poor installation, forklift damage, overloading or inadequate load clearance.
Inspections and preventative maintenance of shelving, rackets and pallets are essential to detect defects, damage, and wear. Remember, something that looks superficial could be worse than you think.
Staff should be fully aware of your rack’s operational and weight limitations.
3. Ensure employees are given the correct PPE and safety training
Falls from height are the most common accident types to result in fatality. According to HSE, 26% of fatal injuries to workers are caused by falls from height. It is, therefore, essential that staff understand ladder safety and know how to work at height.
Statistics recorded on non-fatal accidents show that 30% happen from slips, trips and falls on the same level, and 18% occur while lifting, carrying or handling.
In certain warehouse environments, workers may sometimes be required to lift heavy items. If there is a lack of training, if the right equipment isn’t provided, or if strenuous work is highly repetitive, employees are more vulnerable to musculoskeletal injuries.
As an employer, you must carry out a manual handling assessment for all relevant tasks where a risk of injury exists. Minimise lifting risks by providing appropriate training to staff in manual handling safety and consider if any tasks can be redesigned to avoid manual handling.
Ensure all staff have appropriate PPE. This could include hard hats, eye protection, hearing protection, gloves, high-vis jackets, and safety shoes. Meanwhile, it is important to create a culture of safety in your organisation and ensure staff are familiar with all warehouse health and safety hazards.
4. Stay on top of housekeeping
A clean and tidy warehouse goes a long way in helping to prevent trips and falls, and other accidents. Always keep the aisles clear. Ensure workers know the drill to clean up spillages, remove obstructions, and keep cables tidied away.
Create a warehouse health and safety checklist to perform warehouse safety inspections, identify hazards and warehouse safety barriers, and evaluate potential risks.
Consider using plastic pallets, instead of wooden pallets. Wooden pallets can easily splinter and break apart, becoming a potential hazard to staff and causing damage to consignment packaging.
5. Maintain fire safety
Ensure you have all the necessary fire alarms, extinguishers, and sprinklers as required by warehouse fire safety regulations. It is critical that people in your organisation are trained in fire safety procedures and know how to use any fire safety equipment.
Why is warehouse safety important?
Warehouse work activities pose numerous health and safety risks. Inadequate health and safety measures can lead to injuries, illness, lost working days, property and equipment damage, legal costs and, even worse, fatalities.
The most recent HSE statistics (2020/21) on injuries sustained by workers in the transportation and storage industry revealed 16 fatalities and 31,000 non-fatal injuries. A quarter of the non-fatal cases resulted in absences from work for over seven days.
Workplace accidents don’t just affect the people involved; they affect productivity, lead to absences, and impact colleagues. Work-related injuries play havoc with reputation, staff morale and a company’s bottom line.
That is why practising a high level of warehouse safety is so important – it protects workers from injury, protects property and equipment from damage, ensures optimum productivity and minimises the chance of any fatalities.
If workers feel they are working in an unsafe environment, they are more likely to leave, giving you an avoidable staff retention problem. A safe and productive warehouse reduces illnesses and injuries, minimises the threat of any legal claims against your business, is more profitable, retains talent and saves lives!
The safety benefits of plastic pallets vs wooden pallets
Pallets play an important role in warehousing and logistics. It may seem like a simple pallet could not harm, but it can be a hazard, leading to injuries, such as sprains, broken toes, and puncture wounds from stray splinters and nails. There are several precautionary steps to minimise the risk of injury – many of which we have discussed above – however, using plastic pallets will certainly be advantageous.
Plastic pallets offer several safety benefits compared to wooden pallets in a warehouse environment. Firstly, plastic pallets are lighter and smoother than wooden pallets, reducing the risk of injury when handling them. They are also less likely to break and create sharp edges in the process.
Secondly, plastic pallets are considerably more reliable. For instance, a standardised structural plastic pallet with a rack load of 500kg will always have a rack load of 500kg. In comparison, you could never be 100% sure that a wooden pallet originally designed to take 500kg could take that level of weight long-term. For example, you cannot guarantee how well it has been constructed, the standard of the timber used, whether nails have fallen out, or if there’s a knot in the runner that could weaken the pallet itself. A plastic pallet will always be good for the weight it has been designed for.
Plastic pallets also have a longer lifespan, reducing the need for frequent replacement and minimising the risk of breakage and splinters. In fact, we provide leading names across the manufacturing, retail, pharmaceutical, food and agriculture sectors (to name but a few) with products that last at least 10 years!
Finally, plastic pallets are non-porous and do not absorb moisture, reducing the risk of mold and bacteria growth. Our hygienic plastic pallets are the safest option for storing and transporting food and pharmaceutical products.
We hope our warehouse safety tips come in useful. If you would like to know more about how plastic pallets could improve your warehouse operations, get in touch with our team.