Work Safely in a Warehouse

A safe and healthy workplace benefits everyone. It means the staff feels well and work flows smoothly. Occupational Health and Safety work means cooperation around safety and health issues and concerns everyone in the workplace. Supervisors carry the financial and operational responsibility for safety and health in the workplace. Each employee is obliged to take reasonable care of their own and their colleagues’ health and safety and to inform the supervisor and the OHS representative about the defects and deficiencies causing hazards in the workplace. Induction and work guidance play an important part in ensuring safety at work.

Working environment and work habits

Based on accident statistics alone, warehouse work is risky work. It is the employer’s duty to draw instructions and rules for, for example, internal traffic and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). It is your duty as an employee to follow those instructions carefully – provided that you know them. If a rule or instruction feels improper or ill-suited to the job, discuss it with your supervisor and suggest changes. Not following the instructions is not the right course of action – besides, it is against the Occupational Safety and Health Act (18§). There may be several reasons for taking a risk: not recognizing the risk, believing in good luck time after time, or succumbing to factors competing with safety. These factors include convenience, rush, deep-rooted wrong practice, etc. You should work to recognize these competing factors in your own way of working and then aim to remove them. You should aim to strengthen the motivational factors leading to the desired behavior (eg. safe way of working). For example, ask your supervisor for better-suited or more appropriate protective gloves when you notice that the ones you have are not good enough for the job. Sometimes changing a deep-rooted wrong behavior might take a good while of consciously doing the thing differently. You might, for example, make it a habit to replace an empty pallet in its assigned place right away when you notice it leaning on a shelf – quite soon you will do it without thinking. General rules and instructions for warehouse work:

  • Operate a forklift or aerial work platform only if you are licensed to do so and have been inducted on how to do it.
  • Obey traffic signs and use designated routes to drive and walk in the warehouse.
  • When driving a forklift, wear a seat-belt (if there is one). Also, keep the cabin door shut when driving a forklift.
  • Use all the tools and machines as instructed, including their safety devices.
  • Always wear the appropriate protective equipment and use the proper tools.
  • Do your own part to make sure that customers do not use tools or machinery that can cause hazards or move around in unsafe areas.
  • When starting conveyors or other machinery make sure no-one is in the operating area. Make sure you know where the emergency switch is. When you need to clear a jam, disconnect the machine from the power source before attempting to do it or call for maintenance and make sure the machine is tagged out of use until it has been serviced.

Good housekeeping

Disorder and untidiness cause many accidents, material damages and fires as well as make the place less pleasant to work in. Good order means that there is an assigned place for everything and that items are replaced in their place after use. You can do your share to maintain order and tidiness:

  • Don’t leave items or the forklift in intersections or their vicinity or along aisles – not even for a short while.
  • Discard wrapping and packing plastics after removing them.
  • Clear the forklift cabin from all extra items (sticker sheets, tape rolls, etc) at the latest at the end of your shift.
  • Keep exits, the vicinity of electric switchboards, first aid and fire safety areas and stairwells clear of clutter.
  • Keep exits, the vicinity of electric switchboards, first aid and fire safety areas and stairwells clear of clutter.
  • Remove snow, ice and dirt from pallets and other such units before bringing them indoors.
  • Keep the break room tidy: throw used paper cups in the bin, put magazines on the shelves, wipe coffee stains off the table, etc.

Handling loads

Many of the warehouse accidents happen when handling loads; moving, lifting, unloading or loading. You can do all this safely if you use the right methods and devices. It is always essential to concentrate on the task at hand. Before doing something, stop and think ahead and prepare for the task. When you pile loads for example by stacking boxes on a pallet, follow these steps and assess:

  • if the stack will stand when moving it by the forklift or when lifting is onto a shelf
  • if the stack can be loaded onto a truck in such a way that it can also be unloaded safely
  • if the load is supposed to be movable by a pallet jack.

The main idea is to place the heaviest items on the bottom. Consider also the packing material – for example, a collapsing cardboard box can make the whole stack collapse. When necessary, use shelves in roll containers and do not exceed the maximum carrying capacity of the roll container. You may need to secure the load by strapping or wrapping it. The load should be low enough so you can see over the load when moving the container and so that also unloading can be done safely.

Manual handling and lifting

Manual lifting and moving of items pose a safety risk and may cause for example back injuries. A falling load may cause an accident or the person carrying the load may lose his/her balance and fall or trip. Lifting wrong (eg. jerking) may cause a permanent injury. Repetitive or constant lifting leads to fatigue and increases the accident risk. Besides the weight of the load also individual features and the working conditions influence the total strain and the size of the risk. The relationship between the demand and the individual’s capacity affects how safe the lift is. Loading as such poses no risk to the back. It becomes risky when the load is heavy and the physical condition of the worker is weak. Working in the warehouse does not improve your physical condition, you should take care of your fitness and condition on your own outside work.

  • Do not attempt to lift more than you can. Get help!
  • Stay in good shape
  • Inform your supervisor about every accident and risky situation

When lifting or moving a heavy or a large item, move the load by shifting your weight to protect your back. Turn your feet forward with one foot slightly ahead of the other, this way your spine will be in a good position. The further the load is from your body, the greater the accident risk and harmful loading. When possible, place heavy items that need to be moved manually at the waist height and light items at higher and lower levels. The heaviest items should be placed about 50 cm’s above ground. Slippery and uneven surface is an increased strain and risk factor. Wide and low ramps ease the transport of loads.

  • Avoid carrying heavy loads in the stairs.
  • Use ramps whenever possible.
  • If the pallet is stored high up, lower it down for handling items on it.
  • Work should be organized so that you can avoid manual lifting and use powered equipment instead
  • Workers should be provided with appropriate aids for lifting and material handling
  • Workers should use all available tools and make the tasks less loading and lighter
  • In order to reduce or remove risk factors, work stations must be organized so that the physical strain remains reasonable compared to the worker’s capacity.

Lifting aids and equipment

Using aids and equipment reduces the physical strain, the risk of strain injuries and the accident risk. The equipment should be suited for the task and to the worker. Make use of the available aids. Belt and roller conveyors and other conveyors help with moving items. Other such aids are different forklifts and electrically operated or manual lifting jacks and trolleys. Notice that it is safer to push than to pull.

Proper lifting technique

  • Check the weight, the balance and the content of the item
  • Plan your route, the location and the use of the lifting aids and consider doing the lifting together with a colleague
  • Plan the lift, prepare for it and concentrate on it
  • Activate your core muscles, get a good grip of the load, turn your feet forward and slide the item close to your body
  • Avoid twisting and bending while lifting
  • Don’t yank on the object or jerk upright
  • Lift with your legs
  • When removing items from shelves that are above shoulder height, first bring the load down to your chest and then bring it down

Mechanical lifting

Always follow all the instructions in your workplace concerning mechanical lifting and load handling. Bear in mind the following principles:

  • Only drive the forklift if you can see in the direction you are driving and can see all the other traffic. If necessary, lower the load, drive in reverse and stop at intersections.
  • Lifting a load onto a shelf or from the shelf:
    • drive into the loading position and only lift or lower the load when the forklift is in complete standstill (a forklift can tip over easily when the load is elevated)
    • start the lift carefully to assess whether the load is stable
    • lower the load onto its place, don’t slide it or push it with the tips of the forks
    • look back before reversing, lower the forks and only then back up from the shelf
    • never raise a load over other workers.
  • Do not climb on shelves. Use a stable step ladder or a separate or forklift compatible personnel lift. Extension ladders must not be used at all for getting items from shelves.
  • When loading or unloading from dock to truck or container, 1. make sure the truck or container doesn’t move (chock the wheels) 2. make sure the dock plate is secured and 3. make sure the floors can support the combined weight of the forklift and the load
  • When operating the forklift on a ramp, the load should always be on the uphill side of the ramp. Drive forward going up the ramp. Drive backward going down the ramp. Travel straight up or down.
  • When traveling with or without a load on the forks, keep the forks approximately 10–20 cm off the floor
  • Only exit the forklift after it has come a complete standstill. Do not jump down.

Working areas should be separated from the forklift traffic. This is, however, not always feasible. For example, when wrapping a roll container or pallet in the dispatch areas, you might have to work amidst forklifts. Be aware of the risks connected to this and constantly observe your surroundings. You may also suggest your supervisor to appoint a more suited place for the task. Pay particular attention if you have to operate a machine in the customer areas. Customers are not aware of the risks related to your work. You may also isolate the working area or work in the customer areas after opening hours.