Labor statistics show around 5,000 fatal accidents and about 9,00,000 non-fatal injuries occur annually in US workplaces.
The National Safety Council estimates that the average workplace injury costs $38,000 in direct costs and $150,000 in indirect costs. Keeping workers safe is not only morally right, it also makes business sense.
With the growth of online shopping, many warehouses hire less-experienced seasonal staff, further increasing the likelihood of accidents.
Even minor accidents that don’t hurt employees result in lost productivity and damaged stock.
Warehouse employers and employees must be aware of the dangers present within the workplace. Safety training and signage should be implemented where appropriate to ensure everyone at the job site knows how to avoid harmful incidents. That’s why we offer a comprehensive Warehouse Safety Training program to help reduce injuries and accidents.
Table of Contents
What Are the Most Common Hazards in a Warehouse?
Warehouses are dangerous working environments. So what are the hazards of working in a warehouse?
1. Slips, Trips, and Falls
Generally reported together, slips, trips, and falls account for about 27% of workplace injuries, costing businesses $15 to $18 billion annually. This data can be found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.
Around half of these incidents are fatal; virtually all the fatal incidents are falling from a height.
Uneven surfaces and damaged areas must be marked, cordoned off, and repaired immediately. Spills of slippery liquids and packaging materials should be marked and cleaned up quickly, and obstacles such as boxes should be removed.
Good lighting helps to prevent trips on steps. Heavy-duty cord covers prevent workers from snagging their feet in cables.
Slip-resistant footwear (preferably steel-capped work boots) and anti-slip paint or tape provide an extra safety element.
Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as harnesses and safety railings, are essential for fall prevention.
Any floor or platform over four feet above ground level must be guarded by standard railings, except where a stairway, fixed ladder, or ramp provides access. Toe-boards below the railings provide extra safety and are often legally required.
2. Heavy Equipment
Heavy equipment such as forklifts causes fatal accidents due to great weight and speed.
Around 95,000 forklift accidents occur yearly, resulting in 20,000 serious injuries and 100 deaths. Forklifts are arguably the most serious workplace hazard among the common warehouse hazards.
Proper training must be provided for all workers who use forklifts to ensure their safety and that of others.
Because pedestrians represent more than half of workers killed in forklift accidents, all workers must be given regular training in basic warehouse traffic safety.
Audible and visual alerts inform workers of potential hazards, from horns to bright safety vests. All workers should receive basic warehouse materials handling information.
Safe handling of forklifts includes correct pallet handling and limiting the weight carried on any one trip.
3. Moving Machinery
Moving parts on machinery, such as conveyor belts, can snag loose clothing, jewelry, or long hair, causing injuries ranging from abrasions to amputations.
Institute safety measures to prevent severe injuries. For example, insist that workers not wear metal rings, to prevent ring avulsions.
Post warning signs and replace them as they fade, smudge, or otherwise lose legibility.
4. Injuries at the Loading Docks
Loading and unloading at the loading dock can result in crush injuries from workers being trapped between vehicles, such as powered industrial trucks, or between vehicles and the loading dock.
The number of heavy, moving objects in a loading zone makes it highly dangerous. Only trained employees should be in this area to reduce the risk of crush injuries.
5. Physical Strain
Around one-third of warehouse injuries are musculoskeletal disorders from handling heavy loads (or poor ergonomics on equipment such as forklifts).
Injuries ranging from a mild sprain to a damaged spine occur. Train workers how to lift objects safely, whether with lifting equipment such as pallet jacks or manually.
The main reason manual handling results in injury is workers not using proper lifting techniques. Eliminating manual lifting helps reduce the risk of injuries.
6. Hazardous Materials
Hazardous or toxic substances include flammable substances, easily-absorbed solvents, and carcinogens and teratogens.
These harmful substances may cause immediate injury or disorders that take years to manifest, whether in your employees or their children.
Either way, mishandling materials can result in devastating harm to your employees and their families.
OSHA requires all employers to have a hazard communication program to inform their employees of the risks of hazardous chemicals, how to handle and store them safely, and what to do in the event of an accident.
Hazard communication includes Safety Data Sheets for all harmful substances, and cleanup kits to deal with spills must be on hand.
Employees must be properly trained when any new hazardous substances are introduced.
Safety equipment, such as eye protection, gloves, and breathing masks or respiratory aids, must be supplied to workers handling these chemicals.
7. Electrical Hazards and Fires
Electrical hazards such as exposed wires or charged surfaces caused by ground-fault circuits can shock workers. Wires should be covered, and ground-fault circuit interrupters should be used to cover charged surfaces.
Electrical faults and other ignition sources – such as lighters – can spark fires, and improperly stored flammable substances allow them to spread.
The National Fire Protection Association estimates that around 1,200 fires occur annually in warehouse facilities, resulting in about 22 deaths and direct property destruction, amounting to about $150,000,000 on average.
Warehouses should possess building permits showing fire safety measures, such as sprinklers and a clear flue space to douse flames.
Portable fire extinguishers must be on hand. Clearly-marked fire escape routes and easily-accessible fire doors must be available. Carry out regular fire drills and ensure that workers know fire safety procedures.
8. Falling Objects
Warehouses generally have materials on storage racks above workers’ heads, which could fall onto anyone passing below. Appropriate racking systems help secure these objects.
Workers may pile objects in transit. Train employees how to create stable stacks, particularly of rounded things, and cover safe stacking weights and heights.
Require employees in a warehouse environment to wear hard hats to protect against falling objects.
Hazardous Energy Accidents
Mechanical equipment, such as conveyor belts and forklifts, requires frequent maintenance to remain safe to operate.
However, machinery activated unexpectedly during equipment maintenance releases stored energy, causing injuries ranging from shocks and burns to crush injuries and amputations.
Lockout/tagout safety protocols guard against such accidental activation, keeping your maintenance crew safe.
Many warehouses get hot, and workers may be affected by conditions such as heat stroke. Mitigation measures to prevent this, and training workers in identifying these conditions, are necessary.
On the other hand, refrigerated warehouses expose workers to potential hypothermia and frostbite. Appropriate insulated clothing, waterproof footwear, and frequent breaks in warm, dry areas must be provided. A clear exit must always be open.
Cold areas are also often wet. Non-slip flooring, such as metal grates, helps to prevent slips, trips, and falls.
Flash-freezing facilities are particularly dangerous environments, as liquid nitrogen leaks will result in gaseous nitrogen building up and displacing oxygen, causing workers to become disoriented and faint.
Such a facility must have an oxygen monitoring system to prevent deaths from nitrogen leaks.
The Core Components of Warehouse Safety
The three factors identified below go a long way to eliminating workplace injuries and ensuring warehouse safety.
1. Awareness and Alertness
What is the biggest safety hazard in a warehouse? Workers who are tired or complacent, resulting in them not paying attention to their job or work environment.
Warehouse accidents can be significantly reduced if warehouse managers check for workplace hazards such as spills, overloaded forklifts, or tired workers.
They should respond swiftly to hazards, from posting warning signs or condoning off an area to pulling fatigued workers off the floor. Even well-trained workers who know how to do their job safely can mess up if they are tired.
Because workers may forget safety tips or become complacent, ongoing safety education is vital.
2. Good Housekeeping
Warehousing operations may become dangerous if good housekeeping isn’t practiced. Workers should eliminate obstructions in aisles, fire hazards, and tripping or slipping hazards as soon as possible.
All workers must know how to identify and report hazards to warehouse managers. Doing so allows rapid response to maintain warehouse safety. A first-aid provider must always be on hand to respond to accidents.
3. Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment and Training
Appropriate PPE for warehouse workers, from safety shoes to hard hats, helps protect against potential dangers, as does ensure that they are well-trained.
Workers must be trained in materials handling and other hazards. Even pedestrians must know forklift safety. Anyone working in warehouse settings must know fire procedures and evacuation routes.
Warehouse Safety: The Bottom Line
Warehouse safety can be improved by knowing the common warehouse hazards, implementing measures to reduce the risk of accidents, and dealing with incidents such as spills of hazardous materials.
These practices protect worker health and keep the job site operating smoothly.