The Essentials of Warehouse Safety Management
A warehouse is a living, breathing operation. It requires constant care and attention—especially when it comes to safety. From PIT equipment to product storage, you’re dealing with fire hazards, traffic issues, and many other types of potential risks.
In 2020, there were more than 58,000 nonfatal injuries and illnesses within the transportation and warehousing sector. And that figure doesn’t include other incidents like fires or loss prevention issues.
There are three main areas of warehouse safety management that you need to have in place for long-term success: regulatory compliance, incident management, and safety culture. Focusing on building and maintaining these areas of the operation will help you reduce incident rates while ensuring the successful flow of product from one side of the warehouse to the other.
Regulatory Compliance for Warehouses
Most warehouse operations fall under OSHA’s general industry requirements. According to OSHA’s website, that “includes establishments operating facilities for general merchandise, refrigerated goods, and other products.”
Under these regulations, warehouses must comply with general safety standards for things like:
- Ladders and guardrails
- Walking-working surfaces
- Fall protection
- Hazardous materials
- Personal protective equipment
- Emergency planning
- Powered industrial trucks (PIT)
- Powered platforms, manlifts, etc.
- Noise exposure
- Hazardous material handling and processing
- Process safety management (PSM)
Keeping up with these (and other) regulations requires a certain degree of organization and collaboration between all inbound, outbound, and support teams within the warehouse.
Incident Management Best Practices
Warehouse incident management is hard because there are so many different types of incidents to deal with. From PIT incidents to repetition injuries, there aren’t always patterns to address.
In every case, however, there are lessons to learn—lessons that help you prevent future incidents.
There are three main areas of incident management: reporting, investigation, and prevention. You need to optimize all three areas to meet your warehouse safety goals.
Incident reporting is the easiest area of incident management to master. That’s because OSHA recordkeeping requirements are publicly available. Under these requirements, warehouses must record all injuries, illnesses, and fatalities throughout the year.
Here are a few best practices that you can adopt:
- Teach all managers (regardless of department) how to write detailed incident descriptions.
- Have a standard process for collecting witness statements and recording incident details.
- Organize all incident records (past and present) in a way that makes them easy for anyone with permission to access.
Many large and midsize companies adopt a digital file management system to keep track of their incident records. No matter how you organize reports, it’s important to make the system scalable. And you definitely want to be able to update your reports as you gather new information. This will help you better investigate and understand the cause of injuries and illnesses.
The investigation process is critical to preventing future incidents. In a warehouse setting, you’re more likely to have resources like checklists and forms, camera equipment, emergency response equipment, and more, than if you’re in the field.
This means that you can perform in-depth root cause analysis and truly identify the source(s) of an incident. All managers should know how to ask questions that help uncover the root cause. This includes using techniques like 5 why root cause analysis, fishbone diagrams, etc., to determine the source.
As with incident reporting, you want to have a standard workflow for completing investigations. Check out the video below to learn more about the elements of an incident investigation program:
Through the investigation process, you’ll learn what caused an incident. The next and final step is to determine how you can prevent an incident in the future.
You should only begin the hazard prevention stage of incident management once you’ve found a root cause. Implementing prevention strategies without this piece of information will make your efforts much less effective.
After deciding which areas to target, you’ll want to initiate the research phase. During this time, talk to both floor managers and workers for feedback on your potential solutions.
And don’t forget to ask for their ideas as well. Their valuable insight will help you decide whether a solution might interrupt the flow of the operation.
Once the research stage is done, you can move on to the planning phase. Use this time to determine things like the:
- Materials needed
- Project timeline
- Departments and/or individuals involved
- Equipment, work area, process, etc. affected
Depending on the scope of the project, this stage can take a few hours, days, or weeks to finish. Remember, though, you want to work efficiently. When it comes to hazard prevention, time is of the essence.
After the planning stage, you’re ready for the implementation phase. Make sure you coordinate with all affected departments in advance to make your changes. Whether that be changing PIT lane 5S, reorganizing pack stations, relocating pallet locations, etc., advance communication will make the process much smoother.
Don’t forget to track the changes you’ve made for future reference. You want to be able to review your incident reports and action items to decide whether the solution worked. If it did, you can consider rolling it out on a larger scale (if applicable).
With each new hazard prevention initiative, you’ll begin to shape the culture of your warehouse. And over time, these projects will define the workflows and habits your site uses to move product across the site.
Creating a Strong Warehouse Safety Culture
Before you can reshape the warehouse safety culture, you must understand where you’re at.
To gauge the safety culture within a warehouse, start by looking at cleanliness. You can tell a lot about safety from the way that workers treat the equipment, tools, 5S, and more.
During the assessment phase, ask employees how they feel about safety. Do they view your policies and procedures as essential to their well-being? Or do workers think of safety requirements as annoyances?
These conversations are useful for understanding your workers, their values, and their attitudes towards safety. Use the feedback you receive to decide which areas to focus on.
Between your site’s training program and engagement approach, you can easily transform your warehouse safety culture to be stronger than ever.
Excellent Safety Training
Having an excellent safety training program is absolutely essential for long-term incident prevention. Many of your new hires may be going through warehouse safety training for the first time.
The quality of instruction they receive can have a major impact on the habits and behaviors they develop within the first few weeks. According to a study in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, “compared to low-engagement training, high-engagement training is associated with higher levels of hazard recognition and safety risk perception.”
If you want to reap these benefits, try targeting the following areas of your training program:
Use modern, updated training materials to get students more interested in the coursework. Also, upgrade materials to digital formats if you can.
For example, you can use a learning management system to upload your training materials to the cloud. In this setup, anyone with permission to administer training can access the content and teach a class.
That type of flexibility means your team won’t always be confined to a traditional setting. If you’re training new hires on a process, you can easily take the learning to the floor. There, they can get hands-on experience packing boxes, moving pallets, driving PIT, etc., while they absorb the written and verbal information.
Modernizing content in this way allows you to cater to all different types of learning styles. And it also makes it easier for your team to administer exams, review scores, and keep track of training progress.
Safety training content can be boring. There’s just no way around it. Not every topic grabs attention, so it’s very important that you focus on the essentials. Follow these tips for improving your training content:
- Get rid of “fluff” content
- Provide multimedia information (text, video, graphics, etc.)
- Use hands-on elements when possible
- Update photos and graphics to modern, high-quality versions
These efforts cost you time in the short term. But they’re a long-term investment in better safety engagement and potentially higher retention rates.
Apart from the actual training materials and content is the delivery. Providing a high-energy, positive experience during safety training can energize workers to hit the warehouse floor following all the advice and procedures they learned.
Here are some ways to enhance the warehouse safety training experience:
- Facilitate discussion during the class
- Encourage questions and answer them in front of the group
- Incorporate breaks to keep students engaged
- Include interactive elements like roleplaying or games
Each class is different. Some are high-energy and others are low energy. While you want to read the room and meet students where they’re at, you should always strive towards an enthusiastic lesson. After all, one of the main goals of the training should be to foster a safety culture that lasts beyond the first week or two.
Support for Operations Managers
Since culture comes from the top down, it’s important to support and engage operations managers. After all, they have more influence over workers than senior leadership, EHS specialists, and any other department.
Support comes in many forms, but here are some of the top ways to help warehouse managers foster a strong safety culture:
- Make incident management procedures simple and easy-to-follow
- Offer a robust recognition program for reaching departmental safety goals
- Provide consistent communication of new warehouse safety policies and procedures
- Give managers the tools they need to ensure 5S adherence
- Establish a system for fixing and/or replacing broken equipment
- Teach managers how to write high-quality incident descriptions
While this list isn’t comprehensive, it’s a great starting point for encouraging warehouse operations managers to value safety.
Without the right tools and resources, they’re less likely to properly enforce safety policies. And this can lead to a learned apathy that makes future safety improvements, process changes, etc., more difficult to roll out.
The downstream effect of managers’ indifference towards safety policies is that workers don’t follow the guidelines. This increases the chances of a major safety incident occurring and puts the well-being of the entire operation at stake.