What are OSHA Warehouse Safety Guidelines?
Working in a warehouse comes with many potential dangers. However, many of these can be prevented or reduced by understanding and implementing proper health and safety protocols. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has created guidelines to ensure businesses are aware of potential hazards and following procedures to protect the health and well-being of workers. Learn more about the common warehouse-related risks and solutions below.
Common warehouse safety concerns
The fatal injury rate in warehouses is higher than the national average in all industries. This is because there are many potential hazards in a warehouse. Common hazards and solutions are discussed in detail below. However, some general safety guidelines outlined by OSHA include:
- Blocking off areas where an employee can fall 4 feet or more or walk off (e.g., docks)
- Clearing floors and aisles of clutter and other hazards that could cause an employee to slip, trip, or fall
- Factoring proper work practices into time requirements for performing a task
- Providing adequate rest breaks to avoid fatigue in employees performing physical work
- Providing ergonomic and task-specific training to new employees
- Ensuring proper ventilation in the warehouse.
- Instructing employees on how to avoid heat stress in hot or humid environments
- Instructing employees on how to properly work in cold environments
- Implementing lockout/Tagout procedures
Forklifts are one of the most common hazards in the warehouse industry. Around 100 employees are killed and 95,000 injured each year from forklift-related incidents, with about 25 per cent of those fatalities coming from turnovers (a term OSHA uses where a forklift tips over).
Ways to reduce forklift-related injuries include:
- Ensuring proper training and certification for drivers
- Keeping up with the maintenance of all parts
- Assessing potential risks in areas where forklifts will be used
- Following safety procedures and protocols (e.g., wearing a seatbelt)
- Prohibiting horseplay or stunt driving
- Installing covers or guardrails
- Maintain safe clearances and provide signage on docks (e.g., warnings for dock edges).
There are many hazardous chemicals and substances used in the workplace. Therefore, employees must know how to use and store these substances properly and what to do when an accident occurs.
Ways to ensure good hazard communication include:
- Maintaining a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for all chemicals used in the facility
- Ensuring employees are aware of the risk associated with different chemicals and how properly handle and store them
- Having proper signage
- Providing clean-up kits and equipment (e.g., eyewash station) and instructions on how to use them
- Providing and enforcing the proper usage of personal protective equipment
- Prohibiting smoking and open flames in areas where chemicals are used
- Having adequate ventilation
- Ensuring fire extinguishers are available and charged
Electrical wiring methods
Workers sometimes overlook electrical hazards, but anyone working around machines that conduct or generate electricity is at risk. However, one of the most common sources of electrical hazards is wiring. This is because wires are found frequently within a facility and are at a higher risk of wear and tear. Wires can also easily become exposed or overloaded, leading to electrocution or fires.
Ways to reduce electrical hazards include:
- Ensuring proper grounding and insulation
- Providing ground fault circuit interrupters
- Ensuring only qualified personnel are working with electrical equipment
- Proper signage and visual warnings
- Ensuring proper ventilation (e.g., reducing dampness in areas with electrical equipment or ensuring equipment can handle these conditions)
- Prohibiting the use of metal equipment in areas that are exposed to energized parts of equipment, fixtures, or circuit conductors
- Frequent inspection, replacement, and fixing of frayed or exposed wires
- Minimizing wire overcrowding or tangling
- Putting up barriers to prevent runaway pallets, forklifts, or carts in areas with electrical equipment
Warehouse employees may be required to work in areas with harmful fumes or insufficient oxygen. Exposure to these conditions can cause respiratory issues, diseases, cancers, or death. Therefore, it is crucial that workers are aware of potential respiratory risks and provided with the necessary equipment or tools to protect themselves from unsafe air conditions. This can be done by:
- Providing personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Training workers on how to correctly use and store PPE
- Removal of contaminants from the air
- Installing or providing workers with respirators, air filters, or air purifiers
- Informing workers of potential respiratory risks
- Keeping up to date MSDSs (particularly with chemicals that can cause respiratory issues)
Improper material storage or equipment increases the risk of items falling, resulting in damaged goods or injuries to those working in the area. Fall hazards can be reduced by:
- Installing guardrails and railings
- Installing safety nets
- Stacking loads evenly and straight
- Placing heavier items on lower shelves
- Keeping aisles clear and in good condition
- Removing one object at a time
- Proper maintenance of racks and shelving
Lifting and handling items is a standard job in warehouses. However, doing so improperly, overexertion, or repetitive motions can cause muscle injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. These risks can be reduced by:
- Minimizing the need for lifting and handling when possible
- Providing ergonomic and task-specific training
- Reducing lifts from higher heights
- Asking for assistance and providing help with larger loads
- Using your legs and keeping your back in a neutral position when lifting
- Keeping floors clean and free of slip or trip hazards
- Not twisting to turn when carrying a load
Complete list of hazards and solutions can be found in the OSHA warehouse pocket guide.
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