Jan/san distribution warehouses are a dangerous place to work and it can be difficult encouraging employees to constantly think “safety first.” But a common-sense approach to safe working practices can go a long way toward averting disaster, say distributors.

First and foremost, distributors need to ensure that their warehouses are organized.

“We make sure our warehouse is neat and orderly, and that avoids a lot of safety issues,” says Todd Bentley, operations manager for KSS Enterprises in Kalamazoo, Mich.

With the warehouse in order, the next step is to make sure employees are aware of their surroundings.

“When we talk about safety tips for common warehouse problems, we always promote a constant awareness of our surroundings,” says Bentley. “We encourage all of our employees to go out in pairs and look around the facility to make sure everything’s OK. We make sure everyone knows where our emergency exits are, and we make sure they know where the fire extinguishers are and how to use them. We also make sure everybody knows where the emergency alarm is located and how to activate it.”

Heightening employees’ awareness of safe working practices can also curtail common accidents. Brame Specialty Co., in Durham, N.C. promotes safety awareness with monthly safety meetings and an incentive program that rewards workers for safe working practices.

“As the warehouse manager walks around he’ll catch someone working safely — wearing their belt on their reach truck, lifting properly — and he’ll give them a scratch-off ticket,” explains Bart Cash, director of operations for Brame Specialty.

The tickets consist of three scratch-off areas, and if all three areas match the worker wins a prize.

“It can be as small as a candy bar up to $15 for a grocery store,” he says.

Drivers are also included in the program.

“If they drive all year and don’t have an avoidable accident, they win a prize,” says Cash.

Since Brame Specialty implemented this program in 2007, it has been a success.

“We tell our employees the intent is to get them home safely. Secondarily, it saves us a lot of money,” says Cash. “We still have our accidents, but it has greatly reduced the financial burden.”

In fact, since the program’s inception, Brame has finished in the top 10 to 15 percent of its insurance captive for its low number of reported and incurred losses from workers compensation.

The success of any safety program depends on employee support from the top down.

“You can have policies, procedures, and enforcement up and down the line, but if you don’t have that buy-in at every level, your program’s doomed to fail,” says Ken Morris, director of safety programs for Dade Paper in Miami.

If employees have trouble keeping safe practices top-of-mind every day, then it’s the responsibility of the warehouse manager to remind them.

“It’s a challenge to make employees think safety every day,” says Cash.

“We put the [safety] program in place, but the success is directly affected by the warehouse manager,” he says. “Either they drive it, or they don’t.”

Instead of pointing fingers when accidents happen, says Morris, distributors should offer employees positive feedback for safe working practices.

“It’s all about safety attitude and how the guys at the bottom level feel about the program,” he says. “I look at every accident we have and try not to assign blame but rather figure out how to prevent the next one. That’s the whole focus of the safety program.”

Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C. She is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.