Walking into a warehouse, combustible activity is noticeable everywhere: employees store goods coming off of the loading dock and forklifts motor up and down the aisles. From every corner of a warehouse, workers are loading, unloading, organizing, storing, packing or gathering items to keep things running fluidly.

The constant motion can amount to major accidents, or even injury, and companies must keep their employees cognizant of the dangers of working there.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the most common warehouse hazards include: objects or materials in aisles or on the floor, protruding nails, fasteners, and other sharp objects that can puncture or cut; unbalanced loads or loads that are difficult to see over on material handling equipment; imbalanced loads on a piece of equipment; loose or ill-fitting clothing of the warehouse employees; chemical spills as a result of moving products around the warehouse.

These are obstacles warehouse managers have to overcome, but where do they begin to implement a work strategy built around safety? What steps should be taken to prevent accidents and resolve ones that do occur? The process starts at the top.

Where to Start?
For employees to develop a work pattern built around safety, management has to engrain in them a safety-based philosophy.

John Specht is the warehouse manager at Nassco Inc., New Berlin, Wis. He established the safety-first mindset when he was named to that position over a year ago.

“When I started, I brought every employee into my office and told them their safety is the most important thing in our warehouse. It is something you have to talk about.

“Warehouse safety all starts with management. If it is a hot-button topic with them they are going to push it. We put it as our number one priority. People will buy into it if it is your number one priority.”

To further reinforce the idea of safety-first, most companies mandate training courses their employees must take when they are hired.

“We go over everything from lifting to safety ladders and all the different equipment,” says Mark Cadell, president of Dutch Hollow Janitorial Supply, Belleville, Ill. “We do everything in-house in terms of our training and teach them about all the different equipment before we actually teach them their job duties.”

Accident Prevention and Resolution
One component that managers feel directly relates to warehouse safety is the organization of the goods in the warehouse.

“Things that are left out where they shouldn’t be can lead to accidents,” says Cadell. “If a pallet is not put in the right place someone can come around a corner and walk right into it. It is the little things that people overlook that can lead to accidents.”

“For me organization equals safety,” adds Jerry Garbett, GM of Arkansas Bag & Equipment, Little Rock, Ark. “By having everything cleaned, swept and organized, it makes the work flow easier. I feel it really makes a difference the way people perform their jobs.”

Related to organizaton, consistency is also a major component. If employees have established work routines to follow, chances of an accident diminish greatly.

In Specht’s case, employees in Nassco’s warehouse are using the same equipment every day. Those who are driving forklifts and carts are in the same vehicle on a daily basis.

The practice develops a familiarity for workers. The familiarity breeds a vital awareness amongst workers who can better detect and prevent mishaps.

“You have to be aware of your surroundings if you want to maintain a safe, efficient warehouse,” says Cadell.

“You can hound and train your employees all you want, but it comes down to everyone in the warehouse being alert and aware of their surroundings," he adds.

Besides developing a safety-first mindset, managers must be proactive in administering other facets of warehouse safety, such as a strict uniform policy.

Employees are usually prohibited from wearing baggy clothing and not allowed to wear jewelry in most warehouses.

“Jewelry is a big thing that I pay attention to,” says Specht. “I make sure no one is wearing it. In a warehouse, it is something that could easily get caught and pulled with all the machinery.”

Managers can check clothing,and examine work habits, but they must also check equipment regularly, ensuring their employee’s safety.

“We make sure that our forklifts are tested a number of times each year to make sure they are suitable for our employees to use,” says Garbett.

“Someone from our mechanical shop checks all of our equipment once a month,” adds Specht. “If our employees notice something about the equipment in terms of wear and tear, we will send it to the shop right away and try to get a piece of equipment similar to the one they are used to working with.”

Effects of the Accidents
Equipment can be checked and double-checked, and employees can be lectured consistently, but accidents are still going to happen. What sets the safety and productivity of warehouses apart is how quickly and thoroughly the spill is cleaned up.

Most warehouses have similar procedures when it comes to chemical cleanups. Employees are instructed not to touch the spill and alert their supervisor, who then contacts the correct people.

“I instruct my employees not to touch the spill if it is something hazardous that is spilled or is leaking,” says Cadell. “They are supposed to notify me and then we evacuate the entire building and call the fire department. I make sure that they do not handle it at all.”

Spills or mishaps that can cause injury or lost work time for an employee are a precursor to the lasting effect the accident can have on the company.

When an accident occurs to an employee it sets in order a chain of events that could cost the company significant amounts of money.

“If someone gets injured, you lose their skill,” says Specht. “When that happens you lose the production value.”

“You can get more done as long as your workers are healthy,” adds Cadell. “We make sure to never get in a hurry. We do our work in a timely manner without anyone getting injured.”

The amount of work someone could miss due to an injury is not the only financial implication a safe warehouse can have on a company’s bottom line.

Specht claims that Nassco’s EMOD (experience modifier that is multiplied to the premium of a qualifying policy, providing an incentive for loss prevention) has dropped 13 points as a result of a safety-oriented warehouse. Coupled with that, productivity has gone up 19 percent.

“When I first started working as a warehouse manager 25 years ago, I thought productivity was the most important thing that we could emphasize in a warehouse,” Specht says. “I thought it was a matter of how many things could we send out and how quickly could we do it. Over the years it has become apparent that safety leads to so much more productivity.”

The dangers of a warehouse are well known. One slip-up could do major damage to a company with a large amount of financial loss. Using a safety-oriented approach for managing the warehouse could save a company a significant amount of money.