It’s time for another Spotlight on Safety. This month we’re going to take a broad look at the safety hazards present in warehouses and manufacturing facilities. The fast-paced work, machinery, traffic, and people present in these industrial environments can combine to create dozens of potentially hazardous situations every day.
With a proactive attitude toward workplace safety, however, you can keep your facility and employees out of harm’s way. The following are a few of the most prevalent safety concerns in warehouses and manufacturing facilities, and some tips on how to keep those concerns from becoming disasters with basic hazard prevention.
1. SLIPS, TRIPS, AND FALLS
This one seems like common sense, but according to OSHA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, slips, trips, and falls account for nearly 700 fatalities every year. All too often, these accidents are completely preventable.
Slips and trips occur when someone loses their footing while walking or standing, possibly due to spilled liquid or other materials, or uneven flooring or debris. There are several simple ways to prevent these accidents from occurring.
Firstly, if you see a spill, take ownership of it; don’t just walk away. If you let it become the next person’s problem they might slip and have a much bigger issue to deal with than a little cleanup. Upon seeing a spill, have another coworker get a wet floor sign and cleaning supplies, while you stand watch over the area until they return to warn passers-by of the spill.
To prevent trips, make sure all walkways and workspaces are clear of floor-level clutter and debris and physical hazards. If a box falls and the inventory falls all over the floor, make sure it’s completely cleared so that no one can trip over any missing pieces.
When working with cables or extension cords, make sure all cords are taped to the floor so that they can’t slacken and create a tripping hazard.
Now, when it comes to falls, things can be a little more complicated to manage than simply following good housekeeping rules. A fall occurs when someone loses their balance when standing on an elevated surface. In a warehouse, this can occur on a loading dock, a cherry-picker, a ladder, or any other number of elevation devices.
To avoid falls, make sure your loading dock has the proper safety measures in place, like gates or guard rails that block the opening when a truck is not present. When someone is working at a height, make sure they’re using the proper safety equipment. In addition, ensure the area is properly marked so that people walking below don’t bump into them and cause them to lose their balance.
2. HAZARDOUS MATERIALS
Warehouses and manufacturing facilities always have hazardous materials on the premises, like gas cylinders or chemicals for finishing metal materials. It’s important to have a proper HAZCOM, or Hazard Communication, system in place. Make sure that all materials are properly labeled with both written labels and iconography.
Ensure any employee handling the materials is properly trained on what PPE to wear (and that the PPE is in good condition), and how to seal and store the materials.
Information regarding chemicals and their proper storage environments as well as their chemical makeups and associated chemical hazards can be found in the SDS, or Safety Data Sheet. The SDS should be in an accessible location, and all employees should know where to find it.
Some hazardous materials are combustible in certain temperatures or environments, and some cannot be stored alongside other materials. For instance, gas cylinders are best stored in an appointed gas cylinder cabinets like the ones made here at FG. This is the best way to ensure your cylinders are in a properly ventilated and labeled container. Make sure that you read about your hazardous materials before choosing where to store them, and ensure that all employees who work with those materials are familiar with their storage conditions, as well.
Ergonomics is literally defined as the study of efficiency in the workplace, but it commonly refers to physical efficiency, specifically to finding the most efficient and least strenuous way to complete a task. This is especially important in a warehouse or manufacturing environment, where the work is both very physical and very repetitive.
Employees should be aided by mechanical intervention (forklifts, conveyor belts, cranes, and hoists). When mechanical aid is unavailable, employees must be trained how to properly lift and carry (even small loads) in a way that doesn’t cause undue stress on their muscles and joints.
Improper ergonomics can lead to musculoskeletal disorders that could last a lifetime. A fall or a slip might be an immediate injury, but a stress injury due to repetitive motion or improper lifting and carrying can lead to a lifelong condition. Make sure that all of your employees are protected from this possibility with proper training and mechanical intervention.
4. FIRE SAFETY
Fire is always a risk in an industrial environment, so it’s important to be prepared. Drills should be held regularly, and every employee (including new employees when they start with your company) should be familiar with your facility’s Emergency Action Plan.
Employees who work with flammable materials (combustible chemicals or welding materials, for instance) should know exactly where their closest fire extinguisher is and how to use it. Sprinklers should be able to reach the space they’re meant to cover without impediment (don’t place tall solid filing cabinets or other solid materials directly underneath a sprinkler).
In fact, if you’re installing partitions or cabinets in your warehouse, it’s best to use welded wire mesh products, like our Stor-More® Storage Lockers and Saf-T-Fence® Partitions. They’re compatible with fire sprinklers as the mesh won’t block the spray of water from reaching the whole space, as opposed to a solid metal locker or partition.
Management can also ensure that the facility is prepared in case of a fire emergency by regularly inspecting fire safety equipment and checking that sprinklers and smoke detectors are still in working order and that fire extinguishers haven’t expired.
5. MOVING MACHINERY
Most warehouses or factories have lots of large moving parts. Robotics, especially, can be potentially hazardous if not properly guarded against. In a manufacturing facility, large robotics are a necessity, but they can also be potentially dangerous to both employees working in close proximity and passers-by. If a machine malfunctions, it can send projectiles across the space. If someone gets too close to a machine, or even tries to touch it, they could be seriously injured.
That’s why machine guarding is so important. By putting a barrier around the machine, employees are protected from potential injury from projectiles, pinch-points, and many other possible hazards. Welded wire mesh is typically best for machine guarding as it allows for visibility of the machine, while still blocking projectiles and errant hands or fingers.
SAFETY IS A TEAM EFFORT
Safety really is a team effort. When companies are proactive about safety and regularly train all new and existing employees on safety topics, doing the things the safe way will become muscle memory. If employees feel comfortable and empowered to speak up about safety concerns, and if management does frequent follow-ups and spot checks, you can create a truly safe work environment.