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In the material handling industry, even when most of the major hazards are identified and addressed, a small or careless mistake can still result in serious injury. Below are four common warehouse hazards should not be overlooked.

1. Pallet Rack Collapses
Incidents involving pallet rack collapses often stem from materials not being properly stowed in a safe and orderly manner. Such collapses are especially dangerous when the incident occurs from a mezzanine or high tier, since even the smallest, seemingly innocuous item can become a projectile hazard when dropped from a certain height. To avoid a collapses, a best practice is to stack and wrap the pallet racks with the biggest and heaviest items on the bottom and then the lighter and smaller materials positioned toward the top. Also, make sure that pallets have adequate space between them to prevent collapse issues when accessed by lift trucks. A safety program that regularly inspects pallet racks for potential dangers and issues can help prevent costly accidents.

2. Slips, Trips & Falls
According to OSHA, “Slips, trips, and falls constitute the majority of general industry accidents. They cause 15% of all accidental deaths, and are second only to motor vehicles as a cause of fatalities.” Yet as frequent at these types of incidents are, with the right safety procedures in place, they are also among the easiest of accidents to prevent. Falls from height are often among the most serious of these types of incidents; however, even slips, trips and falls on the same level can have serious consequences. To that end, it is critical that workers maintain clear, tidy work areas that are free of clutter to help minimize any threats that contribute to slip, trip and fall injuries. For instance, when a warehouse worker leaves his or her work area, it is important to ensure any materials that obstruct aisles or walkways out of the way. Additionally, when spills occur, employees should follow the necessary steps to ensure they are cleaned up as soon as possible, and that the area is cordoned off to traffic until the hazard is abated. Lighting is another often overlooked factor in workplace accidents. Poorly lit hallways and stairs are dangerous because they obscure the ability to see what is underfoot, additional lighting in these areas can add a measure of prevention. These are just a few examples of the simple, commonsense steps employers should take seriously to help alleviate slips, trips and falls.

3. Hazardous Material Incidents
Production and distribution centers often receive shipments with hazardous or volatile materials, and accidental spills are an unfortunate reality. While people often assume large-scale spills are the most dangerous, even small leaks and spills pose a threat to worker safety. An effective hazmat plan helps prepare workers for chemical spills by providing them with the information and training necessary to properly contain and clean-up the material. It is also incumbent upon employers to ensure workers have access to the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and the most up-to-date safety data sheets (SDSs) when working with hazardous materials. Sound HazCom practices are a necessity for warehouses, even if employees’ exposure to hazardous chemicals is minimal — with the proper response plan in place, workers can act quickly to control the spill situation to minimize any injuries.

4. Forklift Crashes
Whether due to a novice worker who takes a wrong turn, or an experienced operator having an off-day, forklift crashes are a common mishap in the workplace. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the forklift, workplace environment and operator actions all contribute to fatal forklift incidents. As such, forklift operating training, along with training on industry specific hazards, significantly reduce the risk of injury and death. It’s also critical that vehicles are checked prior to use for any faulty components that might cause an incident to occur.

While accidents are bound to happen, employers can take steps to create a work environment that focuses on safety and minimizes risks to employees. With regular training and the right tools, employees are better equipped to identify hazards and reduce accidents. The benefits go beyond limiting injuries and decreasing compensation claims, and can even drive efficiency and productivity across all business units.

Guest post provided by Tom Reddon, a forklift specialist and blog manager for National Forklift Exchange. He also sits on the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association Executive Dialogue team. Connect with him via Twitter at @TomReddon.