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How to Avoid Injury in the Warehouse

The correct warehouse ergonomics hugely affect warehouse safety and well being. Image by SSI SCHAEFER.
The correct warehouse ergonomics hugely affect warehouse safety and well being. Image by SSI SCHAEFER.

Even in 2015, the warehouse remains a dangerous place. There are over 7,000 warehouses and 145,000 warehouse workers in the USA, and each year nearly 15,000 injuries and illnesses occur. While the physical nature of warehouse work means that accidents are more likely, many of these mishaps can be avoided with the right training and by utilizing safety best practices.

The economics of good ergonomics

The most common injuries in the warehouse are ergonomic associated pains from lifting, pushing and pulling, and slips, trips and falls. U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics reveal that each year around 650,000 musculoskeletal disorders occur in the workplace. Employees suing as a result of their injuries costs employers over 20 billion dollars per annum, and the full financial ramifications of incorrect ergonomics can be shocking:

  • $1 of every $3 of Worker’s Compensation costs are spent on workplace musculoskeletal disorders
  • Employers pay $15-20 billion each year for lost workdays.
  • Worker’s Compensation claims per injury amount to $29,000 – $32,000 every year.
  • The cost of the average shoulder injury $20,000 per year. This does not include surgery.

The knock-on costs of ergonomic injuries (e.g. absenteeism, staff replacement, training etc.) are even higher, with figures reaching around $150 billion per year. So what simple practices can employers utilize in order to reduce the risk of any ergonomics related injury – and the risk to their pocket?

As a general rule, ground-level lifting, stretching to reach weights above or below arm level, and putting staff in roles that require large amounts of bending or stretching should be reduce or eliminated where possible. All warehouse managers should walk the length of the plant and look out for the following:

  • Uncomfortable postures. Are workers regularly bending or stretching? Can this be minimized?
  • Repetitive actions. If a role requires repeatedly reaching, carrying or lifting then you should monitor your workflow to see what can be improved.
  • Strong exertions. Heavy lifting is an accident (and compensation case) waiting to happen. All workers, male or female, should be able to lift each weight. Reduce unnecessarily heavy loads.
  • Pressure points. Are there any hard or sharp edges that could hurt workers?
  • Stationary postures. Sitting or standing in the same position for too long can be damaging.
  • Engage your employees. Remember what you see during a warehouse walkabout is not the full picture. Ask your staff about their concerns and hold a team meeting to discuss ergonomics.

Obviously, reaching, lifting and carrying is something that can’t be avoided in warehouses – so what are the specific recommendations for the correct ergonomics? Whether a worker is reaching to pallet racking, emptying containers or picking up boxes, here is the advice that should be adhered to at all times:

  • When lifting items, use your leg muscles to power yourself and not your back. Hold items as close to the body as possible, and avoid two-handedly lifting anything.
  • Use equipment to lift loads where possible rather than your own muscles. Scissor lifts, hoists and balancers are always a valuable addition to warehouses.
  • Reduce reaching by using platforms, ladders and steps where viable. Portable or fixed work platforms will help staff engage their power zone, which is between the knees and shoulders.
  • Rotating tables, pallet positioners etc. should be used wherever possible to prevent workers from awkwardly reaching.

Slips and falls also occur with alarming frequency in many warehouses, but most of these accidents can be easily avoided. It’s important that all staff members are aware that they are at risk of tripping or falling at all times, and not just when they are working above ground. Anti-slip floor tape should be a mandatory addition to all warehouse floors.

Other steps that should be taken to limit the number of falls is to immediately remove any loose substances like sawdust, redundant steps, ledges or elevations. Any dark areas should be properly illuminated and all boxes and crates should be removed from the floor. Docks are the most accident prone areas in workhouses and so all staff should be thoroughly trained in the correct loading and unloading processes, as well as ensuring they are aware of their surroundings at all times.