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warehouse distribution center safety

Warehouse and distribution centers, either privately owned and managed or public operations where tenants rent space, present specific safety challenges that should be understood and also carefully managed to avert losses. This article is intended to concisely point out a few areas of concern.
A typical modern warehouse operation may be separated into several different storage areas and each area may present a different safety concern both for employees and for property protection.  Each section should be evaluated for such specific hazards as storage height, fire protection, housekeeping, and other unique hazards such as type of product stored (hazardous materials, flammables, awkward shaped items, etc.).  The way your storage is arranged can impact the effectiveness of your fire sprinkler protection – consult NFPA 13 to ensure that your storage arrangement is adequately protected per the NFPA guidelines.  Storage height and aisle width play a major part in property protection – be sure to know the dimensions and protections for your operations.
For those warehouses that maintain round-the-clock operations, safety conditions are heightened throughout the facility. Appropriate supervision and training should be provided for all shifts. Accidents may be attributed to exposures from slips on greasy floors, falls from heights, or hazards from improperly stacked pallets.  Remember that where a facility is open to the general public, such exposures may cause injury to customers as well as employees. Good housekeeping is key.
For many employees who work in the warehouse, the majority of their training will take place on the job.  Training and certification for some warehouse operations, such as for powered industrial vehicle operations, should be obtained from experienced and competent personnel.
Visitors to these facilities must be made aware of hazards; their personal safety is dependent on the facility management. Frequent and sometimes severe accidents involve the interaction of forklifts and business invitees who are in unauthorized areas, or truck drivers entering the loading docks. All operations should have safety programs in place, and video surveillance equipment in place.  The take away from these claims is that business invitees should be restricted from the warehouse operations in the absence of an employee chaperone or escort - in addition to proper safety gear such as hardhats, ear and eye protection, etc. Don’t assume the safety of your guests. Make a plan and follow it for everyone’s protection.
As a means to help you evaluate your own warehouse – here is a quick list of items to add to your self-inspection process.
  • Are all aisle widths maintained and not blocked?
    Are floor holes and/or openings protected?
  • Are mats used where drainage or entry areas need to be protected?
  • Is housekeeping - including storage pile alignment – checked and maintained?
Stairs & Mezzanines
  • For all stairs of 4 or more risers, are there handrails present?
  • Are railings provided on the open side of exposed stairs?
  • Are railings and toe boards present on all mezzanines over adjacent lower areas?
  • Do any fixed ladders in use require fall-prevention cages?
  • Are all step ladders in use under 20’ high?
  • Are all step ladders inspected quarterly?
Exits and Pathway to Exits
  • Are all exits properly marked and illuminated?
  • Are emergency exit doors equipped with panic-bar hardware?
Fire Protection
  • Are all fire extinguishers tagged and inspected monthly?
  • Are fire alarm systems inspected bi-monthly?
  • Is there clearance of at least 36” from all major electrical panels and equipment?
Material Handling
  • Are trucks and trailers secured from movement during all loading and unloading operations?
  • Have safety aisles been designated, permanently marked and kept clear to allow clear passage?