Safety is, of course, a vital part of any warehouse project plan, but in many cases it doesn’t factor into consideration until the warehouse itself is already built, stocked and ready to be staffed.
Between 2008 and 2010, the average injury rate per 100,000 employees in the transportation and storage sector was:
- 1 – fatal
- 7 – non-fatal major
- 5 – over 3 day injuries
While the fatal injury rate is lower than it is for construction, mining or agriculture, the non-fatal injury rates are substantially higher.
More recent statistics may show a decline, but the fact remains that such a substantial rate of injury must exist for a reason, especially when more risk-averse sectors are actually handling it better.
There are various different theories about why this might be, from a rift in approach between management and staff to a general lack of concern for the risk of more minor injuries but, in any case, the only way to improve is to enhance.
The best way to do this is to implement safety into the planning from the beginning, when the project is still at concept stage. Warehouse planning experts are an invaluable resource in this regard, and they can be brought in at any point in the planning process, so the sooner the better.
Even with that in mind, though, it’s important to keep the main safety risks highlighted and addressed throughout the plan. Here’s a rundown of some of the primary risks.
All the training in the world is meaningless if some structural or logistical issue with the warehouse raises the risk of an accident occurring. Forklifts can knock racking over, collide with staff, and even with each other.
The best means for avoiding this is to know, as early as possible, exactly what kind of forklift the warehouse will be using. Once this is known, it is important to make sure the aisles, floor plan, lighting and warning systems are all as ideally suited to the specific type of forklift as possible.
Accident avoidance protocols should then be set, and made as clear as possible, such as making sure that there’s a system in place to inform staff when and where forklifts are operating.
This is perhaps the most vital consideration.
While the number of warehouse fires in the UK is actually in decline, they still happen, and often could have been prevented with better planning.
Once the size and structure of the warehouse(s) is established, planning the number of fire escapes and fire doors should be next on the list. Ease of access to them and clear signage along with an evacuation protocol should be implemented as soon as possible.
Beyond this, knowing the location of the nearest fire station and its average response time is important. Depending on what goods are being stocked, different types of fire retardant may be needed, so sourcing the correct extinguishers is another significant part of early planning.
Once that’s done, placing them correctly in the warehouse as the floor plans are being developed is key.
Falling Objects/Falling from Height
In both these cases, proper security at height is important. Knowing the exact weights of stocked boxes, crates and pallets will make it easier to assure that they are secured properly.
In a similar way, the weight will also play into how the stock can be stacked, as well as which type of shelving is the most suitable.
Falling from height is a separate, but comparable issue.
Not only should all mezzanines be fitted with safety barriers, but the layout should ensure that nobody ever needs to reach too far to take something from a rack.
In this area, staff observation becomes very important, as the onsite management should always be aware how many workers are at height, and make sure that they’re operating safely.
Slip and Trip Hazards
Depending on the stock and general design of the warehouse, some of the flooring might be slippery some, or all of the time.
Should this be the case, establishing where these areas will be, assuring that they’re well marked and applying any and all necessary precautions well before construction begins is of utmost importance.
Areas which carry this risk may change over time, so make sure the safety measures are reasonably adaptable and review dates are in place.
Trip hazards are another matter. This could range from anything from a box to some exposed wiring, for example.
Any permanent trip hazards should be clearly marked out, and a system for marking out any that might appear later on should also be established.
Once again, this system should be reasonably adaptable; as it’s not necessarily certain what types of trip hazard might appear further down the line.
Once again, this primarily comes down to weight. Racking that hasn’t been properly specified may not be strong enough to hold its stock so may be at risk of either complete or partial collapse.
Even once you know what kind of racking is needed to keep the stock secure, safety barriers should also be installed to prevent further injury, should a collapse occur.
Racking should also be assessed in terms of any excess stock that might need to be stored and fitted so that they can withstand an impact from a forklift. If one rack goes, the resulting ‘domino effect’ could be potentially disastrous, even life threatening.
Examining the structure of the racking you’re going to use from top to bottom will tell you how susceptible they are to tipping. Ensuring there is a system is in place to repair or replace damaged racks routinely throughout the warehouse’s lifetime is important.
Other issues, such as the lighting, presence of hazardous substances, ventilation and proper precautions for other unsafe areas all also need to be addressed during the planning process.
Regardless of the nature of the project, each individual aspect needs to be examined in terms of any possible safety risk, and then addressed accordingly. Once again, the best means for this is to get an expert on board as early as possible.
What you should do
The role of detailed planning in a warehouse fit-out project is important for many reasons – such as business continuity and logistical efficiency – but when safety is involved it assumes a new level of importance.
When you hire an organisation of warehouse fit-out and planning experts to assist with your warehouse project, it pays to ensure that they have the track record of experience, knowledge, skills and expertise to be able to factor in safety at all stages.
Acorn Warehouse Solutions has decades of experience in warehouse planning, fit-outs, maintenance and expansion – including installation of mezzanine floors and flooring and repurposing of racking space. For us, warehouse safety is second nature.
For more information on planning safety into your warehouse project, please contact Acorn Warehouse Solutions on 01799 532024.