Safety should be a pervasive part of the warehouse, integrated and woven into every task, whether performed by machine or human. Every employee—new hires, veterans, and managers alike—must be responsible for the safety of not only themselves, but their colleagues.
A safe workplace doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen with the implementation of the most state-of-the-art safety automation. It doesn’t happen with an annual training session. It simply doesn’t happen by accident, or without a lively safety culture that starts at the top—but it doesn’t stop there.
How can a culture of safety be created and promoted?
It happens when people are given consistent safety training and safety is held in utmost importance by the organization. A majority of accidents are a result of human error, and the only way to reduce incidents is to train employees on the safest methods to complete their job.
In warehousing, some of the most common injury categories include slips, trips, and falls; ergonomic-related pains (lifting, reaching, pulling, and pushing); and material handling incidents, such as dropped boxes and forklift accidents.
A workplace that values safety drives productivity, increases revenue growth, and can ultimately have long-term effects on employee engagement, retention, and loyalty.
Let’s take a look at how and why safety training with personnel unlocks these benefits:
Employees See Problems First
Employees usually see safety problems before management—if they know what to look for. Leaders should make safety a priority. The more safety is discussed, emphasized, and practiced in every aspect of the workplace, the greater impact it will have on employees, collectively and as individuals. Systems to allow employees to report safety issues should be encouraged. That input should be given priority and follow-up.
A common warehouse leadership mistake is to make assumptions about what employees know and understand of safety issues and systems. When working in complex warehouses, where there are many different activities, dozens of people, and lots of machinery, safety becomes more complicated. Even the simplest of actions—things like crossing a forklift aisle, loading a truck or picking an order from racks—are opportunities for devastating accidents. Employees must be thoroughly trained on safety precautions and protocols as well as reminded about safety best practices in periodic training.
With an integrated safety culture, knowledge and training, employees become a warehouse’s best accident deterrent. They can self-police each other and report and correct safety concerns with infrastructure or machinery.
Reduce Injuries, Increase Productivity
According to OSHA, businesses spend roughly $170 billion a year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses. However, with established safety and health management systems, organizations can reduce injury and illness costs by 20 to 40 percent, OSHA data shows.
There is a universal desire for a safe workplace, but in order to create and maintain a safe environment, training programs must be in place. Dedicated time for training at specific intervals—as well as continued on-the-job emphasis of safety—is necessary.
In warehouses, training should go beyond general workplace safety and address specific safety concerns and protocols for each particular task or functional area. Equipment safety and job-specific safety training should be done for new hires and on an ongoing basis. Safety training refreshers help prevent bad habits from developing. Training on personal protective equipment, accident prevention, and emergency procedures stress the responsibility of each individual to be a part of creating a safe workplace.
Employees who operate or work near forklifts should receive specific training. Forklifts cause more than 10,000 job-related injuries per year, according to OSHA data. Many of them could be prevented with diligent safety training.
Safety Automation Doesn’t Replace Training
With today’s technology, safety rules can be automated, controlled, and monitored in warehouse management systems (WMS). Designated lanes for pedestrians and material handling equipment, motion sensors, intelligent safety gates, and guard rails can augment existing systems and training.
These precautions can never replace the importance of safety training—making safe decisions can never be automated. Safety automation technology, systems, and employees should work together for all of it to be effective. None of these technologies are designed to replace the human mind’s capacity for decision making. They help enhance trained employees’ ability to keep themselves out of harm’s way.
Carousels, palletizers, robotics, and sortation systems help make warehouses safe because they replace live employees who could be working in dangerous areas. Automation has positive impacts on safety and ergonomics within the warehouse. That being said, personnel still need to understand the safety protocol and implications of working in the vicinity of these machines.
Consider this thought from Perry Sainati of Belden Universal Joints: “Automated safety can be a slippery slope. Because while it only stands to reason that you want to take advantage of the latest advancements in safety—like hi-tech sensors and alarms, electronic safety curtains, avatars, and diagnostic and modeling software—when it comes to warehouse and plant safety, the moment you start relying on technology over training, vigilance, and common sense, is the moment you start asking for trouble.”
The Goal Is a Culture of Safety
A Gallup research study, “State of the American Workplace,” found a correlation between well-managed teams with highly engaged employees and improved safety. Comparing the top 25 percent of teams with the bottom 25 percent, the top quartile had 50 percent fewer accidents! There were productivity benefits as well; engaged employees were less likely to call out sick or leave the position, the study found.
Training is the foundation to building a culture of safety. What we mean by that is workers, managers, and operators should all be on the same page when it comes to nurturing a safe, injury-free environment—all employees should feel that safety is their responsibility. With consistent training, a safer workplace can be created and maintained, and, in turn, the business side of the warehouse can reap the benefits.
Scott Stone is the Director of Marketing for Cisco-Eagle, a provider of integrated material handling and storage systems for industrial operations. Scott has 25 years of experience in industrial operations and marketing.