Providing a safe working environment isn’t just the right thing to do … it’s good business.
It was common practice. One warehouse worker would stand on a pallet while another would use a forklift to lift him up to the top shelf and move inventory onto the pallet. Although the top was only 8 ft off the ground, a 33 year-old male with 4 years experience slipped as he balanced one foot on the pallet with the other on the shelf. Sadly, he fell to his death. According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), no worksite inspection had been conducted, there was no competent safety monitoring on site, neither was there a safety and health program in effect, and the workers had received no safety training and education.
You might expect that with all the emphasis on automation and robotics, warehouse injuries and deaths would be reduced or eliminated by now. Some might imagine today’s warehouses as the exclusive domain of AI-controlled drones, deftly picking, packing and shipping the products that magically arrive at our doorsteps. The reality is, despite advancements in technology, modern warehouses still need people. In fact, the number of warehouse workers is greater than ever, and increasing. Unfortunately, so are the number of injuries.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports 61 warehouse-related deaths over the last 5 years (2011-2016). For 2016 (the most recent statistics available), the BLS reports 42,500 non-fatal injuries. The larger “transportation and warehousing” category had the second highest injury and illness incident rate, at 4.6 per 1000, with 210K total incidents. The implication of these injuries and fatalities is clearly devastating for the workers and their families.
Another consideration is that, as the demand for products increases, so does the need for speed. However in 2016, injured warehouse workers missed on average 14.5 days of work per 1000 employees, according to the BLS. So if a company doesn’t already have a culture of safety, the pressure to move goods through the warehouse faster and faster will only increase injury rates, slowing down supply chains and increasing labor costs.
Besides moral and financial considerations, there’s also a legal obligation to keep your employees safe. The Occupational Safety and Health of 1970 General Duty Clause states that “the employer shall furnish to each of its employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm the his employees.”
This means implementing and maintaining a comprehensive safety program. While safety needs vary from company to company, here are some proven steps to help you develop and support a robust safety program:
- ANALYZE HAZARDS
Ensuring safety and compliance starts here. A detailed hazard analysis is the cornerstone on which any effective safety program is built. It should be conducted honestly, thoroughly, and independent of any liability exposure concerns. Simply put, to implement a safety program without first completing a thorough site hazard analysis is a waste of time. It will haunt you later.
- WALK THE TALK
Who is responsible for safety? Everyone! A successful safety program requires “buy-in” from every single person within your organization, no matter their position — everyone must be personally committed to and accountable for safety. Anyone who questions this, management included, is part of the problem.
- MONITOR BEHAVIOR
Utilize behavior-based safety observations to address at-risk behaviors before the risky behavior factors into an accident or injury.
Ensure open and proactive communication regarding health and safety matters by supporting functional Workplace Health and Safety Committees and continuing to encourage local buy-in and support. This may include:
- Safety Committee participation by leadership
- Round Table meetings with associates
- Routine building walks
- Safety Boards
These steps are just an outline. An effective safety program is one that takes into account all the factors unique to your organization. It’s also important to note that a program is effective only if it is regularly updated and continually promoted.
In the example mentioned at the outset, OSHA found that the company failed to: 1) provide workers with proper equipment to safely reach elevated shelves, 2) follow manufacturer instructions prohibiting employees from using pallets on forklifts to access upper shelves, and 3) provide training and certification to forklift operators, including training them to lift workers with an approved personnel lifting platform only. In other words, even the most basic of safety programs might have prevented this tragedy.
To avoid becoming another statistic, don’t just implement a safety program; make safety part of your culture. The result will be happier employees and a reduced exposure to risk. Really, putting the bottom line ahead of employee safety puts both in jeopardy.
Safety starts with all of us. After all, who is responsible for safety? Everyone!