Warehouses are commonly used for industrial, retail, and commercial purposes to store goods. These work settings are common across the world. This post looks at warehouse work statistics, injury statistics, common warehouse hazards, and safety best practices.
We will first look at some high-level statistics regarding the size of this industry in the United States.
Warehouse Work Statistics in the United States
There are hundreds and hundreds of millions of square feet of warehouse space across the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are over 20,000 of these workplaces and over 1.14 million employees work in warehouse settings. Additionally, there are many facilities that include warehousing operations that support the business processes.
According to the BLS data, common occupations in this industry include:
- Laborers and stock movers (330,370 employees)
- Stock clerks and order fillers (270,440 employees)
- Powered industrial truck operators (217,360 employees)
- Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks (59,400 employees)
While these occupations vary, many of the workers are exposed to the same hazards due to the work environment.
Warehouse Workplace Injury Statistics
The process of receiving, packing, transporting, and shipping goods creates many hazards for warehouse workers. Injuries can occur from the improper use of equipment, handling of materials, or poor housekeeping of the facility.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics published injury and fatality numbers for 2019. Their numbers reported a total of 24 fatalities and 4.8 recordable cases per 100 full-time workers.
While this industry may not be the most dangerous industry to work in, there are many hazards that need identified and mitigated to keep workers safe.
10 Common Warehouse Hazards and Safety Best Practices
The below ten types of hazards that are common in warehouses are by no means an exhaustive list. The list incorporates common hazards found in warehousing operations and best practices to eliminate or mitigate the hazards. Every warehouse is different, so naturally, the hazards and best practices can vary greatly.
Please note that this post is not attempting to identify all hazards and safety best practices for the topics discussed.
#1 Forklift-Related Hazards in Warehouses
Forklifts are critical in a warehouse to efficiently move products around. They can prevent injuries by reducing the need for manual handling by workers, but they present severe hazards if improperly used.
The National Safety Council reported that in 2019 there were 79 work-related deaths and 8,140 injuries across all industries involving forklifts. It is vital that safeguards are put into place for both the operators of this equipment as well as personnel working around forklift traffic.
Forklift-Related Best Practices
- Forklifts should only be operated by a competent person who has completed certified training.
- Always inspect the forklift daily for any damage.
- Never operate faulty equipment.
- Never overload the machine or operate it outside of what it was designed to do.
- Never use a forklift as a man lift or ride.
- Always use seatbelts when operating a forklift.
- Never enter and exit the forklift with the forks raised.
- Mark forklift travel paths and keep personnel from walking in these areas to prevent struck-by incidents.
The OSHA standard for powered industrial trucks can be found at 1910.178.
#2 Loading Docks
Products are typically loaded into and out of the warehouse through loading docks. Loading docks are elevated to allow the delivery trucks access directly into the facility. These areas can present hazards for workers, including struck-by incidents and falls.
The BLS reported that nearly 6,600 employees missed work in 2018 due to incidents that occurred on loading docks, dock plates, and ramps.
Loading Docks Best Practices
- Install fall prevention around docks when not in use to reduce the risk for falls to occur.
- Use warning devices at the docks when fall prevention methods are not feasible.
- Use dock plates when loading and unloading trailers to ensure there is no gap between the truck and dock where an employee could fall.
- Use vehicle restraints to ensure the trailer does not move away from the dock edge while personnel are in or around the trailer.
- Be cognizant when working on the loading dock to avoid falls from the elevated landing.
- Do not climb up and down docks. Always use the proper entrance into and out of the warehouse.
- Direct all foot traffic away from the dock door and path of any moving equipment.
- Never put yourself between the dock and a moving truck or forklift.
- When operating a forklift on a loading dock, it is important to be attentive and drive slowly to avoid running off the dock.
Conveyors, like forklifts, are standard in a warehouse to efficiently distribute products throughout the facility. With this increase in efficiency also comes additional hazards such as severe caught-in and struck-by injuries.
The BLS reports that there are almost 9,000 injuries per year in the workplace due to conveyors.
Conveyor Best Practices
- All moving parts on a conveyor should be properly guarded to prevent caught-in and between injuries.
- Emergency stop switches and other safeguards should never be removed or altered.
- Only trained employees should operate conveyors.
- Conveyors should never be walked on or used to transport personnel unless specifically designed to do so.
- Loose clothing or jewelry should be avoided around conveyors.
- Avoid placing hair or body parts near the conveyor.
- Use the proper lockout/tagout procedures when servicing the equipment or clearing a jam.
The OSHA standard for conveyors can be found at 1926.555.
#4 Hazardous Materials
For warehousing operations that handle hazardous materials, there are significant hazards that employees can come into contact with. Improper storage, handling, and disposal of chemicals can result in serious injuries and property loss.
Too often, there are stories of warehouses going up in flames due to chemicals interacting with one another or poor storage practices. This recent story of a lithium battery storage facility is just one example of how intense these property loss incidents could be.
Hazardous Materials Best Practices
- The use of hazardous materials should be limited as much as possible.
- Substitution of hazardous materials for less hazardous materials should occur whenever possible.
- For operations that will utilize or store significant amounts of chemicals, the local emergency department should be notified and consulted with. There are often specific permitting and emergency planning requirements for these operations.
- Inspect the chemical’s safety data sheet before handling any chemical.
- Always properly label any chemicals in the workplace.
- Always use the appropriate personal protective equipment when working around hazardous materials or chemicals.
#5 Materials Storage
Improper storage, stacking of materials, or overloading of storage equipment can lead to materials falling onto employees. These incidents can result in severe injuries and significant property loss. The video below shows how a small event such as a forklift striking a storage rack can lead to a chain reaction of failure in a storage system.
Materials Storage Best Practices
- Source and use storage systems that are rated for the weight and the environment they will be located in.
- Ensure rack systems and shelving are braced, sturdy, and spacious enough to allow people and equipment to navigate freely.
- Inspect racking systems and stacked materials frequently to ensure there are no unaddressed hazards.
- Always store products straight and evenly.
- Never keep heavy products on high shelves.
- Place materials that are turned over frequently close to the ground or in another easily accessible area.
- Eliminate foot traffic as much as possible in areas where materials are stacked high, or forklifts are constantly handling materials on and off the storage racks.
#6 Manual Lifting
Despite the wide use of conveyors and forklifts in warehouses, manual lifting by hand does need to occur. These work activities can easily result in physical injuries to those workers who have to lift and move objects as part of their job.
These injuries can be chronic, meaning they occur over time due to repetitive stress. Or the injuries can be acute, meaning they occurred from a one-time event.
The BLS reports that sprain and strain injuries are the most common type of workplace injury year after year.
Manual Lifting Best Practices
- Use a forklift whenever possible to move heavy or awkward objects.
- Eliminate the need for manual handling by staging work areas more efficiently.
- Always plan ahead of the lift and follow proper lifting techniques when carrying heavy loads. Ensure your walking path is clear and that the space is clear for where you will set the object down.
- If a load is too heavy, always ask for assistance.
Additional information on materials handling and storage can be found in this OSHA publication.
As mentioned above, sprains and strains are the most common workplace injury. Warehouse workers are susceptible to both acute and chronic injuries. Poor work posture or repetitive movements over time can lead to significant injuries.
Ergonomic Best Practices
- Use forklifts or devices such as dollies to eliminate or reduce the frequency that manual handling occurs.
- Set up work areas in such a way that the work is within a natural reach of the employees. Avoid requiring employees to reach, twist, or stretch to grab materials or objects.
- Use the buddy system when lifting heavy or awkward objects that cannot be lifted by a forklift.
- Rotate employees between workstations to reduce the risk for repetitive motion injuries to occur.
- Avoid improper lifting techniques and unnecessary repetitive motion, which can result in musculoskeletal disorders.
Additional information on ergonomics can be found on the OSHA site by clicking here.
#8 Charging stations
Charging stations recharge (battery) and refuel (gasoline or propane) the powered equipment in a warehouse. These stations can result in injuries to workers through burns or chemical exposure. Fires can be common as well, resulting in significant property loss.
Charging Station Best Practices
- Properly store and separate any chemicals or materials in these areas.
- Ensure that any fire sprinkler system is functioning as expected and is not blocked by materials.
- Never expose a charging station to an open flame (i.e., smoking)
- Be aware of the nearest fire extinguisher, eye-wash station, and exit.
- Wear the proper PPE when required.
#9 Energized Equipment
Servicing energized equipment in the warehouse can result in electrocution or caught-in/between injuries. Some of the most severe injuries in a warehouse setting are the result of individuals bypassing safeguards on equipment when it is running or servicing equipment when it is still energized.
The BLS estimates that each year approximately 3,000 workers suffer lost-time injuries due to being caught in dangerous parts of equipment during maintenance or cleaning activities.
Energized Equipment Best Practices
- Never try to clear a jam or work on energized equipment.
- Always follow the proper lock-out tag-out (LOTO) procedures for the equipment. Never perform LOTO unless adequately trained and only removed after maintenance is complete.
- Never bypass an equipment guard or deactivate a safety or kill switch on the equipment.
The OSHA standard for the control of hazardous energy can be found at 1910.147.
#10 Slips, Trips, and Falls
Slips, trips, and falls are extremely common in the workplace. Warehouse settings are no different. Walking across the warehouse floor does not seem like a hazardous task, but it can be if hazards are present that lead to slip, trips, and falls.
Slip, Trip, and Fall Prevention
- Maintain non-slippery floors free from dirt and debris.
- Ensure that work areas are clean and organized.
- Ensure the warehouse has adequate lighting.
- Never carry products with blocked vision.
- Pay attention to where you are walking.
- Mark walking paths with lighting or floor tape to prevent individuals from walking into a hazardous area.
Providing Safety Education to Warehouse Workers
It is vital to educate employees on these hazards and best practices. While comprehensive training is the best way to ensure employees are educated, frequent safety communication should occur.
Holding daily or weekly safety meetings with the employees at your facility can be an effective way to provide this education. Browse our 250 completely free safety talks on this website.
Warehouses are not normally considered a dangerous working environment, but these work activities can present severe hazards to the employees who work in these environments. This post only brushed the surface of all of the applicable best practices and hazards.
No two warehouses are exactly the same, so the hazards that should be considered can vary greatly. The items listed above give a great starting point in what common risks to consider in a warehouse and provides some of the general safety practices that should be followed.
Reducing the risk for injury is an ongoing effort, so always re-evaluate the work environment and the safeguards that are in place.