While OSHA conducted fewer inspections in 2020, warehouse safety experts are concerned because the number of fatality-related inspections rose 64% above 2019’s numbers. While we don’t yet have a complete picture of 2021, that increase should give every warehouse operator a pause. Red Stag Fulfillment takes our safety seriously because it’s how we protect and care for our team — we know the same is true for your company.
To help the entire industry keep safety top of mind, we spoke with Adrian’s Safety Solutions. Together, we’ll look at what to do as the busy season gets in full swing, common-sense requirements and efforts, special concerns related to COVID, and what companies can do right now to protect their people.
‘Choose wisely, treat kindly’
“Safety always comes down to your people, and good safety starts on day one,” says Laura Owens of Adrian’s Safety Solutions. “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is: ‘choose wisely, treat kindly.’ That mentality helps companies find the right people and keep them safe.”
This approach will help you prioritize safety during the onboarding process, which can have positive impacts years down the road. Pick people who you trust to take safety seriously and be strong employees. Then, treat them “kindly” by having safety equipment, training, and procedures that work to reduce and eliminate accidents. Get proactive about that safety.
OSHA even encourages this way of thinking. The organization now uses the terms incidents and near misses to discuss workplace threats. That’s because saying “accident” made some people feel like the event couldn’t be stopped, but OSHA data says nearly all worksite fatalities, injuries, and illnesses are preventable.
So, don’t wait for a near miss or devastating accident to start thinking about safety. You can be kind right now by walking through the warehouse, looking for concerns, and coming up with a strategy to make it safer. This warehouse safety is even more critical right now as we all deal with the dual threats of COVID-19 and the increased volume of peak season. And, unlike what you may hear on the news, that approach can also make your warehouse a place people love to work.
Keeping COVID warehouse safety in mind
Most companies have responded to the current pandemic with increased safety procedures and requirements. Cleaning stations, sanitizer, plexiglass dividers, and other safety essentials are a more significant part of the warehouse and may become permanent fixtures. However, now is an excellent time to think about all these once again.
Approach your Q4 peak season with fresh eyes focused on the pandemic. Do you need to add staff, retrain, or move things around for increased volume? Ask yourself how that will impact worker safety and core COVID requirements. Here are three things to keep in mind as you review your warehouse.
The coronavirus pandemic created a wake-up call for many warehouses, especially those run by smaller eCommerce companies. Your people, equipment, and products all need space. It’s time to measure and remeasure throughout the warehouse. Ensure there’s enough physical space for equipment to move safely and for people to move SKUs on and off racking securely.
Peak season means more foot traffic every day, plus inventory changes. Consider making aisles one-way if there are any tight spots, especially when thinking about safe distances due to the virus. Eliminate all the blind corners you can at this time too.
Keep it clean
Moving at a fast pace makes tripping hazards even more dangerous. It’s time to refresh those cleaning standards to help encourage people to pick up as they go. We also want to ensure there is a chance for cleaning and disinfecting throughout the warehouse. Many companies will need to schedule specific cleaning and sanitation crews for aisles, packing stations, and common-use locations.
Get specific about cleaning. Assign it to crews instead of adding that as yet another item to consider during peak season.
Explain all warehouse safety changes
Adrian’s Safety Solutions recommends you not only stay up to date on the latest COVID-related concerns but communicate reasons and changes to all staff. Explain why you’re implementing a requirement, especially if it is linked to staff safety or meeting new regulations. Giving people a valid reason for requests or additional work is a change management best practice to help ensure that they follow the new requirements.
Peak season warehouse safety
Peak season introduces many significant threats to your warehouse because new staff, locations, and speed demands can cause teams to overlook warehouse safety. It’s up to leadership to constantly monitor activities and try to remove risks and threats proactively. If you’re redesigning your warehouse, get reports from the floor to see how and where these changes could impact normal activities or introduce risks.
If you work with a 3PL, ask what they’re doing to protect their people and your products. Get to know their experts, check on shrinkage allowances, and get the numbers from last year to see how well they perform historically. Ask for their plan and how it supports a safer holiday season for all. Here are a few things to look for in your warehouse or to discuss with partners.
How and when will a warehouse layout change or space for additional products happen? Your entire supply chain will need some of this information. Coordinating these efforts ensures you have physical space when your peak season increase arrives. Warehouse safety elements include everything from giving people room to properly lift objects to installing appropriate safety equipment like sliding rack netting. Bring every department together so that you’ve got the space, equipment, and time for training that you need.
Warehouses need flexibility during peak season. This can mean dynamic slotting to help you adjust for overall demand or if a surprise SKU becomes your best seller. As holiday trends emerge, you need space to adapt. Often, this will include space for exceptions and those requiring special handling. Perhaps an order can only be partially complete, or you need to use heavy-duty equipment or packaging more than usual and must portion it out. Create room for these exceptions.
The warehouse safety element is in planning and training. Train teams on how to manage exceptions. Remind them that picking software will give them their route, which may be different from what they normally walk. Help your team identify when a package is too heavy. Train them to watch for safety concerns if pallets get stacked in new ways or locations.
Adrian’s offers a pallet rack safety checklist that can be useful for leadership and warehouse teams. Use tools like this to help keep everyone safe by showing people what to watch out for and reminding them how to ask for help when something looks dangerous.
Paths and warehouse safety
Peak season’s increased traffic means most companies and 3PLs will do some rearranging. Often that focuses on minimizing pick paths so that your team is walking less, filling faster, and avoiding bottlenecks. These changes can be a lifesaver when it comes to pick and pack times. Good signage can make all the difference for your team.
Whenever you change picking paths, slotting practices, conveyor usage, or other elements, do it with proper training and signage. Make it extremely clear to everyone when an aisle is one-way, especially if you use lifts for some products on those racks. Before a shift starts, give your people an update. Tell them what to look for and how to spot changes. Remind them to follow signage and picking tools, even if that goes against “how it’s always been.”
Scale up your PPE
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is standard in most warehouses now. Yours may be a mix of face masks and coverings, hard hats, reflective vests, gloves, and safety glasses. With more demanding shifts and a growing workforce, you’re going to face higher demands on PPE. Ensure you can meet regulations and requirements by procuring more than you would typically hold. Buy more and let your team use it. Audit what’s on your shelves and what is needed for your equipment, like rack safety straps, lighting, and more.
Keeping peak in mind beyond warehouse safety
Now is the time to double down on learning and preparing for your peak season. So, we’ve put together a few more resources beyond these thoughts on warehouse safety to help your business get ready and perform well. Click below to discover more peak lessons or contact us for direct support to help you stay afloat.