“The fatal injury rate for the warehousing industry is higher than the national average for all industries.” – OSHA
Inadequate training, equipment mishandling, extreme heat. All of these factors can lead to fatal accidents that make up the annual statistics on warehouse injuries – about five injuries per 100 workers in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Even though it may not seem like much, a little preparation goes a long way in warehouse safety. Because warehouse workers constantly work with or around heavy equipment and machines, it’s important to provide proper training for all workers – including temporary hires – and maintain optimal working conditions that don’t compromise their health.
Not following safety standards can result in fatal injuries, which comprised at least 10 cases a year between 2012-2015. To avoid such incidents, it’s essential to establish a safe working environment with good training, sufficient ventilation and regular breaks.
Below are three case studies and key takeaways for avoiding preventable accidents.
Provide Proper Training for Heavy Machinery
One of the most unfortunate causes of workplace injuries is inadequate training. When it comes to temporary workers operating heavy machinery, training becomes even more lax and directly results in accidents, particularly in industrial warehouses or manufacturing plants where these equipments are commonly used.
When companies put profit ahead of people and take advantage of temp workers by foregoing the proper training provided to full-time employees, injuries increase because workers don’t know how to handle potentially dangerous equipment. In an industry where 20,000 injuries occur a year due to forklifts alone, this is a problem.
Case Study: The Tribe
In the case of the Tribe, a worker was killed at a hummus plant because he hadn’t been trained on the “lock out/tag out” procedure which shuts down the machine before cleaning the plant. This happened despite a previous OSHA report saying that inadequate safety standards in this area meant “the probability that a fatality could occur is likely certain within a year’s timeframe.”
The report also stated that the company knew about its deficiencies in safety, yet decided not to change its policies because it would cost too much. Following the death of Daniel Collazo, Tribe paid a $540,000 fine and changed its safety practices.
In 2013, ProPublica found that the rate of injury for temp workers was much higher across five states. Though training temp workers might seem like a waste of time due to their temporary presence, it’s a non-negotiable part of warehouse safety standards. Proper training for all workers increases safety, as well as the likelihood that the workers can return the following season without having to be trained again.
Prepare in Advance of Summer Heat Waves
Some warehouses are located in climates prone to extreme heat. When workers spend all day in an enclosed space with great physical exertion, this can create hazardous conditions. Workers in these environments are in danger of passing out from overheating or even worse.
Case Study: Amazon
In 2015, the Morning Call exposed conditions at an Amazon warehouse in Lehigh Valley, PA, where workers frequently suffered from overheating during summer heat waves, with temperatures in the warehouse exceeding 100 degrees.
A doctor treating these patients reported an “unsafe environment,” while workers revealed that the common practice of leaving dock doors open to circulate fresh air was not observed because the company was worried about theft. After federal regulators got involved, Amazon changed its policies to address these issues.
The combination of heat, lack of policy to combat temperatures and the pressure on workers to work at a certain rate or receive penalties that could get them fired resulted in a subpar working environment that led to workers being burned out and injured.
Proper ventilation and policies set up in advance of the summer could have prevented many of these emergency room injuries, as well as filed complaints and the involvement of OSHA leading to media exposés. Common sense measures to combat heat inside warehouses should always be included in safety regulations.
Implement Regular Breaks and Avoid Mandatory Overtime
Warehouse workers may be used to long shifts, but without frequent breaks, accidents are more likely to occur. In fact, studies have linked workplace injuries and mistakes to overwork during the previous week. Mistakes in a warehouse can be costly and have severe consequences, making it even more necessary to avoid overworking workers.
Case Study: ASOS
Because warehouses are vast by nature, sufficient breaks are important not just for physical and mental reasons but also due to the time it takes to get from one place to another. In an extreme case in the UK, workers at an ASOS warehouse complained that the breaks didn’t allow them enough time to get to the toilets and back, forcing workers to use water fountains.
When coupled with policies such as Amazon’s mandatory overtime, which requires workers to commit to long shifts or risk losing their jobs, insufficient breaks risk workers’ healths and affect productivity for the warehouse in the long run. Research suggests that overtime in particular is not only ineffective but costs companies unnecessary money.
Staying away from stringent overtime policies and providing sufficient breaks for all workers ensures a safer working environment, reduces accidents and increases productivity.
Making Safety a Top Priority
The above case studies show the results of inadequate training, preparation and policy that reveals how companies that prioritize profits can cost workers their health and even lives.
Safety should always be a top priority for warehouse managers to prevent workplace accidents. In an environment where heavy equipment and machines are used on a daily basis, managers need to observe constant vigilance and proper training for all workers to prevent accidents that are avoidable.