The warehousing industry has an important role to play in the U.S., but unfortunately, warehouses are known for often being hazardous places to work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides standards that, when met, can help create safer environments for warehouse workers. In this article, we take a look at these standards and discuss how your warehouse can meet them.
Table of Contents:
- Warehouse Safety Statistics
- OSHA Standards for Storage
- How to Improve Your Warehouse’s Safety
- Warehouse Safety Solutions From Ross Technology
Let’s start with a few statistics that help paint a picture of the warehousing industry and the issue of safety. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 1.2 million workers in the U.S. work in the warehousing and storage industry. Some of the most common jobs in this industry are forklift operators, material movers and handlers, and stock clerks and order fillers.
Unfortunately for those working on the warehouse floor, a warehouse can be a dangerous place. In 2017 alone, 22 workplace fatalities occurred at warehouses and storage facilities in the U.S. While nearly any workplace comes with its own potential hazards, according to OSHA, the warehousing industry’s fatal injury rate is higher than the average rate for all industries, meaning warehouses can be especially dangerous.
Some of these hazards include moving forklifts, poorly stacked stock, materials in passageways and inadequate fire safety provisions. It’s no wonder OSHA is focusing on warehouse environments and how they contribute to possible employee injury.
OSHA provides standards across various industries to ensure work environments and activities are safe. Considering the statistics we just looked at, these standards are especially important for warehouses since, without strategic safety initiatives, warehouses can easily become dangerous places to work. Let’s look at a few of the most relevant standards for warehouses.
Some of the most relevant OSHA standards for warehouses are found in standard 1926.250, which focuses on how to store materials properly. Since this is such an important standard for warehouses, we’re going to unpack all the subsections of this standard and discuss the implications for warehouses. Then we’ll look at a couple of other standards that apply to warehouses.
Section A covers some general standards for storage that are relevant to warehouses, which we’ve paraphrased below:
- Securing materials: The first subsection states that any materials that are stored need to be secured so they can’t slide off of the storage system. The right way to secure materials will look different depending on the material, but the key is to make sure whatever is being stored can’t fall or collapse. Properly securing stock ensures that material remains undamaged and employees remain safe.
- Respecting load capacity: Floors are only capable of holding so much weight, so it’s important to know the load limits of your warehouse floor and to never to exceed them with the weight of your stored materials.
- Keeping passageways clear: Any aisles or walkways in your warehouse must be kept clear and tidy so employees and equipment can move freely. Organization is critical in ensuring that passageways remain unblocked, and the right storage equipment can help you store inventory properly.
- Transitioning between levels: Finally, warehouses that have multiple levels, whether they are separate floors or slight elevation changes, require ramps or grading at the transitions so that vehicles can safely move from one level to the next. These features, when properly designed and installed, can also prevent trip and fall hazards.
Section B, the material storage section, is where this OSHA standard gets into more specific rules for storing materials. The directives in this section are outlined in nine items:
- Facility under construction: There may be occasions where your warehouse needs to be repaired or remodeled, even while stock is present. For buildings under construction, wherever there are hoistways or openings in the floor, you must keep stored material at least six feet away. If any partial exterior walls are shorter than stored material, this material can’t come within 10 feet of the wall.
- Fall arrest equipment:The second item has to do with materials stored in confined spaces like silos, hoppers or tanks. Workers entering these areas must wear OSHA-approved personal fall arrest equipment. This rule tends to be more relevant for agricultural contexts than warehouses.
- Noncompatible materials: Noncompatible materials are materials that can create a hazard if they come into contact with each other. If you store any of these materials in your warehouse, you must make sure they remain segregated.
- Bagged materials: The next guideline is for storing bagged materials. If you’re stacking bags, make sure to step back the layers and to cross-key the bags every 10 bags of height at the minimum.
- Temporary storage: If you have scaffolds or runways in your warehouse, these shall not be used for long-term storage. The only items you can store on scaffolds or runways are supplies you are currently using for a specific, current task.
- Bricks: The sixth item gives specific standards for stacking bricks. If you’re stacking loose bricks, once the stack reaches 4 feet high, you must taper the stack back by 2 inches with each additional foot of height. These stacks should never exceed 7 feet.
- Masonry blocks: A similar rule as the one for stacked bricks applies to masonry blocks. In this case, once the stack reaches 6 feet high, the additional tiers must be tapered back by one-half of a block.
- Lumber: The eighth item includes a few subpoints, all of which refer to storing lumber. Used lumber can only be stacked if nails are removed. Any lumber should be stacked on level sills that provide the necessary support. These stacks should be stable and should never exceed 20 feet tall. If personnel access the lumber manually, limit the stacks to 16 feet in height.
- Cylindrical materials: Cylindrical materials, such as poles and pipes, should either be racked or stacked and blocked in such a way that they can’t spread or tilt. Custom storage systems are often appropriate for these types of materials.
Section C is very short compared to the other sections but important nonetheless. This section states that storage areas should be kept clean and tidy so clutter does not accumulate. A disorganized warehouse can lead to a whole host of safety issues, including tripping, fire hazards and even pest control problems.
Finally, Section D looks at the use of dockboards, also called bridge plates. Dockboards are a common piece of equipment for warehouses, and OSHA has four guidelines that apply specifically to using them:
- Necessary strength: First, when you’re using a powered dockboard, it needs to be strong enough to hold up to the weight of whatever load will be imposed on them.
- Proper anchoring: For portable dockboards, make sure they are anchored securely into position. There are different ways to do this, but the important thing is to ensure they cannot slip.
- Safe handling: The third point in this section is that dockboards should be equipped with features such as handholds for safe handling.
- Stationary position: When bridge plates are used in conjunction with railroad cars, it’s critical that the railroad cars remain still and are prevented from moving at all while the bridge plates are in position.
Another standard that applies to warehouses is standard 1910.176,
OSHA’s standard on handling materials. This general section covers similar guidelines outlined in standard 1926.250, as well as a couple of other directives. This general section on handling covers:
- Mechanical equipment: Locations where mechanical equipment is in use should remain clear and in good condition so the equipment can operate effectively. These areas include loading docks, aisles doorways, and passages with turns.
- Secure storage: This directive simply says that stored materials should never cause a hazard. If materials are stored in tiers, they need to be secured and kept at a reasonable height so that material cannot come loose and slide off.
- Housekeeping: This item mirrors the housekeeping section of the General Requirements for Storage standard. Essentially, warehouses need to be kept clean and organized to prevent unnecessary hazards.
- Clearance limits: Wherever there are clearance limits, the warehouse should have signs posted to warn of these limits.
- Rolling railroad cars: Whenever there is a risk of a rolling railroad car entering a working space, derail or bumper blocks should be placed on the spur railroad tracks.
- Guard rails: Anywhere there is a feature like an open pit, ditch or vat that can be fallen into, guard rails or covers must be present to minimize the risk of falls.
Finally, because forklifts are responsible for many of the injuries to warehouse workers, all personnel that work in a warehouse should be aware of the OSHA standard that governs the use of powered industrial trucks, standard 1910.178. This safety standard was one of the most frequently violated OSHA standards in 2018. Because this standard is so thorough, we’re not going to cover the details of what it includes here. The sections cover the following aspects of forklift operation:
- General requirements
- Changing and charging storage batteries
- Control of noxious fumes and gases
- Converted industrial trucks
- Designated locations
- Dockboards or bridge plates
- Fuel handling and storage
- Lighting for operating areas
- Maintenance of industrial trucks
- Operation of the truck
- Operator training
- Safety guards
- Trucks and railroad cars
- Truck operations
Takeaways From the OSHA Standards
Looking at the various aspects of OSHA’s standards concerning warehouses, it’s clear that warehouse employees have a major responsibility to maintain a safe work environment. While we often think about workplace safety issues in terms of employees’ actions, in warehouses, one of the most important aspects of safety is having the right equipment to store materials properly and allow workers and vehicles to navigate the warehouse effectively.
If safe storage methods and equipment usage are not prioritized, warehouse personnel can experience more of the safety issues we discussed previously. Even though warehouses can be inherently dangerous places, by carefully evaluating every aspect of your warehouse’s storage system and environment, you can find ways to meet and exceed OSHA’s standards and maintain a safe warehouse for all of your workers.
Let’s turn our attention now to how you can improve your warehouse’s safety. This will look different for every warehouse depending on a variety of factors, including the type of heavy equipment you use in your facility, the types of materials you store and more.
To determine the most important ways to improve at your own facility, consider first where you may be falling short of the OSHA standards outlined above or any other relevant OSHA standard, and place a high priority on addressing these shortcomings. You should also think about any safety incidents you’ve experienced in the past and how you can prevent these same issues from occurring again.
We’re going to consider a few practical ways that many warehouses can improve their current operations to create a safer storage environment.
- Strengthen training initiatives: One of the ways you can place a higher emphasis on safety is by being more intentional with your training initiatives. Provide regular refreshers to remind employees of the procedures meant to keep them safe, and create a positive safety culture by rewarding safe practices and discouraging employees from cutting corners and jeopardizing safety solely to accomplish tasks more quickly.
- Use superior racking systems: In addition to proper training, look for physical safety measures you can take to improve your warehouse. A practical way you can store stock more safely is by upgrading your racking systems. A heavy-duty racking system can go a long way in helping you prevent hazards from poorly stored stock.
- Install anti-slip mats: Another practical measure you can take is to install anti-slip mats by the entrance doors and on the pedestrian-only areas of your warehouse floor. These mats can help prevent workers from falling, even when the floor is wet, oily, dusty or otherwise presents a slipping hazard. Falls are one of the most common workplace injuries, so regularly maintained anti-slip mats provide a low-cost and simple method of eliminating hazards.
- Prioritize regular cleaning: Finally, commit to keeping your warehouse clean and organized. When cleaning drops on the priority list, the facility can easily fall into disarray. Whatever your solution for keeping your warehouse clean, make sure it’s working for you and resulting in a warehouse that remains immaculate and free of obstructions.
The warehouse industry has an important job to accomplish, one that should be accomplished in a safe environment. As we’ve seen, there are plenty of ways to improve the level of safety in most warehouses, so look for areas where you can do this at your own workplace, and of course, be sure you are meeting OSHA’s requirements.
If you’re looking for practical ways to improve your warehouse, Ross Technology is a valuable resource. For over five decades, Ross Technology has demonstrated a commitment to innovating products that go beyond the status quo. Our storage systems can help you create a safer, more functional warehouse, so you can store a wide variety of materials with confidence. Get started by requesting a quote today.