Last reviewed 17 February 2020
So, you are responsible for warehousing. What specific issues should you be aware of in relation to health and safety? Gordon Tranter provides the answers.
Welfare and the premises
Many facilities and health and safety managers will be responsible for the management of warehouses or other large storage buildings. They pose particular risks that need to be understood, and employees and visitors must be protected accordingly.
Under health and safety legislation employers must, “so far as is reasonably practicable”, provide employees with adequate and appropriate welfare facilities, such as washing, toilet, rest and changing facilities, and somewhere clean to eat and drink during breaks while they are at work. In addition, the employer has legal requirements concerning ventilation, temperature, lighting, cleanliness, room dimensions, workstations and seating, floor conditions, falls or falling objects, transparent and translucent doors, gates and walls, windows, skylights and ventilators, traffic routes and escalators. Many of these are of particular importance to health and safety in warehouses.
Warehouses and storage buildings can be dangerous environments to work in, with many potential hazards and associated risks. In 2010/11 there were 157 major injuries to workers in warehousing and storage reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE stopped reporting statistics for this sector in 2011. The risks in warehouses include:
manual handling/musculoskeletal disorders
slips and trips
vehicles in and around the warehouse
work at height
hazardous substances and fire.
Of these slip or trip accidents, manual handling, being hit by moving or falling objects and falls from height are the main causes of injuries.
The key part of managing these risks is the risk assessment — the process of evaluating risks to workers' health and safety from workplace hazards in order to determine the measures required to eliminate or reduce the level of incidents/accidents. The risk assessment should identify the key health and safety priorities within the warehouse so that efforts can be concentrated on these priorities.
Manual handling and musculoskeletal disorders
Much warehouse work entails a risk of back injury and muscular strains from lifting and moving heavy or bulky items of stock. The majority of all injuries to employees in warehousing and storage are caused by handling, so taking steps to prevent such injuries should be a major focus.
All of the manual handling operations that are performed, including lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling, should be assessed and staff trained in safe lifting techniques. The following steps to control the risks should be considered.
Using mechanical devices where possible, such as trolleys, pallet movers, conveyors and scissor lifts. This equipment should be regularly maintained and inspected and the operators fully trained.
Breaking up loads to make them more manageable.
Providing information on the weight of heavy loads, and the heaviest side where the centre of gravity of any load is not positioned centrally.
Using two or more people for certain jobs.
Ensuring aisles are of sufficient width and are clear.
Raising the height of working platforms to reduce the need to bend or twist
Slip or trip accidents
The second highest cause of injuries to employees in warehousing and storage are caused by slip, trip or fall accidents. The factors that contribute to such accidents in warehouses include:
unsuitable floor surfaces
obstructions in walkways
The hazards should be identified, assessed for their level of risk and prioritised for action. Steps must be taken to ensure the following.
There is good housekeeping to ensure passageways are kept clear of clutter and obstacles and other trip hazards. This requires an effective cleaning regime, adequate storage facilities and sufficient rubbish bins.
Passageways are clear of potholes and uneven surfaces and inspected regularly and properly maintained.
Cables are fastened securely to the floor or are re-routed overhead.
Spillages are cleared up immediately and warning notices are displayed.
The floor is suitable for the type of work being carried out; if a floor is slippery, the causes should be assessed, does the floor need to be chemically treated, are inappropriate cleaning materials and methods being used?
Visibility is not adversely affected by poor lighting.
Consideration is given to whether slip-resistant footwear and hard hats are required
Being hit by falling or moving objects
Injuries to employees in warehousing and storage can be caused by being hit, by falling or moving objects. The risk from falling objects is particularly high in high ceilinged warehouses. Items can fall from racking that is badly designed, maintained or used, from persons working at height or from cranes, elevated platforms or fork lift trucks. Areas and specific activities in the warehouse where there is a risk of an object falling and striking someone should be clearly indicated to prevent entry by unauthorised persons.
Racking should be designed, maintained and used to prevent it being overloaded and to prevent the racking itself from toppling. Materials should be stacked securely to prevent them falling and injuring staff below.
Workers in warehouses can be struck by pedestrian operated pallet trucks, racks, trolleys, etc. Designated routes should be kept away from other workers where possible and the person pushing/pulling should have good visibility. A risk assessment should have carried out to consider what other work area specific hazards may be present (eg rolling barrels or kegs, hoist hooks, items ejected from machines).
Falls from height
It is not unusual for warehouse workers to have to work above floor level, for instance stacking goods on high shelving, removing goods from high places, using ladders or mechanical pickers or working on elevated walkways or flooring. If possible, the need for employees to work at heights should be avoided. If working at heights is necessary, equipment that prevents falls from heights should be used. If the risk cannot be completely eliminated, equipment should be provided that minimises the distance if the person is at risk of falling and reduces the risk of serious injury. Employees should be properly trained for working at height. In particular, steps must be taken to ensure workers do not stand on fork lift trucks forks, or pallets mounted on forks, to access heights; a regular cause of fatal injury.
Vehicle movement in and around warehouses requires careful and constant management to prevent accidents. This requires workplace traffic routes that allow pedestrians and vehicles to circulate safely. Where vehicles and pedestrians use the same traffic route, there should be adequate separation between them and, if possible, complete separation of vehicles and pedestrians.
Steps that need to be taken include:
ensuring the vehicles being used are safe and have been adequately maintained
ensuring the driver is safe and has had appropriate training
minimising the need for reversing by setting up a one-way system and planning routes so drivers can always see where they’re going
avoiding sharp bends and blind corners
maintenance — not allowing potholes and uneven surfaces to develop
taking into account features that can affect load stability, such as steep slopes.
Nearly a quarter of all deaths involving vehicles at work occur during reversing. Warehouses need to be designed and operated to prevent such accidents. If possible, the need for reversing should be eliminated or, if this is not possible, minimised. Pedestrians should be kept out of areas where vehicles reverse.
This can be augmented by the use of:
reversing sensors and CCTV on vehicles
audible alarms where vehicles are likely to be reversing in close proximity to people
trained signallers (banksmen) to keep the reversing area free of pedestrians and to guide drivers.
Fork-lift trucks (FLTs) are widely used in warehouses as they can eliminate some or all manual handling. However, FLTs are dangerous vehicles and can cause serious life-changing injuries and fatalities. Consequently, action should be taken to ensure the safe use of FLTs in the warehouses.
The racking in aisles must be organised to allow for safe access to goods and movement of FLTs. The aisles should be sufficiently wide, with adequate clearance room overhead. Staff should follow good housekeeping practices and ensure the aisles are kept free of obstructions. Pedestrians and vehicles must be able to circulate in a safe manner. The areas in which FLTs operate should, if possible, be separated from the areas where pedestrians are likely to be.
The safe use of FLTs requires:
drivers to have received adequate training
inspection and maintenance, to ensure the FLTs are in a safe condition, including providing drivers with a list of daily checks, including warning lights on the dashboard, deflated tyres, faulty seatbelts and strange noises
safe operating procedures, including arrangements to prevent overloading and prohibiting riding on the forks
ensuring that the keys to the FLTs are always removed by the operator at the end of his/her shift and kept in a safe and secure place to prevent unauthorised use of the vehicle.
More than half of FLT accidents that seriously injure to workers are to workers on foot. It is therefore essential to give pedestrians warning when a truck is getting too close. There are now high-powered LEDs to cast bright bold red lines on the floor behind and to the side of a truck. These show those working in the area of the truck the distance they must maintain to continue working safely. There are also intelligent laser-based safety solutions.
Deliveries and visitors
As well as a responsibility for their employees, employers have responsibility for visitors, contractors and members of the public, particularly visiting drivers and others making deliveries and collecting items. All visitors and their employers need to be made aware of the safety rules and arrangements. Visiting drivers should be provided with sufficient information and instruction relevant to the safety of their visit.
It is quite likely that visiting drivers may not speak English or may only have a limited vocabulary or understanding of English, and the necessary safety information may have to be made available in translation or by using pictograms.
Loading and unloading vehicles can be dangerous and needs safe systems of work to be in place. Goods should be securely packed and arranged so that they are safe for transport and unloading, shrink wrapped on pallets, or in roller cages. Fall protection measures may be necessary for unloading goods or materials if there is a risk of injury from a fall.
Storage and racking
Accidents may occur where incorrectly stacked goods fall and injure staff below, because:
overloading of shelves/racks causes the shelves to collapse
unsafe methods of stacking or retrieval of goods lead to falls when staff climb on racking, are raised on the forks of FLTs or use unsuitable ladders.
The organisation should ensure:
goods are stacked securely on shelves or racking, with the heaviest items at the bottom
racking is capable of supporting the loads and is properly secured (eg bolted to the floor)
racking is properly maintained and is protected against mechanical damage, eg from fork-lift trucks
there is regular inspection of pallets used for storage and that damaged ones are removed immediately
staff are trained in safe methods of stacking and retrieval.
Hazardous substance risks
In some warehouses there will be additional activities that will require their own precautions. These activities include storage of products that are classified as hazardous and can cause harm to workers, and products that are flammable. Procedures need to be in place to prevent exposure to hazardous chemicals and control the risk of damage to the environment caused by spillages. Procedures should be in place to deal with emergencies such as serious injuries and dangerous substances causing fire.
Warehouses can have a lot of open space and flammable materials, conditions under which fire can spread extremely rapidly, leading to damage to the warehouse, harm to people, loss of valuable resources and production time. Many businesses never fully recover from a serious fire.
Warehouses are often used for storage of dangerous or flammable materials. A segregation policy is vital here; any possible sources of fire need to be completely separated from areas of chemical storage.
The person in charge of fire safety must carry out a risk assessment. The assessment should consider:
the combustibility and hazardous nature of the stock and packaging, including the need for compartmentalisation
the nature of the operations
the internal layout and the method of storage
whether there is suitable fire detection and warning systems
whether there is a need for the installation of sprinkler and other fixed fire suppression systems
the provision of appropriate portable fire-fighting equipment
an emergency action plan to protect life and property
staff should be trained in:
the correct procedures for raising the alarm and summoning the fire and rescue service
the use of fire extinguishers
procedures to be followed when responding to a fire alarm
steps to be taken to make sure any visitors are supervised, and aware of emergency procedures
all fire protection measures and procedures should be monitored and any deficiencies actioned as soon as possible. The automatic fire detection, alarm system and sprinklers should be serviced regularly.
Particular steps to reduce the risks from fire include:
keeping the premises in a clean and orderly condition at all times and avoiding goods or waste materials in the aisles
keeping stocks of combustible packaging materials in the open warehouse to a minimum
storing all loose-fill combustible packaging such as shredded paper, wood-wool and polystyrene beads in steel bins.
It should be remembered that there are several types of lift trucks commonly used in warehouses. Whether powered by petrol, diesel fuel, batteries or liquefied petroleum gas, they present significant fire hazard and steps need to be taken to counter the risk of fire. Areas for refuelling those lift trucks with internal combustion engines should be outside. Charging of batteries should be carried out in a separate building of non-combustible construction reserved for this purpose or in a specially designed charging area.
Arson is the one of the most significant cause of major fires in warehouses and therefore steps should be taken to avoid the risks from arson. The possibility of deliberate fire raising outside the building, by intruders or by staff must be guarded against. All combustible waste removed from the warehouse should be placed in secure, enclosed metal skips or bins, using a compactor where necessary. Appropriate security measures should be installed to keep potential arsonists away (see Security below).
In addition to arrangements to prevent the theft of or damage to products stored in the warehouse by intruders, steps should be taken to protect employees from violence, particularly where valuable items are stored.
If the responsible person is aware that features of the warehouse could present a serious risk to an intruder, they must take reasonable steps to enable the intruder to avoid the danger. As an example, barb-wire, razor-wire, high walls, thorny hedges, anti-climb paint are potential causes of injury to trespassers. In this situation the occupiers have a duty to take reasonable care that people don't suffer injury. Steps, such as warning people about a danger, or discouraging them from coming into contact with it, should be taken.
Security precautions should also consider the protection of the premises from arson. These should take into account the assessment of the risk to the premises and the level of protection required.
Cold stores have specific risks associated with them, for example those that arise from accidental locking in, overexposure to cold conditions, slips and falls owing to ice build-up, and accidental release of refrigerant. It is of prime importance in such environments that all significant hazards are identified, the risk assessed and appropriate control measures put in place.
In some warehouses equipment such as fork-lift trucks, conveyors, compressors could give rise to potentially hazardous levels of noise. If when people speaking at normal volume have difficulty being heard clearly by someone who is about 2m away, a noise assessment should be carried out.
Industrial robots can be used to perform hazardous tasks, such as lifting, in warehouses but in doing so they can create new hazards. The sources of potential robotics hazards include: human error, control errors, unauthorised access, mechanical failure, power systems and improper installation.