The warehouse environment that characterizes most shipping and receiving jobs contains multiple hazards. From the perspective of a job hazard analysis, it might seem that every component of such jobs is hazardous, including the materials handled and stored, their packaging material, and the equipment used to mobe them from place to place. Even the electricity used to light the facility and energize the office computers can injure workers. Fortunately for the workers, those job hazard analyses have exhaustively examined the various threats and devised practices and procedures to mitigate their danger in the safest, least-invasive manner. The first step in these analyses is a description of the hazards faced.
Moving Vehicles and Cargo
A warehouse is a stopover for cargo, either your own or someone else's. That means that the cargo has a means of movement within the warehouse -- forklifts, lift trucks, and conveyors are three of the most common cargo transportation methods. Forklifts and lift trucks can easily crush a pedestrian. In addition, cargo moving on conveyors can easily crush workers' hands.
Slip, Trip and Fall Hazards
A warehouse may seem tidy and orderly, but as bands are removed from boxes or crates, those bands — often made of a slippery plastic — end up on the floor of the warehouse, presenting a slip hazard. Boxes of cargo collapse from handling and boards from pallets or even whole pallets appear in places where they're least expected, causing trips and falls. Lift trucks carry their operators up, with cargo placed 20 or more feet above the concrete floor, presenting a falling hazard. The warehouse's concrete floor itself, if wet from a broken fluid container or rain, presents a slip-and-fall hazard. Ladders used in the warehouse present another falling hazard.
Electrical Shock Hazards
Rarely is electrical shock seen as a hazard in shipping and receiving, but where there's electrical circuitry, there's the potential for two different electric shocks. The first is the electrical shock delivered to the person who makes direct, inappropriate contact with the electrical circuit; the second is to the rescuer who fails to use an insulated pole or belt to separate the first victim from the electrical circuit.
You may have heard the phrase, "Don't touch that — you don't know where it's been." You may think you know your co-workers in the warehouse, but if one of them is injured and bleeding, follow that same advice. Blood-borne pathogens may turn first responders to an accident into victims should they come in contact with blood, vomit or feces resulting from a warehouse injury. Other shipping and receiving personnel may come into contact with these as well while cleaning up a mess or, if the mess isn't cleaned up properly, may slip or fall.
Two or more hazards may combine to create an especially hazardous situation. This can apply not only to directly involved workers, but also to the first responders who try to remove them from harm's way. The electric shock hazard is a good example. A worker using a lift truck 25 feet in the air to change a light bulb on the ceiling of the warehouse who receives a shock may also fall if she's not wearing a safety harness. If someone falls and begins to bleed from an open fracture, the question of blood-borne pathogens comes into play. Both rescuer and rescued may be run over by an inattentive forklift driver or land on a conveyor.
Chemicals present a triple threat. Some, such as benzene, are direct health hazards, while others, including acids, pose a handling safety hazard. Many are fire hazards, including gasoline and other accelerants. The federal government mandates that Material Safety Data Sheets for any product the warehouse handles be present on the premises, together with the personal protective equipment necessary for reducing or mitigating such hazards.
Despite all these hazards, warehouses function extremely efficiently all across the nation. Accidents are prevented through a combination of ongoing safety training and a clear articulation of company policies and procedures. For example, companies should have a strict policy of prohibiting anyone from operating a forklift who isn't trained and certified, and identified as an authorized forklift driver. Lockout policies prevent the accidential enegrgizing of equipment while an electrician is performing maintenance or repair procedures. MSD sheets must be maintained and stored where all personnel can access them quickly to address emergency situations. Finally, warehouses must operate with an attitude of safety first.
Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.