Depending on your industry, warehousing is an essential part of the logistics process. When you have a warehouse and manage employees working within it, you must be aware of basic safety rules, policies and standard operating procedures to ensure their safety. Depending on where you are located, local, state and federal regulations may vary, so check with all appropriate regulatory bodies for the most detailed information regarding your specific property.

Basic Equipment Safety

In most warehouses, there will be moving equipment, stackers, pallet movers and other types of machinery. It is vital for your employees’ safety that they are trained in the use of equipment before they are permitted to use it. Employees should be given adequate training, and you should test them on their equipment safety knowledge annually. Particularly dangerous equipment may require biannual or quarterly assessment depending on the laws and safety requirements of your region.

Major equipment isn’t the only area where you should focus on employee safety. Ensure that all employees have access to the correct personal protective equipment, or PPEs, at all times. Depending on an employee’s role, this could include lab coats, glasses, hard hats or gloves. It could also include full protective suits depending on your industry.

When dealing with PPEs, it is vital that you provide equipment that fits each of your employees. "One size fits all" will not be adequate for the safety of employees who are not an average size. For example, small and large people alike would find medium gloves particularly dangerous, as their dexterity would be negatively impacted by ill-fitting gear.

Considering Safety Hazards

When considering safety hazards, realize that one of the most dangerous parts of your warehouse is the floor. Ensure that all of your floors are free of what are known as “slip and trip” hazards. Be sure that your floors are clean and clear of debris and cords and that small equipment is lifted to a shelf to avoid trip hazards.

You should also ensure that your warehouse has standing mats for all employees who need to stand for an extended length of time. These mats significantly decrease the adverse effects of standing on hard flooring.

Be Aware of Chemical Hazards

Other safety hazards can include chemicals. Ensure that every employee is well-trained in hazardous materials handling and that each type of hazardous chemical is stored appropriately. When you are storing your chemicals, refer to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guide if you require guidance for your specific chemical-handling needs.

Properly Identifying Hazards

Proper signage and labeling of workplace hazards are required by federal law. Ensure that you have adequate signage to warn for trip hazards, chemical containers and other dangers. Check that your warehouse has storage of proper lock-out-tag-out signs and that your staff is well-versed in when and how to use those signs. The most common way to designate dangers that cannot be mitigated is with black and white striping or reflective tape to draw attention to the threat.

Providing Wash Stations

In any workplace involving chemicals, debris or dust that could get into the eyes of an employee, easy access to a wash station must be provided. Some wash stations look like camp showers. These stations can either have temperature controls on them like a home shower, or they can have one on/off valve. If they have one on/off valve, you must ensure that the water supply is lukewarm or room temperature.

Employees may not be able to properly see when they require the use of the wash station, so they should be located in an area that is free of trip hazards. When training your employees, you should make sure that they are all aware of where the nearest wash station is located and that they can reasonably access them in the event of an emergency.

It may not be feasible to install a full wash station in some areas of your warehouse. In these areas, you can purchase jugs of sterile water for the purpose of washing in an emergency. Because these sanitary jugs are closed and are not part of the water supply, they will have to be replaced according to the packaging. Failure to replace these can result in OSHA fines.

Safe Lifting Procedures

Employees should all be trained in proper lifting techniques and should be cautioned to avoid lifting things that are logically too large for one person to move safely. Lifting techniques can be taught in a workshop setting and should be revisited annually to ensure that the risk of employee injury is low. Some of the best lifting techniques are:

  • Do not use your back when lifting. Instead, brace your feet and slowly stand, using your legs to do the majority of the lifting.
  • Ensure that there is always enough space for you to carry your load to where you need it to be.
  • Never carry anything if the item will block your view.
  • Push rather than pull heavy items.
  • Lean in the direction you are traveling.

Provide back, wrist and knee braces to employees as needed. Ensure that employees are aware that they have access to these lifting aids at no cost to them and be proactive with staff about their use. Employees who are regularly lifting over 50 pounds should always be provided with back braces and be encouraged to use them. You should dedicate time once a year to reviewing the proper way to wear a brace.

Lifts and Pulleys

Access to equipment like lifts and pulleys is vital in many warehouse situations. Encourage employees to always use equipment when they cannot safely move an item. If an employee is not certified to use the needed equipment, you should encourage him to speak to a supervisor who can either operate the machinery for him or schedule a certified employee to complete the job.

Proper Safety Training

Training should never be a “one-and-done” type of event. Every employee should be knowledgeable in warehouse safety. If they are not, they should be aware of where they need to go to search for the safety information. Provide regular checkups at touch-bases and team huddles.

Ensure that all training documentation is easily accessible to all of your employees. You may need to have a physical copy of regulations in a central place in your warehouse. You may also need to have the information available online and accessible from employee workstations. OSHA has regulatory requirements regarding the accessibility of your training documentation, but you should also check with your local regulatory bodies.

Team Building for Safety

One of the most critical aspects of warehouse safety is the ability to rely on colleagues. You should make sure that your staff can not only accomplish their jobs, but that they are good team members as well. If you have an employee who cannot get along with others, they can cause stress, poor behavior and other problems. While you do not hire people based solely upon their personality, you must stress that a prime requirement of their job is that they are pleasant and helpful people with whom to work.

Good team building also necessitates the fostering of situational awareness. Make sure that your staff knows to communicate when they need help and when they are doing something that requires their co-workers to behave differently. For example, if an employee is tasked with moving hazardous chemicals, he should state that he is doing so and warn his co-workers that they will need appropriate PPEs to enter the area. You should encourage your team to be talkative and always communicate their needs.

Handling Problematic Employees

If you have an employee who is not contributing to social awareness and is a challenging person with whom to work, you may need to pull her aside. One-on-one conversations are an excellent start with a problematic employee.

For example, you could say something along the lines of, “To continue your employment here, you must be cooperative with your teammates. I do not need you to like everyone with whom you work. However, it is a requirement to be a pleasant person with whom to work. Can you do that?” Touch base with the employee until you are assured that she is following proper safety protocols. If she refuses, a performance improvement plan may be required.

Warehouse Management Systems

A warehouse management system, or WMS, is a software application for overseeing day-to-day operations. There are hundreds of WMS options available at various expense levels. Depending on your warehouse’s needs, you may be able to use a free WMS or inventory management system such as ABC Inventory. More complex warehouse needs require more complex systems, so shop around to find the one that will best suit your situation.

There is no overall “best” WMS because every warehouse is different. If, for example, you only deal in stuffed animals, you may only need an inventory management system. In this case, the system would tell you when you need to replenish your inventory.

Some systems can even place an order for you, streamlining your process and eliminating human error and the associated corrective measures. Extremely advanced WMS options can track equipment use, operating expenses and a whole host of other variables.

Warehouse Policy Sample

Warehouse rules and regulations do not have to be confusing. In a nutshell, they are the rules that your employees need to follow to do their jobs safely and effectively. When making policies for your warehouse, you should focus on if a policy helps, if it is needed and if it promotes your company’s bottom line.

Warehouse procedures examples, such as wearing close-toed shoes, are extremely important because they deal with safety. Some warehouses can require steel-toed or even steel-lined boots for employee safety. In the example of footwear, you can see how this policy promotes employee safety. In turn, this policy could positively impact your bottom line over time due to fewer accidents.

Nonsafety Policies

Other known policies are less about safety and more about culture. For example, some warehouses have policies against visible tattoos on their employees. These policies do nothing to promote employee safety, and they do not affect the bottom line. However, they are commonly used to define what it means to be an employee.

Culture policies are easy to change if you find that they are negatively impacting your bottom line or workplace morale. In areas where warehouse work is plentiful, you may notice that you consistently have employee shortages. Changing your policy on tattoos, to continue with the example, would allow you to broaden your possible employee pool.

When you look at your warehouse policies, management tools and safety needs, you will get a full picture of operational procedures. If your warehouse is large, you may even need to hire an operations manager to handle the basics of your daily business. Policies are always evolving and changing, so being up to date is extremely important. This may require you to complete annual classes and review regulations.