Creating a safer environment
Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, David A Kolman firstname.lastname@example.org
Warehouses are dangerous places. With all the many concurrent activities, there is the constant potential for accidents, often resulting in injuries, and occasionally, death.
The latest information from the US Department of Labor's Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities program found that warehousing had the second highest incidence rate in the transportation industry sector — 8.0 cases per 100 fulltime workers. Couriers and messengers had the highest with 10.5 cases. The lowest incidence rate was in pipeline transportation at 2.2 cases.
The 2008 edition of the National Safety Council's Injury Facts reported that the top five events or exposures in transportation and warehousing were, in order: overexertion; contact with/struck by/caught in object or equipment; transportation accident; fall on same level; and fall to lower level.
The top five types of injury, in descending order, were: sprains and strains, soreness and pain, bruises and contusions, fractures and cuts, and lacerations and punctures. The part of the body most often affected was the trunk (back and shoulders), followed by the lower extremities (knees, feet, and toes), upper extremities (fingers, hands, and wrists), and head.
Accidents involving powered material handling equipment kill more than 100 workers a year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The three most common fatalities involve forklift overturns, workers on foot being struck by forklifts, and workers falling from forklifts.
Nevertheless, some warehouses are considerably safer than others. From what I've seen, the difference is a true commitment to safety-first that begins with management and goes down through the organization.
Safety conscious companies understand that investing in safety provides a positive influence on their bottom line. The fewer injuries to their workforce, the less spent on insurance and worker compensation costs — plus less impact on productivity.
These companies are well aware that maintaining an effective safety culture takes continuous effort. They know it doesn't happen by simply holding a couple of safety meetings each year to talk about being safe. They make safety training continual and mandatory.
Another commonality among safer warehouses is adherence to OSHA warehouse safety guidelines. They also organize effective safety committees made up of representatives from all the various departments — warehouse workers, shift supervisors, department managers — allowing everyone to have a voice in keeping the facility safe.
They encourage workers to stay on top of safety incidents and stress the importance of taking immediate action whenever a safety hazard is identified. If workers are observed working in or near an unsafe condition, they are questioned why they didn't report it.
The safer warehouses measure the success of their safety efforts by making safety a key performance indicator. Safety also is a part of their worker performance reviews.
Another common best practice is conducting regular — usually weekly or monthly — safety inspections of their facilities, and of how employees are doing their jobs. This helps them spot an existing or potential problem that may have been overlooked.
But no matter how diligent a company is to being safe, accidents can occur. When they do, the safer companies focus on identifying the cause of the incident, rather than just assigning fault. Knowing what caused an accident helps prevent a reoccurrence.
To be sure, creating an effective safety culture requires a considerable investment in time and effort. However, the return in reduced worker injuries and minimized workplace disruptions are worth the outlay.
I welcome your thoughts and comments.
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