Ten Tips for Improving Warehouse Safety
Reducing risk is as easy as investing in appropriate equipment and technology.
- By Walt Swietlik
- Apr 01, 2021
Driven by online commerce, the pace of activity in industrial and commercial facilities has increased dramatically to keep up with consumer expectations. As this pace accelerates, it is critical that safety doesn’t get left behind—particularly in traditionally dangerous workplaces like warehouses and distribution centers.
The National Safety Council estimates more than 4.6 million workplace injuries occur in the United States each year, with reports of up to a quarter of industrial accidents occurring at the loading dock. Additionally, it is thought that for each reported accident, there are roughly 600 near-misses. Thus, facility managers are increasingly looking for ways to proactively address potential safety issues, instead of merely reacting to accidents.
Fortunately, a number of new solutions have emerged to help them achieve that. By investing in the appropriate equipment and technology, companies can reduce risk and help ensure employees return safely to their families every night, which should be a top priority for any organization. We’ll take a look at 10 of the most significant.
Prevent Back-Over Accidents
Yard workers face some of the most dangerous surroundings of any warehouse employee.
Surrounded by ambient noise on the drive approach, they may not hear the sounds of a semi-trailer backing toward them, since the truck’s engine could be 70 feet or more away. This can lead to back-over accidents, which can be fatal. Semi/tractor trailers are the second leading cause of vehicle back-over deaths in the U.S., according to OSHA.
To address this danger, a new audio and visual safety technology has been developed using a motion sensor mounted above the dock seal or shelter. Aimed at the drive approach, this sensor can detect the motion of a backing trailer up to 30 feet away. When activated by the sensor, a light embedded in the vehicle restraint below or in standalone mounted box will flash and an audible alarm sounds, warning workers of the backing vehicle. This system provides crucial extended warning time to vacate the hazardous area.
Verify from Inside the Loading Dock
In most cases, reducing the number of processes which place employees outside on the dangerous drive approach is the best defense against back-over accidents. Lock verification systems, which use an outside camera and inside monitor help keep boots off the ground and maintain supply chain integrity. The camera helps workers inside to see when a trailer has arrived at a given dock position and when/if it is properly restrained. Dual camera systems can also help detect if a trailer stand is present.
Install Safety Lights
The interior of a loading dock opening can also be a dangerous place, as pedestrians may not see forklifts backing out of the trailer in time. Fortunately, new motion-sensor based light communication system has been developed to help alleviate this problem. When a forklift or other motion is detected in the trailer bed, they emit a blue light (similar to the blue safety lights on forklifts) onto the dock leveler, warning workers on foot of the potential danger.
Similar blue light technology has been developed for blind or unmarked intersections. Ceiling-mounted units can communicate when pedestrians or fork truck traffic are approaching the intersection by employing high-visibility LED lights, including a blue LED light onto the floor.
Prevent Trailer Separation Accidents
There are four typical accidents caused by the premature departure of a semi-trailer from a loading dock—trailer creep, trailer pop-up/up-ending, landing gear collapse, and early departure. Any of these accidents can seriously injure forklift operators inside a trailer or attempting to enter or exit a trailer.
The most effective solution is to use proper vehicle restraints to ensure the trailer is secured to the loading dock. Vehicle restraints that use a rotating hook design with secondary “shadow” hook technology are considered the gold standard, but other types of restraints may be used depending on truck, trailer type and application, including wheel-based restraints.
Program-in Safe Operating Procedures
Traditionally, each piece of loading dock equipment—including vehicle restraints, levelers and overhead doors—is operated independently. While most are now operated with the push of a button, there is still risk involved regarding the order of use.
Today’s leading loading dock control systems can ensure that workers operate equipment in a safe sequence of operation. For example, a common programmable sequence requires the vehicle restraint to be properly engaged before an overhead door can be raised. Continuing this safe sequence, the door must then be raised before the dock leveler can be operated. Even if the buttons are pushed in the wrong order, the programmed sequence prevents anything from happening – helping to mitigate the potential for risk from human error. When a trailer is ready to leave a facility, this order of operation is reversed.
Keep Docks Dry
Trips, slips and falls are traditionally one of OSHA’s top 10 most common industrial accidents. One way to prevent them is to prevent moisture from accumulating inside your loading dock. Unfortunately, many docks aren’t sealed as well as they could be, and even small openings around the perimeter of a docked trailer could let in a dangerous amount of rain, snow or sleet. If you can see daylight through a perimeter gap, it’s time to consider upgrading your seals and/or shelters.
Foam compression style dock seals generally are more energy efficient than dock shelters, but they can suffer significant wear-and-tear due to constant friction. Additionally, foam and other material can protrude inside of the trailer when compressed, interfering with forklift loading. In contrast, perimeter-sealing dock shelters offer full access loading since they seal along the side of the trailer. Selecting the right seal or shelter for your specific application will help guarantee sealing efficiency and employee safety.
Safety Barriers at Dock Openings
Safety barriers separate workers and pedestrians from potentially hazardous operations or dangerous situations on a plant’s interior. They are also critical around open dock doors. A fall off of an open, unprotected dock edge (typically a 4-foot drop) can result in serious injury or even death for forklift operators.
To comply with OSHA’s Walking Working Surfaces regulations, look for barriers that are at least
58 inches tall and can stand up to 30,000 lbs. of force—strong enough to stop a forklift.
Dual Reciprocating Barriers
As more companies choose to expand their facilities up rather than out, fall safety related to elevated workspaces has become more of a worry for plant managers. According to the ANSI standard, companies must provide full-time protection when loading and unloading materials from an elevated platform—there can be no exposed areas where an employee could potentially fall. As a result, many companies are seeking a solution to secure elevated work environments.
Dual reciprocating barriers are a common choice for this application, since they create a controlled access area in which the inner gate and outer gate cannot be opened at the same time. Leading models use a link bar design that ensures both gates work in unison; when the outer gate opens to allow pallets in, the inner gate automatically closes to keep workers out. After the pallet is received, mezzanine-level workers open the inner gate to remove material from the work zone while the outer gate closes to secure the leading edge of the platform. A safety latch that can only be accessed when standing outside the work zone prevents the outer gate from being raised by a worker inside the work area. Similar products exist for racking applications.
Working near high-speed doors can be dangerous, as forklifts may not come to a full stop before going through. Knowing when an object is about to pass through a door opening can prevent a host of potential accidents, including collisions between forklifts and workers.
A new motion sensor-based system has been developed to address this problem. When the sensors detect an object approaching, a strip of red light emitting diodes (LEDs) begin flashing on the opposite side alerting workers of potential danger. Such systems can be an alternative or complement to high-speed doors with clear plastic vision panels. Although the LED lights are typically placed just outside of the door’s frame on each side, they can be set up anywhere that enables the best visibility.
Use Data to Diminish Risk
For decades, logistics operations have relied on two-way radios, yard checks on foot and spreadsheets to manage the flow of trailers in and out of their facility. These traditional communication methods provide somewhat limited and outdated information, but until recently they were the best available.
Now, better options exist. Smart controls that can interlock loading dock equipment, from vehicle restraints to levelers and dock doors, are a good example. Not only can they be programmed to operate exclusively in a safe sequence of operation, they also provide potentially invaluable performance and usage information. Recently developed paperless software solutions bring an enhanced sense of clarity and order to logistics operations from the dock interior, to the drive approach and even the yard – including minimization of detention and demurrage costs. These enhancements are likely to have a positive impact on shipper of choice status and internal company culture.
When connected to an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform, data from smart controls at loading docks, blind intersections and interior door openings can be used for operational improvements. The leading IIoT platform can distill this source information to provide managers with actionable insights about safety, energy efficiency and productivity for both the short- and long term.
This article originally appeared in the April 1, 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.