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Warehouse Health & Safety Guide: Common Hazards & Solutions | Penny Hydraulics

Warehouse Health & Safety Guide: Common Hazards & Solutions | Penny Hydraulics

Your warehouse is a dynamic environment, with stock being refilled, moved, and shipped out all day, every day. However, with such a busy workplace, the risk to your workforce is heightened, making it incredibly important that you practice a high level of warehouse health and safety.

In this guide, we're going to look at some of the most common hazards in your warehouse, as well as the best solutions to each problem. Before this, we'll cover the importance of health and safety and what the law says about your responsibilities.

  • What are the warehouse health and safety regulations?
  • Why is warehouse health and safety important?
  • What are the most common warehouse safety hazards?
    • Slips and trips
    • Manual handling
    • Mechanical handling
    • Warehouse traffic
    • Work at height
    • Storage
    • Fire safety

What are the warehouse health and safety regulations?

The warehouse health and safety regulations are similar to those in many other industries, but they may differ depending on other factors, such as how your facility operates or the types of goods you store on a regular basis. Let's take a look at some of the laws you are likely to be subject to.

The Health and Safety Act 1974

As an employer, you will be subject to The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which makes it a legal requirement that you look after the health and safety of your employees as far as is reasonably practicable. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 were created to make the responsibilities of employers clearer than they are presented in the Act.

You are required to:

  • Carry out a warehouse risk assessment and put measures in place to remove or severely reduce any risks that you have identified.
  • Provide your employees with information about risks and provide any necessary training.
  • Consult with your staff or a representative on health and safety issues.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) places a responsibility on you, as an employer, to make sure that any work equipment used in your warehouse is always safe to use. The Regulations cover any machinery, appliance, tool, or installation that could pose a risk.

PUWER sets out a number of responsibilities that you must follow:

  • You must ensure that all equipment is maintained and in good working order, as well as keeping an up-to-date maintenance log.
  • You also need to make sure that any staff using the equipment are adequately trained to do so safely.
  • You must take any measures to control risks associated with the equipment.

If you need more advice on this item of legislation, be sure to read our guide to PUWER in a nutshell.

The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER)

The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) is an act that makes sure that lifting equipment, such as cranes, winches, or lifts, are used safely.

In summary, LOLER requires:

  • All lifting operations to be properly planned in advance and supervised by a 'competent person' i.e. an appropriately-trained employee.
  • Lifting equipment needs to be regularly inspected to make sure it is fit for purpose, with records of each examination kept.

If you need more advice on this item of legislation, take a look at our guide: LOLER explained.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 ensure that all manual handling activities are approached in the proper manner to avoid injury.

As an employer, the Manual Handling Regulations require you to:

  • Ensure hazardous manual handling is avoided "so far as reasonably practicable", such as by using vehicle cranes or goods lifts.
  • Assess the risk of unavoidable manual handling.
  • Put measures in place so that the risk of these activities is minimised.

If you need more advice on this item of legislation, be sure to read our guide to manual handling.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 dictate how work at height needs to be planned and carried out. Your warehouse staff will be working at height at some point, such as when they're picking stock or undertaking maintenance, so you need to follow these Regulations carefully.

The Regulations set out three main responsibilities for you as an employer:

  • You must, where possible, avoid work at height — for instance, by using lifting equipment.
  • Where this is impossible, you must take steps to minimise the risk to your employees.
  • You must also put measures in place to reduce the distance and consequences of a potential fall from height.

Need more advice on this legislation? Take a look at our guide to the Work at Height Regulations.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations — more commonly known as COSHH — is the legislation that sets out how any substances hazardous to health, such as chemicals, fumes, and gases, are handled and stored, which differs from regular waste. If you regularly store any substances covered by the Regulations, you will need to know what your responsibilities are.

These responsibilities include:

  • Carrying out a COSHH assessment to identify the risks imposed by substances.
  • Finding ways to prevent exposure to hazardous substances at the source.
  • If you can't prevent exposure, you need to control the risks "as much as is reasonably practicable".

If you need more detailed advice on how to approach COSHH in your warehouse, be sure to take a look at the HSE's guidance.

Why is a warehouse health and safety policy important?

As an operator of a warehouse, it's vital that you recognise the importance of upholding a very high standard of health and safety to protect both your employees and your business. Below, we've set out some of the key reasons that you should make safety a priority.

Reducing injuries, illness, and fatalities

First and foremostly, practising a high level of health and safety will help to reduce the level of injuries and work-related illnesses, as well as minimising the chance of any fatalities.

There were 34,000 non-fatal and 15 fatal workplace injuries in the transport and storage sector in 2017/18, while 52,000 workers suffered from work-related ill-health (HSE), so finding ways to avoid contributing to these numbers should be paramount.

With the right warehouse health and safety policies and measures in place, your workforce will be able to go about their job in the safest way possible, which will drastically cut the chances of any incidents on the job. Safeguarding your staff will also help to ensure that any work-related illnesses or injuries that can develop over time are curtailed, reducing the level of long-term absences.

Minimising the number of lost working days

On average, there are approximately 1.7 million working days lost per year due to ill health and non-fatal accidents in the UK's transport and storage industry (HSE). However, with the right health and safety policy approach, you can reduce injuries and illness, which, in turn, should reduce the number of working days lost for your business.

By keeping employee absences to a minimum, you will be able to lessen the financial impact that missed working days cost your company. This means that not only does better health and safety boost your workforce's welfare, but it can benefit your bottom line as well.

Lowering employee turnover in your business

Ensuring you have a robust health and safety policy can help to lower employee turnover in your business, so you can look forward to retaining your experienced staff members and avoid repeating the often-costly recruitment process.

This works in two ways. By reducing injury and illness with a high standard of health and safety, there's less chance that your workers will need to leave their jobs as a result. Additionally, when you put putting the effort into creating a thorough policy, your workforce will see that you care for their welfare and feel more valued as employees, hopefully encouraging them to stick with your business.

Boosting productivity in your warehouse

With your warehouse health and safety policy in place, you may be able to enjoy a productivity boost in your warehouse, meaning that your workforce will be able to accomplish more in the working day. This is because your employees will be healthier, happier, and better motivated to work for an employer that cares for their welfare. Ultimately, this is better for you, your employees, and, consequently, your customers.

Reducing the threat of any legal issues

By making sure that your warehouse maintains a high standard of health and safety, you can reduce the threat of any legal issues affecting your business. For one, you'll be making sure you comply with the law, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, so you won't be breaching the regulations should something go wrong. And, by making your warehouse as safe as possible, your employees are much less likely to suffer an accident and pursue legal action against you.

What are the most common warehouse safety hazards?

Now that you're aware of what the law says and why it's important to practice a high standard of health and safety in your warehouse, we can look at some of the most common warehouse safety hazards, as well as some of the safest solutions.

Slips, trips, and falls

Slips, trips, and falls (on the same level) are the most common non-fatal workplace accident, making up 31% of all reported incidents in 2017/18 (HSE). And, in a warehouse, where there is potentially a large amount of risk of items being left in walkways or spillages occurring, it becomes very important that you put measures in place to make your workplace as slip- and trip-proof as possible.

Here are some of the ways that you can minimise the risk of slips, trips, and falls:

  • Make sure staff keep walkways unobstructed: Provide your workforce with training on the importance of keeping walkways unobstructed, paying particular attention to placing stock down during picking and keeping wires from equipment covered with heavy-duty covers.
  • Ensure relevant staff are trained in cleaning up: For staff responsible for cleaning up spillages, ensure they know to do so swiftly to minimise risk of anyone slipping. You also need to be certain they know the proper procedure for spills, including putting out warning signs when cleaning is underway and using the correct cleaning product.
  • Arrange regular cleaning out of work hours: For regular cleaning, try to arrange it out of working hours. This should minimise the chances of cleaners causing slip or trip risks for other warehouse staff.
  • Review the condition of your warehouse flooring: Your warehouse floor should be as even as possible to ensure staff can be sure-footed without risk of tripping when moving around.
  • Take anti-slipping measures: Investing in anti-slip paint for your floors will ensure they are slip-resistant, as well as making them more hardwearing and easier to clean. For areas you can't apply paint to, such as stairs, install anti-slip tape to improve grip. You should provide staff with non-slip footwear, so they are less at risk at all times.

Manual handling

The hazard: Incorrect manual handling can cause musculoskeletal injury if proper technique or rules are not observed by staff.

The solution: Providing manual handling training for all staff that move stock, as well as reducing the need to move things manually with mechanical handling aids.

Manual handling is another leading cause of injury, with 21% of injuries in 2017/18 occurring as a result of a handling, lifting, or carrying activity (HSE). In an environment where the movement of stock is a daily occurrence, it becomes very important to make it as safe as possible for staff with a warehouse health and safety policy.

Here are some of the ways that you can minimise the risk of manual handling:

  • Provide manual handling training for your workforce: Manually handling stock needs to be done within reason and following the safe procedure to prevent the risk of injury. You need to give your staff training in the correct technique, as well as recognising when a load is too heavy — see our guide to manual handling for detailed instructions.
  • Remove the need for manual handling in your warehouse: With mechanical handling equipment, you can severely reduce the need for staff to handle heavy loads manually and improve your warehouse lifting safety. Goods lifts, such as mezzanine floor lifts and loading bay lifts, allow staff to move stock between floors or onto the backs of lorries without having to lift down stairs or onto vehicles. Forklift trucks and pallet trucks are two other important types of machinery that you should make available.
  • Reduce manual handling risks on the job: Beyond your warehouse, you may have staff manually handling items at the delivery location. Vehicle-mounted lifting equipment, like cranes and hydraulic loading platforms, are portable solutions that can protect your delivery staff from the risks on the job.
  • Provide the right personal protective equipment (PPE): Where manual handling does need to take place, you need to make sure your staff are properly kitted out. They'll need gloves to protect hands when picking up abrasive or sharp surfaces, as well as supportive, grippy footwear to keep them firmly based. Depending on what they're handling, they may need specialist items like protective goggles or face masks too.

Mechanical handling

The hazard: Mechanical handling equipment being misused or suffering from a fault.

The solution: Fully training staff in the use and maintenance of mechanical handling machinery.

Even though mechanical handling equipment is designed to reduce the need for manual work, it still poses its own risk in your warehouse.

Here are some of the ways that you can minimise the risk of mechanical handling:

  • Make sure staff are trained in the use of machinery: By ensuring that the relevant staff have proper training in the use of any equipment, it'll be less likely that they'll create risk when operating it. There isn't a set way to provide instruction, but the equipment manufacturer can often help — for instance at Penny Hydraulics we provide in-depth familiarisation training for all our lifting solutions.
  • Properly maintain all your mechanical handling equipment: According to both PUWER and LOLER, you need to make sure that your machinery is properly checked, maintained, and regularly serviced. This often begins with your staff, so you need to get them up to speed on how to best look after equipment, including where to store it, and report any serious issues.
  • Display the maximum safe working load on any machinery: By making sure the maximum safe working load is visible on your vehicle, operators will always have a reference point when they're loading up. If they overload equipment, it could mean instant or gradual breakage, which could result in injury for your workers or members of the public.
  • Check staff are using and storing essential accessories and PPE properly: If your machinery requires the use of specialist accessories, like chains to secure a load, or PPE, like a harness or hard hat, you need to make sure they are used and stored correctly so they don't fail on the job and cause unnecessary risk.

Warehouse traffic safety

The hazard: Warehouse traffic can be very hazardous and potentially deadly.

The solution: A carefully managed warehouse traffic safety system, with qualified responsible drivers and a workforce that's aware of the risks and how traffic will be moving.

Each year, there are more than 5,000 accidents caused by vehicles in the workplace, with about 50 proving to be fatal (HSE). In your warehouse, it's likely that you've got both delivery lorries coming and going from the site, as well as indoor transport, like forklifts, that pose a risk to safety, so it's vital that you plan and manage the traffic effectively.

Here are some of the ways that you can improve your warehouse traffic safety:

  • Only allow staff to operate vehicles with the appropriate training: Don't allow anyone to operate a vehicle in or around your warehouse without being suitably trained or qualified. Delivery drivers should be fully licensed for the vehicle they're driving, while forklift operators should have comprehensive training to HSE's ACOP standards.
  • Impose speed limits in and around your warehouse: To ensure safety for workers on foot, you need to set speed limits and display signs in and around your premises so drivers are always reminded — no vehicles should be travelling more than 5 mph.
  • Reduce the need for vehicles reversing: Nearly a quarter of all deaths involving vehicles at work occur when reversing (HSE), so you should look into imposing a one-way system both in and around your premises. Any unavoidable reversing should be done in clearly marked areas or with another member of staff spotting.
  • Adapt your warehouse for traffic: You should aim to equip your warehouse as best as possible for traffic in and around it. Try to maximise visibility with mirrors at blind corners and review your flooring or outdoor surfaces to ensure they're suitable for driving. Create dedicated pedestrian walkways in your warehouse to give workers on foot somewhere safe to walk. Put up plenty of signs for both drivers and pedestrians reminding them of the various hazards, especially in potentially problematic locations.
  • Check over vehicles regularly for faults: To ensure safe functioning, each vehicle should be inspected by a professional in line with the law. Drivers should also be trained on potential issues to look out for, and there should be a clear reporting process to catch any problems straight away so they can be fixed.
  • Ensure visitors and the public are safe from your vehicles: Consider visitors, who may not be familiar with your warehouse traffic, or members of the public, who may be affected by vehicles entering or leaving your premises, when planning your system. Take any extra measures to ensure they are kept as safe as possible.
  • Make the wearing of hi-vis clothing standard in your warehouse: Incorporating hi-vis wear as part of your staff uniform will make sure that everyone is as visible as possible when vehicles are present. Make it mandatory for hi-vis gear to be worn at all times.

Please note: For full, in-depth advice on how to manage transport in and around your warehouse, please refer to the HSE's guidance on vehicles in the workplace.

Work at height

The hazard: Falls from height and dropped objects present a serious risk in a warehouse.

The solution: Developing a carefully managed process for work at height, as well as providing safety measures for any particular hazards.

Falls from a height accounted for 8% of all non-fatal injuries at work in 2017/18 (HSE), making it a pressing concern for those who operate warehouses. There's also the risk of a bystander being struck with an object, which makes up 10% (though not all incidents are from height).

With high fixtures to scale and occasional awkwardly positioned maintenance to carry out on your premises, it's an area that should definitely be a focus of your warehouse health and safety policy.

Here are some of the ways that you can minimise the risk of working from height:

  • Always look for ways you can remove the need for work at height first: As stipulated by the Working at Height Regulations, removing the need for work at height should be your priority. This could be something simple, like arranging stock at the bottom of shelves first and only stacking them higher if necessary. Or it could involve a more specialist solution, such as installing a high bay winch system to make lighting fixtures accessible at ground level, for safe repair, as well as being easier to maintain, which limits downtime to ensure areas are always well lit.
  • Make any work at height as safe as possible: When the work is unavoidable, you should take measures to reduce risks that you identified as part of your warehouse risk assessment. For instance, if stock needs to be moved between floors and there's not enough space to store everything at ground level, investing in a goods lift can reduce the risks involved with staff using stairs. They'll still be at height, but the procedure will be much safer.
  • Make sure any staff working from height are competent: You must only allow workers who are competent to work from height, which means they must have a good level of training and experience. Ensure you have provided this before any work is attempted.
  • Take steps to prevent any risk of falling items: Whether it's tools from scaffolding or a load from the back of a delivery truck, there's a risk of items falling from height and injuring staff. Therefore, you need to assess every type of work at height and evaluate the ways you can prevent this from happening. Solutions could range from imposing an exclusion zone beneath work from height to ensuring loads are secured, depending on the type of work.
  • Ensure staff have access to the right PPE for the job: According to the PPE at Work Regulations, protective equipment should always be a last line of defence when working at height, but it is vital that you provide staff with the right safety gear for the job. For instance, if maintenance needs to be carried out at height, safety harnesses, hard hats, gloves with sufficient grip, eye protection, and foot protection are required, while staff in the vicinity will also need PPE to guard against falling objects.
  • Regularly check equipment and ensure it's maintained: As safety equipment plays such an important role in protecting workers at height, you need to make sure it's regularly checked and tested to confirm it's in good working order. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for any machinery. Specifically, lifting equipment needs to undergo a Thorough Examination every six or twelve months (depending on its duty/condition). At Penny Hydraulics we offer servicing and testing for all our products to ensure they're lawful and fully working.
  • For outdoor work, be sure to check the weather forecast: When work at height is due to take place outside, take the time to check what the weather is like. If there is anything that could compromise safety, like rain that could make surfaces slippery or fog that could hamper visibility, be sure to postpone the task until things have improved.

For more in-depth advice on how manage working from height in your warehouse, be sure to read our guide to the Work at Height Regulations.

Pallets and racking

The hazard: Pallets and racking are commonly found in warehouses but can pose a risk if not handled and managed properly.

The solution: Fully training staff for the handling of pallets and racking, as well as ensuring any storage system is fit for purpose.

Your warehouse is likely to be a very busy environment, with most of your storage organised via a system of pallets and racking. There are no exact warehouse stacking regulations to follow, but you can practice a safe and responsible storage strategy.

While the management of this area carries many of the risks that have already been identified in our slips and trips, manual handling, and work at height sections, there are a number of tips that you should follow that are specific to pallets and racking to follow.

Here are some of the ways that you can minimise the risk when working with pallets and racking:

  • Carefully plan your pallet and racking system so it's safe and suitable: If you're planning a new pallet and racking system or reviewing your current one, consider all aspects of it with safety in mind. You need to think about the where racking will be located, how the pallets will be moved and stacked, the most suitable type of racking, and the type, size, and quantity of the load.
  • Train your staff to handle pallets safely: Any member of your workforce who will be working with pallets, such as stock pickers and delivery crews, should be fully trained in how to handle pallets safely. This training should cover areas like how to pack pallets with shrink wrap and how to load and unload them from racks, as well as informing them of the necessary maximum loads for racking, lifting equipment, and delivery vehicles.
  • Undertake regular inspections of your pallet stock: Another key element of ensuring pallet safety is to get your staff to undertake regular inspections of your pallet stock for faults like loose nails, splinters, cracks, or any other structural issues. This should be carried out every time a pallet is used.
  • Communicate the importance of sensible behaviour around pallets and racking: As well as training for safe use, you need to make it clear what constitutes sensible behaviour around pallets and racking. For instance, pallets and racks should never be climbed over, leaned on, or walked over, as they can be damaged and made unsafe or the worker doing so may be injured.
  • Provide the correct PPE for work with pallets and racking: It's important that you provide the right protective equipment for your warehouse staff for when they are working with pallets so that they're protected when handling and from any falling objects. This kit should include a hard hat, protective gloves, and safety footwear.

Please note: You can find in-depth advice about this area of storage in HSE's guide to pallet safety.

Fire safety

The hazard: Fires can spread quickly in a warehouse, especially when it's full of flammable materials or chemicals, posing a risk to your workers' health.

The solution: Creating a fire emergency plan and putting the measures in place to be able to practise good fire health and safety.

A fire can pose a serious risk to your warehouse. It's likely to be quite a large, open space — where fire can spread quickly — filled with flammable materials, like cardboard packaging and wooden pallets. While a fire can threaten your stock, it's a major health and safety issue for your staff as well, so it's vital that you have a robust fire policy.

Here are some of the ways that you can minimise the risk of fire in your warehouse:

  • Create an evacuation and emergency plan: You will need to create a safe and workable fire emergency and evacuation plan that can be executed in the event of a fire. Ensure you have all the necessary equipment for your plan to work properly.
  • Appoint fire safety officers: Any emergency plan should include the appointment of one of more fire safety officers from your workforce who are tasked with making sure the evacuation is carried out quickly and safely, as well as being vigilant about minimising hazards through the day.
  • Organise regular fire drills: You should organise a fire drill at least once per year to make sure that all your staff are aware of what to do should the worst happen. This is also a chance for your safety officers to practise what they need to do.
  • Check fire safety equipment on a regular basis: You need to provide and check fire safety equipment throughout your warehouse. Fire alarms should be tested weekly, while smoke detectors should be tested monthly. Check other items are working properly and don't allow extinguishers to go beyond their expiry date.
  • Ensure exits are well-lit and signposted: Ensure that all the fire exits in your warehouse are well-lit and signposted so that staff can find and use them to leave during an emergency. You should also put up reminder posters about what your company's fire escape plan is, so the information is available all the time.
  • Train your staff in safe materials handling: Prevention is the best defence against a fire in your warehouse, so take the time to train your staff in the safe handling of materials to minimise the risk of them becoming the cause. This should include details about clearing away boxes and packaging, as well as handling any flammable chemicals correctly — HSE have a guide to chemical warehousing that you need to refer to.

Please note: This section is only intended as a general guide to fire safety in warehouses, so please check the Government's fire safety in workplaces advice to ensure you are meeting the demands of the law as an employer.

Warehouses can be working environments full of potential hazards, so it's important that you take the time to ensure your warehouse health and safety approach is up to scratch. Hopefully, this guide has given you a deeper understanding of the potential hazards and how you can address them, as well as an introduction to the many laws you must abide by.

At Penny Hydraulics, you can find many other useful advice in our collection of help guides, including warehouse management tips for boosting efficiency. If you have any questions about topics covered in this guide or need help choosing the right lifting equipment for your business, don't hesitate to get in touch with us.

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