Warehouses have the potential to be particularly dangerous places, combining heavy items stacked on high shelving with vehicles moving among staff and site visitors.
Without suitable health and safety procedures, which are understood and followed by management, staff and visitors alike, disaster can be waiting around the corner.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the main causes of accidents in warehousing and storage are slips and trips; manual handling; work at height; vehicles in and around the warehouse; and moving or falling objects.
HSE figures show that in 2009/10 the storage, warehousing and road haulage industries reported over 8,500 work related accidents – over 23 a day - and almost 1,600 of these accidents were classified as major injuries such as fractures and amputations.
David Leavesley, of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd, said: “Health and safety shouldn’t be a box ticking exercise which can be forgotten about once legal obligations are satisfied.
“The working environment is always changing and so ongoing risk assessments should be integrated into your health and safety policy.
“Warehouse operators have some particular challenges which require focus. Workers can be involved in manual handling of heavy or awkward items which pose a risk of injury unless correct procedures are followed. Also, with racking commonly used to store goods, there are associated dangers of falling objects or people falling from significant heights.
“Busy workplaces might see regular deliveries with loading and unloading from lorries while forklift operators equally have to work safely among pedestrians. A lapse in concentration or a failure to follow procedures by anyone interacting in this way could be incredibly dangerous.
“Other aspects to consider will depend on the type and scale of operation – some might have particular challenges in dealing with hazardous materials, while others might have to ensure lone workers who operate during quieter periods are protected.”
Key areas to consider in keeping warehouses safe
- Workplace transport – clearly designated traffic routes will help keep staff and customers safe. This is relevant for internal and external routes and clear signage should be in place for delivery drivers, forklift operators and the public.
- Contractors – ensuring staff understand and follow health and safety procedures is one thing but making sure contract workers operate safely presents another challenge. Both employers and contractors will have duties under health and safety law.
- Manual handling – incorrect manual handling is one of the most common causes of injury at work. It causes work-related musculoskeletal disorders which account for over a third of all workplace injuries.
- Slips and trips – obstructions, spillages, uneven floors, ice and snow are some potential hazards. Each of these risks can be reduced through the regular use of assessments to identify unsuitable working practices or environments.
- Working at height – safe use of ladders and/or mobile elevating work platforms are vital areas of warehouse working. Those in control of any 'at height' activity must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people.
- Fire safety – considerations should be given to all aspects of fire prevention, such as maintenance and testing of systems, through to procedures for the evacuation of large numbers of people. The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced a guide designed for completing a fire safety risk assessment for people responsible for factories and warehouses.
- Violence towards staff – ensuring staff are protected from acts of violence is particularly important for lone workers. Warehouses stocking valuable items can attract criminals and adequate security should consider the safety of staff on site during quieter periods.