Throughout history, humans have always been prone to accidents but the greatest cost of accidents is injury and death. Human life is beyond monetary value. But property losses can also be devastating and crippling to a business. Warehouse fatalities and severe or permanment injuries have a serious impact and yet somewhat preventable with careful planning and an ongoing commitment to safety.
Even a series of relatively minor incidents can lead to lost productivity, higher insurance bills and possible fines.
When you work with warehouse heavy equipment day in, day out, you can easily get over confident and too comfortable using the equipment.
This can become dangerous if you underestimate the potential dangers of a machine, such as a forklift. All operators must understand the potential hazards of all the machines present in the warehouse, regardless of how many years they have been working with the equipment, and undertake periodic training to keep up to date with the latest recommendations and remain cautious while using any machine.
Accidents can be prevented by following the specific instructions provided for a piece of equipment; machines with moving parts are a common workplace hazard as they can cause the most serious permanent injuries when used improperly. No amount of experience can fully eradicate accidents - and actually, it has been known that the inexperienced staff members may take a more careful approach to machinery (going through all the checks) as the more experienced staff members think that they no longer need to do checks - and that is when accidents can happen. You may be surprised at how many accidents are caused by very capable and knowledgable staff members due to complacency.
Slips, trips & falls
Slipping is a very common warehouse hazard that can be easily prevented by ensuring the warehouse does not have any of the following:
- loose material, such as sawdust, and loose flooring/carpeting;
- unnecessary steps or ridges;
- uneven walking surfaces;
- poorly lit areas;
In addition: ice, wet spots, grease and polished floors can cause people to slip/fall over. Be vigilient against these hazards and consider using anti-slip floor tape, guardrails and bollards or specially marked pedestrian areas to prevent personnel and vehicles from entering areas which they should not be, to help ensure that everyone on site is safe and where they should be.
Falling accounts for a large majority of warehouse injuries, not just when staff are working above ground level: When working around loading docks, it's vital to be aware of the surroundings and whenever there is a large drop between floors, proper guard railing is essential.
A fire can jeopardise an entire operation and cause serious injury, or even fatalities. Constant prevention awareness is paramount and unlike a fire that may break out in an office, one that starts in a warehouse often has the extra danger of feeding off of potentially flammable or combustable goods being stored, such as chemicals or motor oil.
Worn and exposed wires such as old extension cords, leaking flammable fluids and gases, and running electrical cords under carpet are all mistakes to avoid in warehouses. When constructing a new warehouse, fire protection must be considered at the beginning of the design process rather than after it has been built or after the electrical work has been done.
Attention tends to be paid to active systems, such as alarms and fire extinguishers, but by adopting an integrated approach that consider passive systems at the design stage, a warehouse can be better protected if a fire occurs. Passive fire protection solutions can minimise damage through containment in the event of a fire, which is particularly important in industrial zones where warehouses are located in close proximity to each other.
Examples include fire compartments or barriers, sprays and paints, fire rated partitions and ceilings, as well as the protection of structural steelwork. As warehouses usually contain large undivided areas, the use of such methods, particularly fire walls or barriers, is extremely effective in avoiding the spread of fire, heat and smoke. Passive fire protection can also help to maintain the building in the event of fire and prevent collapse.
Risk of being crushed
A medium sized forklift weighs about the same as an average dump truck, meaning it can cause just as much damage and should be treated with the same caution as a heavy vehicle, being driven around the workplace, would be. There have been instances of forklift operators jumping or falling from a forklift in a tipover, and being crushed between the forklift and the ground.
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) weekly fatality/catastrophe report, two workers are crushed to death every month on the job (this figure is for October 2014 to October 2015 and not limited to warehouse workers' deaths).
To prevent this type of tragedy, companies must provide sufficient training for any machine with augers or press machines, and avoid moving machines and trucks in the loading dock. Heavy loads that could fall on, and crush, warehouse employees also have to be treated with extreme caution.
Effective employee training, well maintained machinery and systematic traffic management will reduce the risks, as opposed to unsafe methods and workplaces inflicting schedules on operators that are too demanding. Supervisors need to ensure that the piece of equipment in use, suits the specific workplace conditions and task in hand in order to avoid a potentially fatal incident.
Lack of safety education
Without proper education for all warehouse operators, not only will a warehouse fail to perform at its full potential but it will pose serious risks to all those in it. A lack of adequate training is the foremost cause of workplace injury and can affect profitability, yet because safety training cannot be measured in terms of directly generating profit, it is sometimes de-priotitised.
Refresher courses for veterans, particularly if the warehouse has acquired new equipment, should be mandatory. A half day refresher course could mean the difference between a fatal accident or a safe, efficient warehouse. Warehouses should create a safety culture where every employee knows that safety is their responsibility, with all warehouse managers leading by example.
Rather than being a one-time concern, cultivating a safety culture is a continuous effort; it is not enough to hold an annual safety briefing without emphasising safety throughout the company at all times. Companies could consider forming a warehouse safety committee, comprising of workers selected from the various sub-sections of warehouse (employees involved in day to day activities on site), such as floor workers, shift supervisors and managers, to address safety issues and cascade information to the wider workforce.
Lessons not being learned from past incidents
Warehouse managers need to analyse the reasons for past accidents rather than simply recording their outcome.
Knowing a forklift driver suffered a broken arm does not tell the manager how to correct the operating procedures that caused an injury, however if the manager learns that the injury occurred when the driver's arm was outside the forklift's cage and he turned a corner too sharply, the need for driver re-training relating to procedure, speed and spacial awareness becomes clear. Likewise, if the accident was caused by a steering problem with a particular troublesome forklift, knowing the issue behind the accident will assist in ensuring that all equipment is well maintained and mechanical issues are dealt with before a major accident takes place. Equipment faults no longer become the employee's accident/fault but fingers will be pointed at the business owner for not providing safe work tools/equipment.
Lessons need to be learned from every incident, no matter how minor, in order to prevent further injuries
Not having clearly marked exits
Every warehouse needs to be designed and maintained in a way that provides unobstructed exiting from any part of the building at all times, even if repairs or maintainence is being carried out to the building.
When a warehouse is occupied, there should be no locks in place that could prevent free escape from the inside. Exits must be marked by clearly visible signs in languages that can be understood by everyone working in the warheouse. This includes indicating the pathway to the exit as well as the exits themselves.
Warehouse managers should take a walk through their facility to ensure they can see an exit sign at all times and that there is no ambiguity - employees who are unfamiliar with the warehouse layout or reacting in haste to an emergency could easily confuse a closet or bathroom door with an exit, for example, especially if visibility is impaired due to a fire. All exit routes need to be free of explosive or highly flammable furnishings, and should not lead employees along a path that runs near hazardous areas.
There should also be an emergency alarm system installed that allows warehouse staff to immediately alert colleagues, who could be working thousands of metres away, to also exit the building in an emergency.
Being exposed to harmful substances
Harsh chemicals, such as asbestos, are a serious workplace hazard, as is carbon monoxide fumes emitted by vehicles such as forklifts. Warehouses need to be well-ventilated so that fumes can disperse, and levels of noxious gases and fumes should be monitored.
In addition, a number of hazards are posed when storing packaged dangerous substances if there is a lack of awareness of the properties of these substances and/or inappropriate storage conditions with respect to the hazards of the substances. Different types of dangerous substances should be assessed when considering a risk control strategy to ensure there is sufficient segregation. Futhermore, dangerous substances should only be received into a chemical warehouse by someone who understands all the risks they pose, in relation to their physical and chemical properties and quanities.
The way chemicals and dangerous goods are stored is important. For example, minor leaks from cylinders of compressed gases may disperse more readily if the cylinders are stored in the open air and cylinders of liquefied gases should be stored in an upright position, so that any leaks will be of vapour or gas rather than liquid. The location is also key because ventilation will have to be considered; where flammable, toxic or asphyxiant gas cylinders are stored indoors, good ventilation is essential to ensure that minor leaks will disperse safely, for example.
Improper handling and storing of materials causes injuries. Workers can end up with strains and sprains if they lift loads improperly or carry loads that are too heavy, therefore it is vital that employees are shown proper lifting techniques - and that mechanical equipment is available to be used to move heavy loads.
Similarly, if goods are not safely secured when stored, they could fall and strike people; so heavy loads need to always be stacked neatly and cylindrical objects should be prevented from rolling off shelving. Warehouse packing stations with impact absorbing, anti-slip industrial floor mats will relieve the stress placed on employees’ joints when they work for several hours while standing in one place. Another warehouse improvement to prevent injury is to arrange storage in such a way that does not require staff to lift from the floor or shoulder level, as this is a common cause of injury.
Not creating a healthy environment for warehouse workers
Preventing worker fatigue helps prevent accidents, so employees doing physical work should receive an adequate number of rest breaks throughout their shift. Reasonable time frames for task completion will also mean workers do not feel under pressure to rush, which could easily lead to accidents and injuries.
Workers may feel forced into taking unnecessary chances with their safety and the equipment if they have unreasonable quotas to meet, perhaps by overloading their forklift or hurrying unsafely through the building.
Depending upon the average temperature of a facility, employees need to made aware about the importance of proper hydration. They should be consuming water regularly, particularly during summer, in order to prevent dehydration and heat stress – one of the leading causes of workplace accidents. Heat stress is a serious threat, especially during the summer months, and can lead to fatigue, lack of concentration and heat stroke. Using industrial fans will help keep workers as comfortable and safe as possible.
Managers need to insist on the appropriate clothing being worn, such as hard hats, steel toe boots, safety glasses or ear protectors. Any employees working on loading docks should be wearing safety vests that are more reflective than conventional vests so that they can easily be seen by trucks and other motor vehicles in order to reduce to risk of them being hit or crushed. Workers need to educated on best practices for working in hot or cold environments, depending on the nature of the warehouse.
For the purpose of perspective, lets take a look at the 10 most expensive accidents in world history, in terms of property loss and measured in dollars. Take a look.
10. Sinking of The Titanic, 1912 ($150 Million).
When: April 15 1912
Cost: The Titanic cost $7 million to build. That’s $150 million in today’s dollars.
The sinking of the Titanic is possibly the most famous accident in the world. But it barely makes our list of top 10 most expensive. On April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage and was considered to be the most luxurious ocean liner ever built. Over 1,500 people lost their lives when the ship ran into an iceberg and sunk in frigid waters. The ship cost $7 million to build ($150 million in today's dollars).
9. Tanker Truck Explodes on Wiehltal Bridge, 2004 ($358 Million - human error).
When: August 26, 2004,
A car collided with a tanker truck containing 32,000 liters of fuel on the Wiehltal Bridge in Germany. The tanker crashed through the guardrail and fell 90 feet off the A4 Autobahn resulting in a huge explosion and fire which destroyed the load-bearing ability of the bridge. Temporary repairs cost $40 million and the cost to replace the bridge is estimated at $318 Million.
8. Chatsworth Train Collision, 2008 ($500 Million - human error).
When: September 12, 2008
Cost: $500 million
In what was one of the worst train crashes in California history, 25 people were killed when a Metrolink commuter train crashed head-on into a Union Pacific freight train in Los Angeles. It is thought that the Metrolink train may have run through a red signal while the conductor was busy text messaging. Wrongful death lawsuits are expected to cause $500 million in losses for Metrolink.
7. B-2 Bomber Crash, 2008 ($1.4 Billion - software error).
When: 23 February 2008
Cost: $1.4 Billion
B-2 Stealth bomber crashed on the runway shortly after takeoff from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. Investigators blamed distorted data in the flight control computers caused by moisture in the system. This resulted in the aircraft making a sudden nose-up move which made the B-2 stall and crash. Miraculously both pilots were able to eject to safety and survived. This was 1 of only 21 ever built and was the most expensive aviation accident in history.
6. Exxon Valdez oil spill, 1989 ($2.5 Billion - human error).
When: March 24, 1989
Cost: $2.5 billion
The Exxon Valdez oil spill was not a large one in relation to the world's biggest oil spills, but it was a costly one due to the remote location of Prince William Sound in Alaska (accessible only by helicopter and boat). 10.8 million gallons of oil was spilled when the ship's master, Joseph Hazelwood, left the controls and the ship crashed into a Reef. The cleanup cost Exxon $2.5 billion.
5. Piper Alpha Oil Rig, 1988 ($3.4 Billion - human error).
When: 6 July 1988
Cost: $3.4 billion
The Piper Alpha disaster off the coast of Aberdeen is the world’s deadliest ever oil rig accident. At that time Piper Alpha Oil was the largest oil producer in the world producing 317,000 barrels of oil per day. On July 6, 1988, as part of routine maintenance, technicians removed and checked safety valves which were essential in preventing dangerous build-up of liquid gas. There were 100 identical safety valves which were checked. Unfortunately, the technicians made a mistake and forgot to replace one of them. At 10 PM that same night, a technician pressed a start button for the liquid gas pumps and the world's most expensive oil rig accident was set in motion. Within 2 hours, the 300 foot platform was engulfed in flames. It eventually collapsed, killing 167 workers and resulting in $3.4 Billion in damages.
4. Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion, 1986 ($5.5 Billion - equipment fault).
When: January 28, 1986
Cost: $5.5 Billion
The Space Shuttle Challenger explosion occurred when Space Shuttle Challenger (mission STS-51-L) broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. The explosion occured because of a defect in O-ring. It failed to seal one of the joints, allowing pressurized gas to reach the outside. This in turn caused the external tank to dump its payload of liquid hydrogen causing a massive explosion. The cost of replacing the Space Shuttle was $2 billion ($4.5 billion in today’s dollars). Cost of investigation, problem correction, and replacement of equipment lost $ 450 million cost 1986-1987 ($ 1 billion today).
3. Prestige Oil Spill, 2002 ($12 Billion).
When: 13 November 2002
Prestige oil tanker was carrying 77,000 tons of heavy fuel oil when one of its twelve tanks burst during a storm off Galicia, Spain. Fearing that the ship would sink, the captain called for help from Spanish rescue workers, expecting them to take the ship into harbour. However, pressure from local authorities forced the captain to steer the ship away from the coast. The captain tried to get help from the French and Portuguese authorities, but they too ordered the ship away from their shores. The storm eventually took its toll on the ship resulting in the tanker splitting in half and releasing 20 million gallons oil into the sea. According to a report by the Pontevedra Economist Board, the total cleanup cost $12 billion.
2. Space Shuttle Columbia Explosion, 2003 ($13 Billion).
When: 1 February 2003
The Space Shuttle Columbia was the first space worthy shuttle in NASA’s orbital fleet. Columbia was destroyed in re-entry over Texas on February 1, 2003, by an explosion resulting from a hole in its wing that took place during launch 16 days earlier. All aboard were lost. Total cost of accidents (does not include replacement of a round-trip transportation) estimated at 13 billion dollars according to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronotika Sciences.
1. Chernobyl, 1986 ($200 Billion - human error).
When: April 26th, 1986
The world witnessed the most expensive accident in history. The Chernobyl disaster, widely considered to have been the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of the level 7 event (the maximum classification) on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The accident was officially attributed to power plant operators who violated plant procedures and were ignorant of the safety requirements needed.
Chernobyl accident was considered the greatest socio-economic catastrophe recorded history. 50% part of Ukraine is influenced and contaminated. 200,000 people evacuated and transferred, while 1.7 million people directly affected by the disaster. The death victims attributed to Chernobyl, including those who died from cancer after many years, about 125,000. Nobody knows exactly how much the world’s worst nuclear accident cost. $200 billion is considered a fairly conservative figure including cleaning, transmigration, and the compensation of victims. The cost of a new steel shelter for the Chernobyl nuclear plant will cost $2 billion alone.
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