Materials handling safety for small warehouses

Many companies have a small warehouse to store goods for sale or supplies to use when delivering a service. If items can be palletised (i.e. stored on standard wooden or plastic pallets), a forklift or electric pallet jack can be used to stack and destack goods. Order pickers, where the operator is lifted on a platform, can be used to safely pick boxed products off racks.

These machines contain a heavy counterbalance so that they don’t tip over when carrying a load, and even a small machine can weigh more than 1500kg. Several thousand injuries and many deaths are recorded every year through accidents using forklifts and pallet jacks. Even manual pallet jacks can cause brutal injuries to feet and lower legs.

There are four effective ways of reducing the probability that these kinds of accidents will occur in the workplace

1. Effective training

All operators of plant and equipment must have training to ensure that they are competent to use it. In the case of mobile plant, operators must have a forklift license. These can be obtained either online or via a training company and they are advised to be refreshed every three years or sooner.

Training should focus on competency in the workplace, not just box-ticking. If a practical assessment is given for the forklift, this should reflect the kinds of operations that will be performed by the forklift driver in the workplace. For example, if a driver always uses an attachment (for example a bale clamp) then the assessment should be conducted using a bale clamp and lifting loads that require a bale clamp, not just forks and pallets.

2. Separation of pedestrians and mobile plant

Drivers on forklifts in noisy environments have to be aware of everything going on around them. If you remove pedestrians from areas that forklifts are operating, there is less risk of injury and the forklift drivers can make more progress. In shared areas, the speed limit for forklifts should be walking pace, but if there are no pedestrians, the forklifts can travel three times quicker, meaning better efficiency. 

3. Toolbox meetings for variations to work conditions

If there are changes to the working environment, a toolbox meeting should be called to make everyone aware of any additional dangers. This might happen if you have contractors on-site, there is a delivery arriving, the weather or atmospheric conditions are difficult (e.g. fog in an outside yard) or there is new equipment that people are less familiar with. 

4. Use all available safety equipment

Everyone should be wearing appropriate PPE. In a general working environment this would include a hi-vis vest and safe footwear at minimum. You may need to wear safety glasses, a hard hat, gloves or a personal locator for mobile plant detection. This kind of system consists of sensors on the mobile plant which detect the presence of pedestrians and slow the vehicle down automatically (or even cause it to stop if it gets too close). There are several types of systems including ones that work on sonar, radar, laser, cameras and RFID.

Ensure that racking is safe and secure so that it doesn’t collapse on workers. Use bollards, safety fences and other methods to minimise harm.

Health and safety considerations and consequences

Having a robust set of health and safety processes is only the start of keeping your team safe. Following the four principles above will ensure that you are implementing pragmatic solutions to reduce harm in your workplace.

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