How can Warehouse Workers Remain Safe in the Workplace?March 23, 2021
Last September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that warehouse employment in the United States had soared up to 1.25 million workers, the highest level ever recorded; the figure for 2019 was 683,000. This surge reflects the fact that e-commerce sales have also skyrocketed past any earlier point in time. These trends were present before the pandemic hit, and there are no signs that they will be slowing down soon.
Although e-commerce has become more automated over the past years, with robots being used more frequently, the processes of picking, packing, and shipping are still intensive. Therefore, more and more warehouse workers are being employed. Along with this increase in workers comes an increase in warehouse accidents, so understanding the right safety measures and protocols is paramount to these employees’ health and well-being. Workers injured while at their job in a warehouse are urged to contact an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer for assistance.
What are Common Warehouse Injuries?
People who work in warehouses can get hurt in any number of ways, but some scenarios are more common:
- Slip and fall accidents: It is common for employees to slip and fall on warehouse floors that are slippery, uneven, or full of debris. Elevated areas such as loading docks and ladders can also be hazardous; on top of that, poor lighting can make it hard to for employees to see well.
- Hit-by objects: Employees can get hit, sometimes hard, by shifting inventory and falling loads. They can also get hurt when contact is made with handling equipment or industrial lift trucks.
- Overexertion: This can happen when warehouse employees attempt to lift, carry, lower, push, or pull things that are too heavy or cumbersome. These injuries can happen to the neck, back, or other body parts.
- Loading dock accidents: Warehouse workers have been known to fall off docks, get hurt while moving materials, and get hit by vehicles at loading docks. Another unfortunate situation is when a worker gets crushed while loading or unloading items.
- Truck accidents: When warehouse workers operate trucks, they can easily get into accidents while driving.
- Accidents with forklifts: A common sight at warehouses, forklifts can injure their operators and others nearby. Employees can get hurt while loading and unloading, but they can also get run over or be crushed when forklifts overturn.
Warehouse Safety Violations and Lack of Training
One of the best ways to prevent warehouse accidents is to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warehouse safety standards. Employers have a responsibility to keep their workers safe, and that is why adhering to these regulations is so important. Still, companies violate these standards all the time. According to OSHA, the following are the top 10 categories for violations that they see in warehouses:
- Portable fire extinguishers
- Hazard communications
- Powered industrial trucks
- Electrical systems design
- Egress, specifically doors and exits
- Respiratory protection
- Guarding of wall/floor openings
- Handling of materials
- Hazardous energy tag out, lockout, and control
Safe site points out that inadequate employee training also contributes to warehouse accidents. There is a shortage of experienced workers, and with the high demand and low supply, some companies end up hiring poorly qualified workers. This may be compounded by companies using cost-cutting measures when it comes to employee training and instituting safety measures.
How can My Company Make the Warehouse Safer?
As mentioned, warehouses must comply with OSHA safety standards. This is done through regular maintenance and inspections of buildings and equipment. When things get busy during certain times of the year, many companies will slack off from these important responsibilities. Inspections are a good time to look for hazards such as debris, obstacles sticking out, broken forklifts, and holes in the floor.
Warehouses should also have easily accessible, appropriate safety equipment for employees. A working fire alarm and sprinkler systems is essential, and employees should be provided with high-visibility safety jackets, safety goggles, and other personal protective equipment if needed. Keeping the warehouse clean is just as important, as it reduces the risk of slipping and falling. Spills should be cleaned up immediately, and debris removed as soon as possible. If the warehouse stores potentially hazardous materials, there should be separate safety protocols for handling them.
Consistent, up-to-date employee training is another key safety measure. Companies that conduct or sponsor regular training programs show employees how to prevent unsafe work practices. Furthermore, these programs can teach warehouse workers what to do in case of an emergency. Having a forklift fall over could lead to a state of widespread panic and chaos unless the employees know the exact steps to take after the accident. Employees can also be instructed on how to safely move and store stock, to avoid serious injuries. However, employee/employer communication should not stop after the training. Ongoing communications will also promote safety, whether it be an update on a stock delivery, a new safety protocol, or some positive feedback about a job well done.
What Else Should I Know About Warehouse Safety?
Warehouses that have safety plans in place have better odds at avoiding workplace accidents. OSHA and other safety advocacy agencies have more useful information that can be modified according to the warehouse and shared with all company employees. Some suggestions include the following:
- All warehouse aisles and floors should be clear of debris at all times.
- All employees should be trained on ergonomics, working in extreme cold or hot conditions, safety terminology, safety procedures, and emergency management.
- Open docks should be chained or roped off when there is a falling risk of four or more feet.
- Lockout tagout procedures should be specified.
- Proper ventilation is essential for warehouses.
- Employees should be given appropriate rest breaks.
- Employees should be assigned realistic, attainable goals.
These are general safety guidelines, and there are many more specific ones as well. One category applies to tape and signage. There should be a system in place to label items accordingly and to identify potential hazards. Forklifts and other equipment should have clearly marked operation directions and hazard warnings, as should charging stations. Safety protocols for stacking, loading, and unloading protocols include placing heavier loads on low shelves, stacking loads straight and even, and keeping hazardous materials in designated, separate areas. There are additional measures that apply to cold storage, ergonomics, and electrical systems.
Can I Get Workers’ Compensation for My Warehouse Injury?
Workers’ Compensation provides benefits to workers who experience job-related injuries and illness, and the applicable laws vary by state. It is possible to get Workers’ Compensation for a warehouse injury, but every case is different. This type of insurance is a no-fault benefit that is available to permanent and temporary workers. Employees do not have to prove that an employer was responsible for causing the injuries to receive the benefits.
Not all work-related injuries will be covered by Workers’ Compensation. An employee may be denied when the injury was self-inflicted, from getting into a fight at work, for example, or occurred when the employee was under the influence or doing something else that violated company policies, such as stealing. Some Workers’ Compensation claims are denied for other reasons, which may or may not be fair or acceptable to the injured employee.
Employees who receive Workers’ Compensation benefits usually cannot sue their employers, even when there is considerable pain, suffering, and mental anguish involved. Some states may allow employees to sue, but only in very specific circumstances. Other employees have success with suing third parties that may be responsible for the injuries. For example, an equipment manufacturer who produced a defective piece of machinery that failed and seriously injured a warehouse worker could be held responsible for the accident.
Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Help Injured Warehouse Workers with Workers’ Compensation Claims
If you have been injured while working at a warehouse, reach out to the caring, skilled Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. Our team understands how traumatic a warehouse injury can be. You can count on our years of knowledge and experience to help you build a strong case that may secure you the compensation you deserve. For a free consultation, call us at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.