Warehouses aren't inherently dangerous places. The problem comes from the fact that we're constantly using them. All that storing, stacking, and retrieving we do day after day means that the warehouse staff – not to mention the building itself – can wind up under a lot of pressure.
Proper warehouse safety is the key to making sure your warehouse and staff can cope with the high demands of taking part in the global economy. So, whether you're a small business or a multinational corporation, here are my top five tips for warehouse and racking safety.
1. Know the Law
In the UK, the government board for health and safety is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and it's a great place to start for all laws governing occupational safety.
With regards to warehouse safety, depending on the layout and use of your warehouse, different laws might come into play. For instance, any of your staff needs to work at height, consider the Work at Height Regulations 2005. For laws regarding the upkeep of racking or anything else in your warehouse which could be classified as “work equipment,” the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 makes it clear in sections five and six that, for equipment to be maintained, it should be inspected at regular intervals.
These are just a couple of examples of the safety laws that come into play when operating a warehouse. Given the number of laws that may affect your business, a more convenient way of ensuring compliance and safety is by consulting the guides that are relevant to your particular situation.
2. SEMA Racking Code of Practice and Other Warehouse Safety Guides
The HSE's HSG76 is a great guide to warehouse safety and, since it's advice issued by the British government, you know it's a source you can trust. The HSE’s guide to warehouse safety recommends the SEMA Racking Code of Practice and its technical bulletins. Taken together, these two guides are essential to understanding your safety obligations.
These guides are not legislation, but they do help to explain how different legislation apply to warehouse and racking safety specifically. What's more, warehouse owners who follow these guides are usually doing enough to stay within the law. The HSE’s exact words are: "Following the guidance is not compulsory and you are free to take other action. But if you do follow the guidance you will normally be doing enough to comply with the law."
The trick is to know what the law is while, at the same time, using these guides as a template for how to run your warehouse. Guides like these will never contradict the law, but they are not the law in themselves and it’s important to keep that in mind.
3. Warehouse Safety Pays
Don’t be stingy. Spending money on warehouse safety makes financial sense. The HSE estimates that British businesses lose over £14 billion a year (approximately $18 million USD) due to workplace injuries, illnesses, and death. To avoid losing that money or tragic outcomes, businesses should invest more in health and safety (to learn more about how these are related, see Connecting the Dots: Safety and Profitability).
4. Warehouse Safety Training and Rack Safety Training
The modern warehouse is so full of specialized dangers that a safety training course from an outside expert is exactly the sort of thing you should be investing in. In the HSE’s HSG76, for example, it states that a “competent” member of staff should perform regular racking inspections, alongside annual inspections from a SEMA approved racking inspector (this also echoes sections five and six from PUWER 1998 mentioned above).
But how do you define competent? The importance of competence is a strong theme throughout HSG76, and the CDM Regulations 2015 state that it is down to the “client” (in this case, the warehouse owner) to define competence. What this means is that if you can provide reasonable evidence that your staff are competent, then they legally are.
This is where training comes in. It’s by far the best way to have staff who, in the eyes of the CDM regulations, are competent enough to perform inspections, operate certain kinds of machinery, and do certain kinds of tasks (see 6 Ways a Permanent, In-House Trainer Can Benefit Your Organization for a related discussion).