What are the most dangerous areas of a dock and warehouse?

Q:

What are the most dangerous areas of a dock and warehouse?

A:

There are more than 7,000 warehouses in the United States alone, with nearly 150,000 workers in them. Unfortunately, the combination of people, products, and industrial trucks (like forklifts) makes warehouses the perfect place for accidents.

Back and shoulder injuries are the most frequent type of claim in a warehouse setting, accounting for nearly half of all reports. Beyond manual material handling, we find a host of other warehouse areas that pose risks to workers. Let’s look at the five main ones, in no particular order.

1. The Loading Bay

The loading bay is perhaps the most dangerous area in the warehouse. It’s an incredibly busy area with numerous hazards. One of the most common issues is the unplanned departure of a trailer from the dock, which can cause serious injury to those loading or unloading the trailer, as well as damage to the dock and vehicle.

Open loading docks – that is, docks that are open but not in use – are a fall hazard to pedestrians and forklift operators in the vicinity. The drop is usually about four feet, which doesn't sound like much but is high enough to cause severe injury to anyone who falls or drives off the edge.

While most bays have weather seals to keep inclement weather outside, it’s not uncommon for them to be damaged, not fit properly, or for the shape of trucks to affect the fit. This can allow water and ice to makes its way inside, creating a slip and fall hazard.

2. Forklifts

While not technically an area, anywhere that forklifts operate is potentially dangerous.

As many as 20,000 workers are injured and 100 killed in forklift accidents each year (read about the 4 Major Forklift Hazards Near Loading Docks to learn more). Approximately 25 percent of those are due to an overturn.

Forklifts represent the number one cause of OSHA warehouse citations, and it’s an area that deserves special attention from supervisors and employees alike.

3. Conveyors

Conveyors reduce hazards associated with manual material handling, but they can also introduce mechanical hazards.

Most conveyor injuries occur when a worker gets caught in the “nip points” while cleaning or servicing the conveyor or removing some type of debris. Lockout-tagout systems should be in place so that workers can quickly shut the conveyor off in case of an emergency.

4. Material Storage

Warehouses often have lots of product, and it’s not uncommon to find stacks of boxes in various places on the warehouse floor. These can easily tumble, posing a risk to workers nearby.

Racks and shelves should always be used and must be double-checked to confirm weight restrictions and prevent accidental collapse. Rack push-through can also be a problem, where product gets pushed too far and falls off the other side – potentially onto those working there (learn more about the Top 5 Tips for Warehouse and Racking Safety).

5. Floors and walkways

Pedestrian areas and walkways present a few key hazards, the most notable of which are slips, trips, and falls.

With the volume of product in a warehouse, it’s not uncommon to find clutter on the floors, but this presents a real hazard to anyone walking in the area. Injuries and fatalities can also occur due to pedestrian and lift truck collision. You can prevent this by defining specific pedestrian-only walkways and outfitting forklifts with safety devices to help improve visibility (for example, alarms and lights).

Conclusion

Though there are many hazards throughout warehouses, taking the time to identify and manage them can go a long way to creating a safer work environment and preventing accidents.

Do any of these top five apply to you? Take a quick audit of your workplace and ask yourself: which hazards are present here, and how can I address them?

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Written by Rick DeJong
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I joined the IWI team in 2012 to spearhead the commercial and technical development of leading edge industrial safety products and technologies. For more than two decades prior, I was involved in sales and technical concepting specific to industrial assembly automation. I also created and launched a North American subsidiary for a German-based multinational in the industrial automation sector.I studied Small Craft and Marine Technology, and am intrigued by all things technical, especially when they make the world a better place to work and live. This passion has left me a long time enthusiast of boating/cruising, motorcycles and classic cars.Passionate about foreign cultures (and fluent in Dutch), I look forward to travelling, and the chance to meet amazing people along the way.

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