A warehouse can pose many health and risk factors to its workers if the right safety procedures and standards are not in place. Ergonomics is the practice of designing or refining elements of the workplace to optimize efficiency while decreasing risks to workers health and well-being. In the material handling world, ergonomics is extremely important for keeping workers safe and free of injury.
While many aspects of the warehouse environment fall under worker safety, from forklift safety to proper training, ergonomics refers to those injuries to the musculoskeletal system, often sustained from forceful exertion, sustained awkward postures, repetitive movement and more. When lifting and handling heavy materials in the warehouse, these factors can lead to serious injury and even chronic conditions or disability. Not only do such injuries decrease warehouse efficiency, but they can also cost the organization a substantial amount in worker’s compensation and disability insurance.
It is impossible to remove ergonomic risk factors from the warehouse entirely, but there are ways to reduce these factors and hopefully prevent serious injuries. Here are a few tips for creating a safe ergonomic environment in the warehouse.
One great way to spot ergonomic risks is to simply walk through the warehouse and observe workers as they perform their daily tasks. Take care to notice any awkward or strained positions, or perhaps note that certain tasks are causing employees considerable discomfort. If you discover ergonomic risks, the next step is to work to control and reduce those risks.
OSHA recommends three areas of control for ergonomic hazards: engineering controls, administrative and work practice controls, and personal protective equipment. Engineering controls refers to physical change in the working environment. This may include installing a mechanical device to help with heavy lifting or reducing the weight of a certain load to prevent overexertion. Administrative and work practice controls involves redesigning warehouse processes and procedures. Management may implement more breaks or require multiple people to lift loads over a certain weight. Finally, workers must be equipped with the proper personal protection to reduce risk. From padding to goggles and thermal gloves, administration and management need to require the appropriate protective equipment.
Finally, an extremely important aspect of ergonomic safety in the warehouse is to listen to your employees. If a worker comes to you expressing concerns about conditions or discomfort performing a certain task, do not write them off. Listen and discuss these issues with your workers, and try to find ways to solve any existing problems or to ease discomfort. The more comfortable and safe workers are, the more productive the warehouse will be.