Warehouse Safety: Common Hazards & Tips to Improve Safety

October 24, 2022

Learn about common warehouse safety hazards, OSHA’s warehouse safety guidelines, and tips to improve warehouse safety.

Key Takeaways

Learn about the most common warehouse safety hazards, OSHA’s warehouse safety guidelines, and tips for improving warehouse safety. Plus, see how Samsara’s Site Visibility solution can help you proactively identify safety risks, improve safety training, and prevent serious injuries.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employees who work in warehouses in the U.S. doubled from 2010 to 2020—and it continues to increase. By 2030, there are projected to be almost 2 million warehouse employees across the country. 

Warehouse safety is particularly important because the warehousing industry has a disproportionately high accident rate and fatality rate compared to other employment sectors. A warehouse floor can be a dangerous work environment. Potential hazards include heavy pallets, falling objects, and hazardous materials—not to mention the operation of complex powered equipment like forklifts.

With the proper safety procedures, training programs, and technology, you can create a safer work environment for warehouse employees. This comprehensive guide covers the most common warehouse safety hazards, OSHAsafety guidelines, and tips to improve safety—including how you can use new camera technology to proactively identify safety risks and protect your employees.

Why is warehouse safety important?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, warehouse workers were injured at a rate of 4.8 per 100 full-time workers in 2020. This means more than 67,000 warehouse workers were injured on the job in 2020 alone.

Not only are workplace injuries incredibly harmful to employees, they can also be incredibly costly to your business. According to the National Safety Council, the cost per medically-consulted injury was just over $40,000 in 2018, while the cost per death was more than $1 million. Medical bills, workers’ compensation, lawsuits, damaged equipment, lost production time, and training for replacement staff can also add up quickly. Furthermore, OSHA can fine employers as much as $7,000 for minor infractions and $70,000 for repeated safety guideline violations.

These statistics underscore why investing in warehouse safety measures isn’t just a regulatory requirement, but a smart business decision. Maintaining a safe warehouse helps protect your employees and your bottom line.

What are the most common safety hazards in a warehouse?

Warehouse floors are often fast-paced and physically demanding. There are many different types of safety hazards and risks. Some of the most common warehouse hazards that cause serious injuries and fatalities include:

  • Forklifts: Forklifts are critical to warehouse operations. However, they can weigh up to 9,000 pounds—and when operated incorrectly, they can cause very serious injuries. OSHA estimates that forklifts are involved in 35,000 serious injuries and 62,000 non-serious injuries annually. Overturning is the most common cause, accounting for 25% of all forklift accidents. With increased safety training for forklift operators, OSHA estimates that 70% of forklift accidents could be avoided.

  • Tripping, slipping, and falling: Pallets, cords, spilled inventory, and poor lighting can present a serious tripping risk to warehouse employees. All areas of the warehouse floor should be sufficiently lit, allowing employees to see potential hazards. Make sure to mark spills with proper signage and clean up any slip hazards immediately.

  • Falling objects: Inventory stored on high shelves or stacked precariously can pose a serious risk to worker safety. Employees should be trained on proper racking and lifting techniques and always wear appropriate PPE to help avoid serious injury in case of falling objects.

  • Loading docks: Loading docks can be loud and busy, and they pose multiple safety risks to employees. Workers can fall through open dock doors, and forklifts can run off the dock and strike another person. Warehouse employees should be trained on loading dock safety guidelines to avoid preventable dock incidents.

  • Conveyor equipment: Conveyors are often used to transport inventory. When not used properly, conveyors can pose multiple safety hazards to workers—including falling objects and getting caught in the equipment.

  • Manual lifting and material handling: Injuries are often caused by improper manual lifting and material handling. Failure to follow safety guidelines, such as  proper lifting techniques, can lead to sprains, strains, and torn muscles.

  • Hazardous materials: Some warehouse employees may need to handle hazardous materials, such as certain chemicals, as part of their jobs. Without proper handling, storage, and disposal, hazardous materials can pose a serious safety hazard. Employees handling hazardous materials should be regularly trained on proper handling guidelines and the use of appropriate PPE.

  • Fire hazards: Some of the most common fire hazards within warehouses include electrical equipment, combustible liquids, and even cigarettes. Employees should be educated on how to minimize these safety risks, and sprinkler or fire suppression systems should be inspected regularly.

What are OSHA’s warehouse safety guidelines?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the arm of the federal government responsible for the implementation of workplace health and safety guidelines. Since OSHA first introduced workplace safety guidelines in 1970, the number of occupational fatalities in the U.S. has declined by 60% and the number of workplace-related injuries and illnesses has decreased by 40%. This shows how effective OSHA guidelines can be when followed properly.

But what safety rules does OSHA require for warehouses specifically? Warehouse operations fall under OSHA’s general requirements. Here are some of the most important OSHA requirements to be aware of to avoid failed inspections, fines, or penalties:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): Depending on the type of work, appropriate PPE may include eye and face protection (safety glasses), foot protection (puncture-resistant boots), head protection (hard hats), hand protection (gloves), hearing protection (earmuffs or earplugs), and respiratory protection (respirators). Employers are responsible for not only supplying appropriate PPE to warehouse workers but also ensuring they know how to use it properly. Educating employees on the correct use of PPE should be part of any warehouse safety training program.

  • Hazard communication: An official hazard communication (or “hazcom”) program is necessary for any warehouse that handles hazardous materials, so employees understand the risks and how to protect themselves.

  • Fire safety: Warehouses employing 10 or more employees should have an official fire prevention plan that is kept updated and available for reference. Fire extinguishers and sprinklers should be unobstructed and inspected regularly.

  • Emergency action plan (EAP): In case of a fire or other emergency, warehouse operators should have an emergency action plan (EAP) that details the actions employees should take, including emergency exit routes.

  • Fall protection systems: As part of OSHA’s requirements for walking and working surfaces, fall protection systems should be in place for warehouse employees working at heights (such as on elevated platforms).

  • Lockout/tagout procedures: Any warehouse that uses energized equipment must have clear lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures for ensuring that equipment is properly turned off. LOTO protocols help prevent employees from being electrocuted or otherwise harmed by energized equipment.

Tips & best practices for improving warehouse safety

Although warehouses can be a dangerous place, you can protect employees by implementing the proper training, procedures, and technology. Here are a few warehouse safety tips to consider when creating or reinvesting in your safety program:

  • Mitigate hazards on the warehouse floor: Safety starts with creating a safe warehouse environment. Ensure you have the proper safety signage in place near high-risk areas like docks, minimize fire hazards and falling object hazards, and inspect all safety equipment regularly. Maintain a safety plan that covers all parts of the warehouse, its equipment, and employees—and regularly check in on the warehouse floor, either in person or remotely via cameras, to proactively identify and mitigate safety hazards that could pose a risk to employees.

  • Train warehouse employees on safety regularly: Safety training is essential—but it must be frequent and engaging to be effective. Provide regular training on equipment and material handling, appropriate PPE use, fire hazards, and proper ergonomics (including appropriate lifting techniques) to help remind employees about key safety guidelines and avoid preventable incidents. Use real-life video examples to make safety training more engaging, relatable, and memorable. 

  • Ensure you have 360° visibility into what’s happening across the warehouse floor: Warehouse management is made more difficult by the sheer scale of a warehouse floor. With employees spread across hundreds or even thousands of square feet, it’s challenging to know what safety hazards might cause the next serious incident. But visibility is key to safety—and that’s where cameras can help. Warehouse cameras can help you monitor high-risk areas for unsafe activity and ensure safety standards are being followed. Warehouse cameras can also be incredibly helpful for safety training. You can use real footage of near misses to coach warehouse employees on real-life scenarios, helping reinforce safe practices and avoid serious injuries in the future.

  • Use AI to detect safety risks before they cause an injury or fatality: There is no way to completely eliminate all safety risks from a warehouse. But with new camera technology, you can take a more proactive approach to warehouse safety management. Today, cameras enhanced with artificial intelligence (AI) can automatically detect and alert you to potential safety issues—such as an overcrowded production line or employees not wearing appropriate PPE in a high-risk area—before they cause a serious injury or fatality.

Take a proactive approach to warehouse safety with Samsara

Samsara Site Visibility is a reliable, AI-video safety solution that can help you take your warehouse safety program from reactive to proactive:

  • Centralized video management makes it possible to view camera footage remotely from any device, so you have complete visibility into warehouse safety.

  • AI features, such as people and motion detection, can alert you to potential safety risks and prevent serious injuries. 

  • Intelligent search and cloud-based video retrieval make it fast and easy to investigate incidents—and download footage that can be used for safety training.

How Aunt Millie’s ensures warehouse safety with Site Visibility

Aunt Millie’s—which produces and delivers more than half a million pounds of bread daily through 5 bakeries, 55 distribution centers, and a fleet of 600+ delivery vehicles—relies on Samsara Site Visibility to get visibility into potential safety hazards and ensure employees are following warehouse safety rules.

“In the bakeries, we have big and heavy equipment being worked on by humans. There’s a high possibility for amputation, electrocution, and other serious injuries that can have a big impact on our employees if they don't follow the rules,” said Beth Woodbury, VP of Safety at Aunt Millie’s. “Managers can't be everywhere all the time, so having [Samsara] in place helps us better mitigate serious injuries, identify issues before somebody gets hurt, and coach them on safer practices.”

Samsara Site Visibility has helped Aunt Millie’s reduce the time it takes to find key incident footage from hours to just a few minutes. Furthermore, centralized video management has increased visibility into workplace safety—helping prevent serious injuries before they happen and saving Aunt Millie’s a potential $1 million+ in injury claims.

How you can improve warehouse safety with Site Visibility

Samsara can work with your existing infrastructure. Simply plug in our Site Gateway, a cloud Network Video Recorder (NVR), and seamlessly onboard existing cameras in minutes.

Learn more about how Site Visibility can help you improve warehouse safety, reduce costs, and operate more efficiently.

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