Safety First: Avoid the impact

by Norm Kramer

Safety around mobile equipment has always been a concern in warehouses and distribution centres, but it may be even bigger now. Warehouses are operating non-stop to meet consumer demands for online products, and they may also be relying on new and inexperienced workers due to a widespread labour shortage. Both of these circumstances raise red flags.

Norm Kramer is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional who provides health &
safety consulting
services for WSPS as
a Warehouse Specialist.

That’s because collisions between lifting devices and pedestrians are more likely to happen when people are rushed and/or inexperienced. The best way to prevent this from happening is to put in place a traffic management and pedestrian safety plan, or update your existing plan.

10 Steps to safer operations

A 10-step traffic management and pedestrian safety plan will improve safety and efficiency in your warehouse operations.

1. Understand your hazards. If you haven’t carried out a hazard/risk assessment or refreshed your current one in the last year or two, make this a priority. Map the flow of mobile equipment and pedestrians, identify all potential contact points, and assess contact risks. Observe employees and operators at work, look at incident reports, and identify root causes of near misses and injuries.

Get feedback from mobile equipment operators, health and safety committee members, health and safety staff, supervisors, and pedestrians. People who work in the area know what the safety issues are, and may have suggestions for improvement.

Create a safe environment for conversations with workers; they may be reluctant to speak up because of fear of discipline or getting someone else in trouble. Ensure confidentiality and reiterate that the goal is to identify and ensure that control measures are adequately protecting people.

2. Designate pedestrian walkways. Determine the safest places for people to move from one area to another. Create pedestrian paths so people move predictably, stay at a distance from mobile equipment, and don’t walk in an operator’s blind spot. Identify no-pedestrian zones and install traffic barriers and safety gates.

3. Create traffic routes and rules. Develop a traffic system that mimics what’s used on outside roadways (red stop signs, solid lines, black and white crosshatch design for crosswalks.) It’s much easier for people to understand and follow a system they are familiar with. Ensure potential danger areas where pedestrians and vehicles intersect are well marked.

Designate speed limits and rights of way (such as at a four way stop). At dangerous intersections, both lift truck operators and pedestrians should stop, look and listen.

4. Restrict who operates your lift trucks and other devices. Don’t leave keys in the ignition. Provide authorized operators with keys, or install an electronic device.

5. Perform daily pre-start inspections. Lift trucks should be examined thoroughly to identify damage, prevent incidents and to ensure they are safe to use.

6. Ensure lift truck operators are qualified. Do your due diligence. Lift truck operators require special training – both in theory and practical aspects of driving, as outlined in CSA standard B335-15, Safety Standard for Lift Trucks.

Ask for a practical demonstration from new operators before they begin work. Do they know the safety features of the lifting device? Can they perform the manoeuvres they will do on the job? Do they know how to safely operate around pedestrians? If not, provide additional training. Also, provide mandatory awareness training so lift truck operators understand the hazards of the job and their role in preventing injuries.

7. Practice good housekeeping. Remove hazards that obstruct travel paths or visibility. Try to have designated places for storing pallets to reduce blind spots for people and mobile equipment traffic. Clean up spills promptly to prevent skidding or loss of steering control.

8. Maximize awareness of lift truck operators and pedestrians. Use adequate lighting, mirrors, horns, alarms, flashing lights, high visibility vests, etc. Use blue lights on top of lift trucks and consider sensors on pedestrians to warn of approaching vehicles.

9. Minimize driver and pedestrian distractions from handheld electronic devices, hands-free cellphones, headphones, and food and beverages. Designate areas where they can and can’t be used.

10. Enforce all rules and procedures. Correct unsafe behaviours, such as an operator not following internal traffic rules. Try to find the root cause of the behavior. Does a written standard exist? Is there a need for refresher training? Does the safety culture in the workplace need to be reinforced?

Hold supervisors and managers accountable for managing their staff appropriately. Recognize and acknowledge operators and pedestrians when they act safely.