Safety First: Moving goods is an essential activity – getting injured while doing it isn’t

by Norm Kramer

What does material handling mean to you?

It’s much more than picking up a box to build a pallet load. In today’s sophisticated warehouses and distribution centres, product moves through your workspace with precision and grace by means of trucks, conveyors, ladders, pallet wrappers, walkies, lift trucks, automated guided vehicles, robotics, cranes, and steel storage racks. In the process, your people may get caught, struck by or crushed if hazards are not identified and controlled.

The best defence against material handling injuries is implementing a prevention program. Here are 10 components of an effective program, along with sample considerations for each. Each component plays an essential role in preventing injuries and property loss.

1 Maintain up-to-date hazard assessments. It’s a critical element of the RACE (recognize, assess, control, evaluate) process, which helps keep workers safe and promotes competitiveness and profitability. Have you identified and implemented controls for all hazards? Have you documented these controls and communicated your expectations regarding safe operating procedures and behaviours? Have you trained your supervisors to monitor this? Do you have a process for reviewing and updating the hazard assessments?

2 Create a safe environment for moving goods. Minimize or eliminate pedestrian traffic on loading docks. Give equipment operators clear sight lines and paths by eliminating blind spots and obstructions. Avoid placing tall loads on corners or at intersections where mobile equipment and pedestrians may meet. Ensure that lighting is functioning and sufficient for the tasks at hand, and that occupancy sensors trigger lighting promptly.

3 Employ proper lockout and tagout procedures for machinery and equipment. A lot of material moves on conveyor systems with rollers, belts, gears, sprockets and other mechanical parts that can seriously injure a person if not properly guarded, or if not locked out during maintenance and repairs. Are all your pinch points properly guarded? Do you have proper lockout and tagout procedures in place, based on manufacturers’ recommendations, as part of a hazardous energy control program? Have employees been trained on the program and procedures? Are the procedures monitored and enforced?

4 Integrate safe operating procedures into your health and safety program. Do your procedures include equipment manufacturers’ recommendations? Does the joint health and safety committee take them into account when conducting inspections? Do you evaluate them periodically?

5 Store materials safely. Are pallets in good condition? Are rack loads stable and securely placed? Is there any risk of loads falling? Avoid hanging loads on the rear beam, where they could compromise the stability of the load behind them.

6 Ensure supervisors meet the definition of “competent”. Do they understand the safety aspects of their job, such as relevant legislation and standards? Do they know exactly which safe procedures employees must follow? Do they monitor and enforce them?

7 Ensure equipment operators are fully trained and experienced. For example, CSA B335, Safety standard for lift trucks, calls for theoretical and practical training, as well as evaluations. Provide new trainees a full eight hours of practical operator training on the equipment they’ll be using, and have them practice manoeuvres that they will be expected to perform on the job. To ensure competency, assess operators’ newly developed skills before they perform work on the warehouse floor.

8 Train employees on manual lifting best practices. It’s not as simple as “Just lift with your legs and keep your back straight”. Employees may be manually unloading boxes from trailers, loading them onto conveyors, moving them from conveyors to pallets, and stacking them for shipping. Train employees to conduct these movements safely and assign specific tasks to the right person. Is the box a safe weight for them? Are they able to lift it without twisting and bending? Do they know how to plan the lift? Ask for help when necessary? Does the training reflect working conditions and unique situations that may arise?

9 Provide lifting aids, such as such as suspended lift assist devices and spring-loaded pallets so workers may lift at a safe height and avoid excessive bending and reaching.

10 Document everything, including policies and procedures, inspection results, hazard assessments, training, etc. Inspectors may ask to see any of these documents, but going forward having them on hand and accessible will help you identify gaps and opportunities, improve performance, and promote compliance.