July 24 2006 04:24 PM

When most people think of dangerous, action-filled jobs, they usually conjure up images of people like Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter, not the person who handles products or packages in his local warehouse. But ironically, logistics and package-handling professionals are probably more likely to get hurt than many of the daredevils you see on television. And the logistics industry has the grim statistics to prove it.


Each year, hundreds of these professionals are killed on the job, and thousands more are injured. Fortunately, all of the news is not bad. With the right safety initiatives in place, you can dramatically reduce your employees risks of accident, protecting them and your company from considerable pain and expense. And many of these initiatives are easier to implement than you might think.


There are a lot of ways to approach the challenge of logistics safety, says warehousing safety professional Dixie Brock, who oversees safety initiatives for more than 100 APL Logistics facilities nationwide. But one of the best ways once you ensure youre in compliance with all safety regulations is to proactively identify the key risks associated with unsafe behaviors, processes and conditions. Once you understand the risks, you can either eliminate them or, if thats not realistically possible, establish safer processes to manage them.


Although accidents can occur at any time and in any area of a warehouse, Brock says her experience suggests that there are six especially common risk areas that companies cant afford to ignore.


1.Forklift Operation

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, approximately 100 people are killed and another 20,000 are injured each year in accidents related to forklifts, which, despite their lightweight appearance, actually weigh more than a car.


The most common of these accidents happen when forklifts overturn or hit a warehouse worker. And the most frequent causes include behaviors such as turning at excessive speed, having an excessive or unbalanced load or a driver and forklift falling off a loading dock or truck. Forklifts also have the potential to inflict considerable damage to property or products. In fact, theres probably not a distribution facility out there that doesnt carry at least one scar from forklift contact.


If you do nothing else in terms of facility safety, you need to be sure all of your forklift operators and your people working around them have adequate training in how to operate and work around these heavy machines, says Brock.


For optimal training and compliance, you should establish qualified, on-site trainers. Good train-the-trainer programs can be obtained from most forklift manufacturers and from consultant resources. The consulting division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may also point you in the right direction.


Brock also advises monitoring forklift operators in-facility driving records. Many of them have sensors that set off an alarm if a forklift is bumped the wrong way, allowing you to record when a mishap occurred and who was driving, she says. This allows you to deal with these drivers individually to try to correct unsafe behaviors before they turn into OSHA-recordable incidents.


2.Improper Lifting

When most of us think of workplace-related injuries, we think of things like broken bones or cuts. However, according to Brock, its back injuries and muscle strains that are among the most frequent in warehouses and distribution centers. And unlike cuts, they can end up becoming a chronic health problem.


Theres a lot of bending and lifting associated with product handling and theres obviously a right and a wrong way to do it, she comments. You have to put work processes in place that ensure people will lift products the right way each and every time. And you have to reinforce those processes and reward safe behavior frequently.


You also need to be on the lookout for hazards like extension cords and uneven flooring that could cause a back-injuring trip or fall.


3.Pick Lines

Carpal tunnel syndrome doesnt just happen to people who work on computer terminals. It can happen to anyone who performs a repetitive task with his hands day in and day out, which is the reason why distribution center pick lines are becoming a more frequent source of concern for safety specialists.


This may not seem like a major safety concern; however, Brock warns, If youre physically uncom-fortable, everything you do is compromised.


To help minimize employees carpal tunnel exposure, encourage them to take more frequent breaks and have them change responsibilities with other co-workers often. You also may want to take a look at your pick lines height because, if you have any products that are located above employees reach, you have increased your employees ergonomic risk as well as the chance that they could stumble and injure themselves.


Every time someone has to go up and down a step stool to pick a product, you have increased exposure, explains Brock. Keep your most freq-uently picked products within easy reach, and if you do need to use step stools, make sure they have hand rails and require employees to hold onto them.


4.Box Cutters

Box cutters are ubiquitous tools in the receiving area of distribution centers, where people fre-quently rely on them to open incoming shipments. But because box cutters are simple to use, its easy for companies to assume their employees dont need training in how to cut with them.


Not so, says Brock, who points out that the only difference between a minor cut on the hand and a cut requiring 18 stitches is the force of the cutter and where it strikes the body.


If you allow people to cut open boxes the wrong way, youve got a lot of potential exposure to injury, she says. However, with the right training, you can greatly reduce your risk and the likeli-hood of some trips to the emergency room.



In order for safety in an organization to work, everyone at the company from the CEO to the newest person on the loading dock must believe in its importance and be held accountable for supporting it. But often thats easier said than done, especially when you get to the shift supervisor level.


When we began our aggressive safety push back in the early 90s, it was the warehouse supervisors who were the hardest to convince, says Brock. Thats understandable, because · supervisors are often the employees under the most pressure to produce, and its always tempting to compromise safety for productivity.


In order to be successful, you have to demonstrate how a few extra safety precautions now will actually save lost time and productivity in the long run, she says. For example, there is a lot of convincing data about how much it costs to train even a temporary replacement for an employee who is out because of a sudden injury and the numbers arent pretty.


Brock adds that it doesnt hurt to put some safety measures into supervisors bonuses or incentive packages. Holding employees accountable for safety doesnt just mean slapping their hands when they violate safety procedures, she says. Its also about rewarding them when they make a safe work environment a reality.


6.Too Much Tolerance

There are those who say that everyone deserves a second chance. But most of them dont work in the safety field.


Individuals and their managers have to be held accountable for their unsafe behavior each and every time it occurs, comments Brock, because if you dont address a safety violation as soon as it happens, youre essentially giving someone permission to repeat the behavior. Safety has to be non-negotiable.


According to Brock, following effective employ-ment training, employees must understand that breaches of safety will have swift and definitive consequences including disciplinary measures such as suspension or, if necessary, termination.


It may sound callous, said Brock. But the truth is, you cant afford to put your other employees in jeopardy because of one persons insistence on behaving unsafely. Nor can you afford to let that person jeopardize himself.


Too many companies make the mistake of thinking that an absence of accidents means they have adequate safety measures in place when the reality is they may have merely been lucky instead of safe.


Even shippers and 3PLs with the most aggressive safety initiatives have some OSHA-recordable incidents, says Brock, because they all employ human beings, and human beings make mistakes. You cannot become overconfident about safety and assume you dont need a safety program. If you do, youre engaging in the most unsafe behavior of all.


Brett Harper is vice president of business development for APL Logistics. For more information, visit www.apllogistics.com.