How To Keep The Warehouse Safety Magic Alive

No matter how successful your safety effort has been in the past, that doesn’t change the fact that the warehousing profession is still full of hazards and risks in the present — and that it will continue to be so well into the future.

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When Serena Williams earned her sixth Wimbledon title earlier this summer, she didn’t just become the oldest woman to win a major tennis tournament in the open era. She also became an inspiration to those of us who spearhead warehouse safety programs across the country.

Like Serena, many safety programs have been around for years and racked up several major victories along the way. However, like her, our programs are also getting “up there” — and that’s not necessarily an advantage in an arena where gaining maturity can mean losing your edge.

After all, it’s very easy to substantially reduce injuries during a safety program’s early years, when employees are receiving training for the first time. But it’s considerably harder to keep concerns about safety fresh and relevant over an extended period of time.  

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Thankfully Serena’s victory serves as a welcome reminder that you don’t have to be new in order to be effective. In fact, with the right kinds of tools, techniques and practices like the following, it’s possible to get even better with age.

Tie your program more directly into your worker’s compensation claims.

Although this may sound like a recommendation to accentuate the negative (essentially calling attention to the accidents and injuries your safety program was unable to prevent), there’s a very positive reason behind it, because nothing has the potential to boost your safety program’s efficacy quite like the data contained in these documents.

Among other things, it can help pinpoint your company’s most common injuries and identify “problem” locations within your DC network. In addition, it can quickly reveal which kinds of accidents are costing your company the most and which kinds of incidents seem to be making an unfortunate comeback.

As a result, you’ll be able to do a considerably better job of focusing your safety efforts and resources in the best possible areas.

My company began using this data-driven approach more than a decade ago, and it was the single most important step our initiative ever took; in fact it played an instrumental role in ensuring that our safety program’s second decade of operation posted even better results than its first.

Mix up your safety training tools and messages.

Whoever coined the expression “variety is the spice of life” probably knew more than a thing or two about safety programs, because the quickest way to lose the attention of your employees is to adopt a one-note, single-channel approach to training.  

As your safety program matures, aim to diversify your messaging via a combination of everything from classroom instruction and manuals to videos, e-mails, web sites, visual displays and even games. It will vastly increase the chance that your safety messages will resonate with everyone in your employee audience instead of just a select few. And it will help you re-communicate some of the most essential safety policies or tips as often as needed without seeming repetitive.

Just as important make sure you continue to schedule frequent safety training sessions at each DC location you operate — and by frequent I don’t just mean just often enough to meet the OSHA-mandated minimum. Due to our industry’s high rate of turnover, your company will always have warehouse employees who didn’t receive the benefit of your initial educational sessions. Plus, even the best of your supply chain professionals will occasionally require re-education for key subjects such as industrial equipment safety.

Above all, don’t think you only have to rely solely on your own company to achieve all of this. Our company’s worker’s compensation insurer has been hugely accommodating about creating some outstanding training courses for our forklift safety and ergonomic awareness efforts. And several industrial equipment manufacturers also offer highly educational and easily adaptable training courses.                           

Remember: Ergonomic awareness isn’t just for offices.

While the repetitive motion injuries and back and neck strains that take place in your DCs may seem insignificant when compared to more life-and-limb threatening incidents like forklift collisions, they can easily add up to weeks, months or even a lifetime of pain for those unfortunate enough to sustain them — and huge expenses for your company. In fact, considering just how much the average ergonomic injury claim costs a warehousing operation and how prevalent such injuries are, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that these “minor” complaints are often some of the largest contributors to worker’s compensation bills.

If ergonomic safety training isn’t part of your warehouse safety initiative already, make plans to incorporate it as soon as you can. Simple behavioral changes, alterations to work processes and physical process modifications can go a long way toward reducing your employees’ ergonomic risk and overall rate of injury — and better protect everything from your employees’ backs to your company’s bottom line.                              

Show them the money

In an ideal world, the people who manage, supervise and work within your warehouses would want to be safe because it’s the right thing to do for themselves and the people around them.  However in the real world they’re likely to be even more diligent if there’s something tangible in it for them.          

For example, many of the facilities in our company’s network play a highly popular safety bingo game where a certain sum is added to a prize account each day that employees are accident-free. The catch is the prize balance returns to zero whenever an injury occurs. At the end of a certain period, these facilities hold a drawing, and the person whose name is drawn wins whatever’s in the account. As you can imagine, no one wants to be the one whose unsafe behavior reduces the potential winnings.

Even small potential incentives like that can go a long way towards elevating employees’ safety consciousness. In much the same vein, tying some portion of your executives’ and managers’ compensation or bonuses into their facilities’ safety success could provide powerful motivation for them to make safe behaviors even more of a priority.          

Keep playing strong

My final point may sound obvious. However it’s so important it needs to be said anyway: One of the best ways for an organization to keep safety momentum is simply to continue supporting a robust and active safety initiative.

This is true even if your company hasn’t had a major warehousing accident or injury for years (because such a run doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been safe; it could also mean you’ve simply been lucky) and even if your company has a rate of OSHA-recordable incidents that is well below the industry average.

After all, no matter how successful your safety effort has been in the past, that doesn’t change the fact that the warehousing profession is still full of hazards and risks in the present — and that it will continue to be so well into the future.

As long as you have human beings working in the warehouse, there will always be a potential for fallibility — and a corresponding need for safety vigilance.

Just as important, there will always be a powerful need for safety champions.

Andy Brousseau is Senior Manager of Global Safety and Environmental for APL Logistics.

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