The importance of warehouse safety goes beyond legal implications: A safe working environment contributes to improved productivity, increased employee morale, and better teamwork. Warehouse managers are responsible for setting an example and ensuring the safety of every team member while on the job. Consider this guide your warehouse safety toolkit: In it, we identify common safety hazards, summarize relevant guidelines and regulations, and offer warehouse safety tips and best practices.

Who Sets Warehouse Safety Standards?

Safety regulations for warehouses and other industrial facilities are set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), with supplementary guidelines and further clarifications offered by organizations including the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency). Some industries are subject to additional regulations and codes depending on the specifics of their day-to-day operations.

Look to these regulatory agencies, local standards, and established facility guidelines when implementing visual cues, designing safety protocols, or training employees on best practices. All warehouse safety rules should comply with existing industry regulations and standards.

Common Safety Hazards in Warehouses

The first step to creating a safer warehouse is understanding which risks employees will most likely encounter. These warehouse safety hazards are among the most common causes of injury in the workplace and the source of frequent OSHA citations.

Slips, Trips, and Falls

It’s no wonder that slips, trips, and falls are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries. Warehouses are rife with situations where employees may lose their footing. OSHA offers extensive guidelines regarding walking/working surfaces—from loading docks and elevated walkways to ramps, aisles, and other uneven surfaces—including precautions against falls and trips. Supplement guardrails and other safety methods with striped hazard and anti-slip tape to minimize trip and fall–related hazards.¹

Manual Handling and Ergonomics

Overexertion accounts for a large percentage of workplace injuries. Warehouse workers must complete a variety of daily manual tasks, including lifting, pulling, and handling heavy loads. Employees also spend a significant amount of time on their feet, leading to fatigue and muscle-related strain and injuries. OSHA urges ergonomics as an approach to preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that can result from consistent exposure to risk factors.²

Forklift Accidents

Forklifts and similar vehicles facilitate quick movement of goods in a warehouse, but pose significant risk to pedestrians or operators who are not paying attention. OSHA standards for powered industrial trucks outline requirements for usage, maintenance, operation, and storage to ensure the safety of drivers and pedestrians alike.³

Hazardous Materials

In warehouses in which chemicals are handled, proper storage and labeling of primary and secondary containers is critical to ensuring employee and facility safety.⁴  Safety hinges on meticulous management of hazardous materials to reduce the risk of accidents, misidentification, misuse, or spills. Proper storage and labeling of primary and secondary containers—including chemicals for cleaning, flammable liquids, or corrosive acids—requires clear identification and storage that complies with regulations. Chemical labeling contributes to a well-managed system, safeguarding both personnel and the facility itself.

Fire and Electrical Hazards

Electrical and fire hazards pose risks to employee safety and can also result in significant property damage if not properly addressed. Hazards in warehouses may include exposed or incorrect wiring, heating equipment, combustible liquids, or highly flammable materials stored or used on the premises. OSHA Requires appropriate PPE for any employee who may be exposed to electrical hazards, and the organization also offers specific recommendations for safety around electrical panels, including clearance requirements and visual cues.⁵

Machinery and Equipment Safety

Heavy machinery can pose a variety of safety risks to employees, especially those who are not equipped with the proper safety equipment or adequate training. Lockout and tagout procedures and machine guarding⁶ are all subject to specific guidelines under OSHA, and visual cues and signage can help reinforce those standards, improve equipment safety, and minimize pinch point injuries.⁷ 

Falling Object Risks

Warehouse goods stored on tall racks or shelves pose falling object risks to anybody walking or working below. For maximum safety, managers must implement adequate signage, establish protocols for stable storage, and mandate proper PPE use in areas where falling objects may occur. Managers must also inspect and maintain racks and shelving regularly to prevent collapse.⁸

Tips and Best Practices for Warehouse Hazard Prevention

For managers wanting to make a warehouse a safer place to work, these practical tips to minimize hazards and prevent injury for employees and visitors.

Implement Thorough Housekeeping Procedures

When a warehouse is clean and clutter-free, there is less potential for injury. Ensure aisles are kept clear, items are returned to their proper places, and any liquid or solid-material spills are dealt with promptly. Implement Lean and 5S practices for organization, including installing visual cues to remind employees, delivery drivers, and visitors of safety protocols. Color-coded markings can indicate proper storage, while custom signs and tape with text and graphics can provide reminders to keep aisles and pathways clear.

Provide Regular Training and Education for Employees

Employee training should be an ongoing process, with managers providing easy access to resources and transparent communication regarding best practices and established protocols. Mark SDS resources locations with pre-cut kits so they can be found easily by employees, store safety manuals in a conspicuous, well-marked space in the main office area, and ensure safety equipment (including AEDs, first aid kits, and eyewash stations) are clearly marked and that all employees are trained to use them properly. Additionally, anyone who operates forklifts or other heavy-duty machinery or vehicles must be certified and undergo regular refresher training.

Require Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) 

From helmets to hearing protection, PPE is an essential element of a safe workplace or warehouse. Follow PPE guidelines from OSHA and ANSI, and install visual cues throughout the warehouse to reinforce your protocols: Custom signs can provide reminders about the importance of PPE in a given area while repeating message floor tape in a bright, visible color can outline in which locations certain PPE is required. 

Promote a Safety Culture

Visual cues are a key part of a safety culture. Adding safety to 5S encourages an environment of continuous improvement, where each employee plays an active role in ensuring the implementation and observance of safety- and productivity-focused initiatives. Superior Mark ™ tape and signs are easy to apply and remove, so you can implement safety-focused floor markings then adjust or update when processes and protocols change to reflect evolving best practices for warehouse safety.

Conduct Regular Inspections and Maintenance

Ensure ongoing compliance with external and internal safety standards by conducting frequent inspections of relevant work areas. Managers should also perform regular preventative maintenance on any equipment that’s essential to daily operations. Regular inspections correlate with continuous improvement, the final step of a 5S approach to workplace management.

Establish Emergency Response Protocols

Emergency preparedness is central to workplace safety. Managers and employees alike should be trained to respond quickly and effectively in any emergency. Post OSHA-compliant signage for first aid kits, AEDs, fire extinguishers, and other safety equipment. Exit routes and egress paths must be clearly and conspicuously marked so workers and guests can quickly evacuate the premises during an emergency.

Improved employee safety should be a key objective in warehouses and industrial facilities, which are prone to physical hazards. Follow our practical safety tips for warehouse managers, then explore our Resource Center for more tips for improving your workplace environment.

Sources:

  1. https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.22 
  2. https://www.osha.gov/ergonomics
  3. https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.178 
  4. https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.1200
  5. https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.335 
  6. https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.212 
  7. https://www.osha.gov/control-hazardous-energy 
  8. https://www.osha.gov/warehousing/hazards-solutions