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Warehouse Safety

Nurturing a Warehouse Culture of Safety

May 18, 2021
The processes and technologies of a safe workplace environment puts people first.

A safe environment is critical to creating an efficient and productive workplace. But with unpredictable challenges popping up every day, maintaining a safe, healthy and reliable workplace can be difficult, allowing potential risks to go unnoticed. For warehouse managers and third-party logistics providers (3PLs) alike, the best way to provide this is by establishing and nurturing a deep company culture of safety.

A culture of safety means wellness is the driving force behind all operations and is ultimately powered by the employees on the warehouse floor. The easiest way to approach this is through a holistic strategy that includes optimized processes, solutions and policies that encourage employees to think more safely every day. From highly visible key performance indicators (KPIs), to routine personnel training, to data-driven telematics solutions—any warehouse can be made safer and more secure, ultimately reducing workplace accidents, and increasing employee satisfaction. When organizations maintain a culture of safety at every level, employees are protected, operations are streamlined, and companies have the tools to succeed.

A Safe Workplace Starts with Trained and Empowered Employees

A true culture of safety is not driven solely by managers and executives but is led by the employees on the warehouse floor. From their first day of employment onward, safety must be ingrained as a top priority for all associates. The best way to establish this foundation is through an effective KPI-driven training program that teaches, motivates and reinforces safety knowledge. The right training program prevents injury and illness, and ultimately empowers associates to be productive and engaged team members.

A comprehensive training program should touch on a variety of key safety factors, including material handling equipment (MHE) operations, lifting techniques for pickers, workplace violence vigilance and remediation, and health and hygiene protocols. KPIs can be established to provide employees with an achievable goal, allowing them to hold themselves and each other accountable to maintain safety and wellness constantly. To encourage mindfulness, managers can always find creative ways to keep these KPIs top of mind, whether through highly visible informational posters or by celebrating safety achievements and milestones, no matter how small. When associates can clearly see safety as a priority amongst their peers and managers, they prioritize it as well and have the confidence to achieve peak performance knowing their wellbeing is protected.

While training is often at the core of any warehouse’s safety strategy, it should always be considered a work in progress. Safety training programs should never remain static and unchanging—as organizations face new challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic to changes in demand, they must be able to adjust their safety protocols accordingly to provide protection. Routine security and risk audits can provide insight into new safety threats, as well as where training is succeeding and where it requires additional reinforcement, allowing managers to tailor training to their employees and warehouse’s unique needs. By keeping safety protocols and training fluid, organizations can remain prepared for the unexpected.

Creating a circular feedback loop on safety processes and training is a crucial component of any workplace safety strategy. Ultimately, the associates on the floor understand the warehouse’s safety challenges better than anyone, and to truly create an employee-led culture of safety they must be able to shape the protocols and training put in place to protect them. Management needs to provide easily accessible outlets to empower employees to offer suggestions and feedback on safety processes.

Advancing Safety Protocols through Data-Driven Innovation

Once proper KPIs and training are in place, organizations can support and optimize these efforts through technological innovation. Technology and data have proven to be two of the most powerful tools available to warehouses when it comes to mitigating the risk of injury or illness. When strategically integrated, they become a key component of any culture of safety.

One such example of technology that optimizes safety measures is telematics. When integrated with material handling equipment, telematics solutions provide warehouse management with streamlined employee performance data, such as impact and incident reporting. By analyzing operator behaviors, managers can identify where gaps in safety and security are occurring, allowing them to work one-on-one with associates to retrain. For further protection, these solutions can also require operators to complete Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance checklists before they can leverage the equipment, adding another layer of safety.

Warehouse associates like pickers are particularly at risk for injury, as their job requires constant bending, lifting and twisting. As a result, wearable technology is another solution leading the way in warehouse wellness by putting ergonomic safety in the hands of employees. Usually clipped on the shirt collar, these wearable devices use sensors with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to train associates to move and lift safely in real time. Should an individual make a hazardous movement, the device can provide audio and vibration biofeedback alerting them to the risk, and even prescribe corrective actions in the moment through an app. Management can access this data to see where their employees are potentially straining themselves, allowing them to adjust training accordingly. These devices create greater awareness amongst warehouse workers, protecting their wellbeing while maximizing productivity.

One of the greatest barriers to warehouse safety lies in employee turnover. It can be challenging to ensure all associates are receiving the correct level of training when grappling with unexpected incoming and outgoing employees, and it’s especially difficult when relying on traditional paper-based tracking methods. To avoid the typical headaches of manual training processes, learning management systems (LMS) can be implemented to automatically monitor and report on employees’ completed training programs, and even remind them when they require additional certification. By streamlining the training process through an LMS, managers can avoid training oversights, maximize their programs for associates’ benefit, and ensure the warehouse remains OSHA compliant.

Creating a Culture of Safety that is Prepared for the Unexpected

Workplace health and safety have always been crucial in warehouse environments, but the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how vital they are to employee satisfaction and productivity, and how easily they can be disrupted by the unexpected. Warehouses need to invest in flexible, comprehensive and innovative safety processes and solutions that put people first.

When organizations create an unshakeable culture of safety, employees are empowered to succeed with the confidence that their wellbeing is protected at every level. By supporting safety training and processes with the latest in workplace technologies, any warehouse can make this vision a reality.

Miguel Triviño is director of environmental, health and safety for Kenco Logistics, a third-party logistics provider.