December 13, 2022

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Warehouse safety

Four ways to keep warehouse staff safe this Christmas

Operational demand within warehousing and logistics always ramps up at this time of year. But new starters, tight deadlines and busy working environments all increase the risk of an accident. Stuart Taylor of Mentor FLT Training highlights what managers can do to keep everyone safe.

The winter months see a workload surge within the warehouse sector, what with Black Friday deals, Christmas, and January sales orders to fulfil. But this sector has been struggling with staff levels for some time, made worse by the pandemic and by Brexit. A recent study found that more than 80% of companies have experienced warehouse staff shortages in the past two years.

For many businesses, this might mean moving employees into different roles to cover shortages, or asking them to work in unfamiliar environments/areas. Other businesses may turn to recruitment, often looking to agency workers to supplement staff levels.

But if staff are not adequately trained to start a new job safely, they put themselves, and those around them in danger. In fact, research suggests workers are up to four times more likely to be involved in an accident during the first month of their employment.

So what can you do to minimise accident risk during the seasonal rush?

Assess operational skills

The first thing employers should do is verify experience and qualifications of new staff. In the UK, there is no such thing as a ‘forklift licence’, but trained operators do receive certificates demonstrating that they have successfully completed basic training on a specified category of truck. Take the time to check their certification, when it was issued and whether the training received was accredited. If they don’t have copies, training providers or accrediting bodies should be able to help with confirmation.

If putting existing staff in a new role using different equipment, ensure their qualifications cover them for that new truck, or arrange conversion training if it doesn’t.

The next stage is to assess the operator’s current skill levels. This will help gauge the standards to which they are currently working and determine what training is required before they can safely begin using forklift trucks on your site. This can be carried out by an external provider or in-house by a qualified, competent person.

Provide sufficient training

All operators required to use materials handling equipment must be fully trained on the relevant equipment types before being allowed access to use them on site. This should not be a case of providing the minimum training required, simply to ‘tick a box’. It should be about ensuring that all three elements of forklift training (basic, job specific and familiarisation) have been completed, and followed up with any additional supervision required, so that your new starters are ready to start work safely.

Though they may only be with you for a short time, it’s vital that agency workers are not overlooked in this process, as they will be unfamiliar with the site so are at high risk of accidents. Employers will likely want them to join colleagues on the shop floor as soon as possible, and they may be under pressure to provide support to a team working flat out but, without the relevant training, they are putting their colleagues, and themselves, in danger by going into a busy workplace untrained.

Contractors and agency workers have their own section in the HSE’s definitive forklift safety publication – L117 Approved Code of Practice for Rider-Operated Lift Trucks. L117 reminds employers of their duty of care to temporary and casual staff. That is, you are every bit as responsible for the safety of an agency worker on their first day, as you are for someone with many decades in a role.

Studies show that proper training ensures staff are not only safer, but they’re also better equipped to make a positive, productive contribution, whether they work there for a few weeks, months, or long term.

Once all relevant training has been completed, employers must give any operator (including temporary and agency workers) written authorisation before they can use a truck.

Protect pedestrians

Not all warehouse workers will be forklift operators. Many will be working around them on foot. Ensure sufficient segregation between lift trucks and pedestrians where possible, ideally using physical barriers, or with clearly marked walkways at the very least. Again, new or temporary workers are particularly at risk, and must be made aware of site layouts and routes.

Remember, those most at risk of serious injury from a lift truck accident are those working in the vicinity of the trucks, not the operators themselves, so awareness for those working alongside MHE is key. There are specialist forklift safety training courses available for non-operatives which highlight the risks to help them understand the importance of staying vigilant in order to keep themselves and their colleagues out of harm’s way.

Put a stop to unsafe practice

At this time of year when the pressure is on, staff might be tempted to cut corners under the wrongful assumption they are saving time. It’s crucial therefore, that all staff – be they operators or pedestrians, new, temporary or existing – are adequately supervised to ensure bad practice does not develop.

Managers and supervisors have a legal duty of care to identify unsafe working practices and rectify them. For example, look out for operators overloading lift trucks in an effort to reduce the number of trips, or speeding around site. Bad practice like this increases the risk of collisions, lost loads, damage, instability and tip overs, which result in serious injuries, costly downtime, missed deadlines, lost stock or equipment damage, amongst a long list of other potential consequences. These are all things every business wants to avoid, particularly at these crucial peak times.

It is the company’s responsibility to ensure that all staff working with or around lift trucks are aware of the risks before they start their roles. Ensuring that suitable training has been provided is therefore an essential step in the onboarding process and cannot be overlooked. No matter how busy your operations are this Christmas, don’t risk an accident. Help everyone get home safe.

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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