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Cliff Holste

Supply Chain Digest
Material Handling Editor

Logistics News

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

October 19, 2016

Logistics News : Maintaining Workplace Safety During Peak Shipping Season

Safety is Everybody’s Business!


As the very busy peak shipping season approaches, shippers often bring in large numbers of temporary workers who may not be familiar with the DC environment. Therefore, workplace safety training is critical to avoiding serious accidents.

In order for shippers to achieve optimal workplace safety, everyone must believe in its importance and be held accountable for supporting it. This begins with being aware of situations that have previously contributed to accidents and that can be addressed to prevent future accidents.

Holste Says...

Management should seriously consider discharging supervisors and employees who do not report accidents in their areas, or who do not address unsafe conditions or behavior they know about.

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According to industry experts, that means going beyond simply reporting that someone was injured. It is just as important to document where, when and how the accident occurred. Logically, if you know that someone was injured picking a certain SKU from a certain rack location, you can find out if it was just a chance occurrence, or if there is a potential unsafe condition at that rack location.

Top management has to hold supervisors accountable, and supervisors have to hold employees accountable for what happens in the workplace. Management should seriously consider discharging supervisors and employees who do not report accidents in their areas, or who do not address unsafe conditions or behavior they know about.

Once it’s known why an accident occurred, it’s important to take corrective action to prevent it from happening again. This can be done by breaking a process down into the component steps to see if there’s another way to perform the task and minimize risk.

Another important step is education and training. In addition to educating employees on how to do a job, they need to be trained on all the safety aspects of doing the job in the DC environment. It’s easy to assume that all forklift injuries happen to operators. But forklift pedestrian injuries are common, and sometimes it’s the pedestrian rather than the forklift operator who’s to blame.

Management should never let employees forget that they have an obligation to take some responsibility for their own protection. It means constantly reminding people that safety is not just a safety committee member’s job – it’s everyone’s job. It could make the difference between them going home from work or going to the hospital.

The Following Are Typical High Risk Practices

  • Unsafe conditions: These include spills on the floor, sharp protruding edged and unprotected machinery, as well as pallets and other obstructions in the aisles.
  • Unsafe processes: DC tasks, like loading and unloading trailers, are inherently risky. But managers can create safe processes for those tasks. For example; some facilities don’t have dock locks on trailers – by giving every lift truck operator an orange cone to put out front of a trailer he/she is loading or unloading and a lock for the trailer air hose, a driver can’t pull away with the trailer.
  • Unsafe behaviors: Speeding lift truck drivers, improper handling of box cutters and horse play around the loading docks all lead to accidents. Yet unsafe behavior is the least likely behavior to be policed. Supervisors are busy, and it’s easy to let something slide because they’re busy doing something else when it happens. But they have to recognize a risk when it happens and take action so it doesn’t happen again.

Companies who are focused on safety are bound to be more productive and profitable than those who are not. This becomes obvious when you consider the financial impact on the bottom line. Depending on profit margin, the business may need to generate an additional $1 million in revenue to offset every $10,000 spent on workers’ compensation claims.

While it’s not hard to get top management’s attention when presented with this reality, it’s often hard to get buy-in from line supervisors and employees who are focused and compensated on productivity. On occasion, this may mean that the company has to educate some management level employees about the value that greater safety brings to the table. Perhaps, putting some “skin-in-the-game”, i.e. a safety related bonus or incentive packages, will get their attention.

Final Thoughts

Over the years we have noticed that one of the characteristics that companies with excellent safety records seem to have in common is that they celebrate their safety successes. In their facilities you will probably find displayed in a prominent place, a huge banner indicating the number of concessive production hours without an injury. And, they will occasionally have a pizza party or barbeque to celebrate reaching an important safety milestone – demonstrating that safety is everybody’s business.

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