Why Ergonomic Practices Should Be a Focus of Warehouse Safety

woman looking at the Warehouse Safety
Warehouse Safety Checklist


Ergonomic Practices Should Be a Focus of Warehouse Safety

Businesses must know how to prevent warehouse injuries. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration estimates that American companies spend $1billion weekly in workers' compensation costs for disabling, non-fatal workplace incidents. Fatalities have an even higher sticker price and you can't put a tag on the human loss.

Some accidents are unavoidable — that's why they're called accidents. However, businesses have the absolute power to prevent repetitive motion injuries. Fatigue plays a major role in these injuries, making workers more prone to distractions that lead to injury. Warehouses and the healthcare sector are perhaps the two industries most plagued by these types of damages. Fortunately, paying closer attention to ergonomics can considerably reduce the problem.

Companies are ethically responsible for providing safe working conditions for their staff members. Furthermore, doing so could save them billions on their bottom line. These are only two reasons why ergonomic practices should be a focus of warehouse safety. Continue reading to learn more and get your warehouse ergonomics checklist to improve working conditions at your facility.

What Are Common Repetitive Use Injuries?

It's impossible to overstate the toll that repetitive use injuries can have. 2019 alone saw over 5,300 reported deaths. While these weren't all attributable to preventable causes, many were. Long hours on the warehouse floor without attention to proper safety and care procedures expose workers to stress fractures, strains, and overexertion. Pain takes a toll on the psyche, causing a lack of focus that can lead to more severe accidents.

However, not every repetitive use injury results in death. They're more likely to lead to long-term disabilities that interfere with your employees' quality of life. Companies can save money by performing routine ergonomic assessments examining factors like lighting that can contribute to stressful work environments.

What are the most common dangers? 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, traumatic injuries, strains, tears, and sprains are among the most frequently seen, although others play a role:

  • Tendonitis: This condition refers to inflammation of the connective tissue linking muscles to bones and other structures, such as your eyeball. It includes injuries such as tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, and rotator cuff injuries. However, it also affects your lower body, most notably your lower back, hips, and knees. The skin around the inflamed area may be red or warm to the touch.
  • Bursitis: Your joints are encased by fluid-filled sacs called bursae. When these become damaged or infected, swelling results. This condition most notably affects the hips, knees, and elbows.
  • Stress fractures: This condition often occurs when muscles get too weak from overuse to support nearby structures effectively. Bones develop tiny cracks when the surrounding tissue can no longer absorb the added shock.
  • Back injuries: Back injuries are common in warehouses. They often occur when the discs between vertebrae become overly worn, a condition known as degenerative disk disease. Untreated trauma to the back can result in stenosis, which occurs when the bones around the spinal cord shrink, causing pain and numbness in the extremities.

Failing to rest and treat such injuries can lead to more severe and lasting damage. 

For example, untreated tendonitis can result in tendon rupture, a painful condition requiring correct surgery and a long recovery time. Likewise, failing to treat bursitis can result in chronic inflammation and pain.

Unfortunately, most warehouse workers earn hourly wages, and taking sufficient time off for rest simply isn't possible in many cases without coming up short on rent. Therefore, many employees choose to push through, putting them at severe risk of more serious injuries and permanent disabilities. This problem multiplies in environments emphasizing productivity to the detriment of human health.

Such organizations need to realize failure to care for their staff hurts their bottom line. It can cost several months' salary to get a new employee up to snuff after an old one departs due to disability. That price tag doesn't include the amount organizations must pay in worker's compensation claims or even negligence lawsuits in severe cases.

Beyond the bottom line, protecting worker safety is a human rights issue. Article 23 of the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights decrees everyone has the right to just and favorable conditions of work and the right to fair remuneration for their efforts. Forcing individuals to labor in ways threatening their health and continued functionality violates these principles.

Here, too, businesses want to tread carefully. While the UN may not beat down any CEO doors threatening enforcement action, today's consumers are savvier than ever. In a recent Harris Poll, 82% of people reported they prefer to buy from companies whose values match theirs and are willing to vote with their wallets. Forcing people to work in dangerous conditions for starvation wages isn't a good look — and it will drive profits away.

Warehouse safety
Keep safety rules in mind at the warehouse

The Role of Ergonomics in Preventing Accidents

Ergonomics plays a crucial role in workplace safety and accident prevention. Perhaps the quickest way to prevent warehouse injuries is to create conditions where such mishaps are less likely to occur.

What are ergonomics? 

This discipline aims to eliminate the aches, pains, and risks of injury due to work by modifying the workplace to fit the laborer — not the other way around. 

An ergonomist evaluates three factors known as Ergonomics Stressors:

  • Force: How much physical effort is required to complete the task?
  • Positioning: Does the work require the laborer to get into awkward or uncomfortable positions and hold them for a considerable period?
  • Repetitiveness: How often must the individual perform the same motions?

These characteristics interact with one another. 

For example, someone could perform a task requiring considerable force one or two times before reaching exhaustion. They may be able to do less strenuous motions dozens of times in an hour — but doing so when standing on hard concrete puts them in a more stressful position.

How to Prevent Warehouse Injuries

It's critical for warehouse supervisors to know how to prevent workplace injuries. However, knowledge isn't enough. Each facility should have a checklist in place for performing tasks safely and ergonomically to avoid repetitive use injuries and enforce the rules, not encourage workarounds to up productivity goals.

While the specifics of preventing warehouse injuries may vary slightly from facility to facility, certain general rules apply. Supervisors should implement the following measures.

1. Allow Time

While production targets are understandable, don't let them supersede human needs. Give workers a few minutes at the beginning of their shift to perform a dynamic stretching warmup and let them take breaks every 20 to 30 minutes to rest. Allow employees to stop or modify activities causing them pain.

2. Allow Space

Crowded workplaces came to the forefront during COVID-19 and many workers complained about sharing close quarters. However, it isn't only pandemic risks posing dangers. Part of preventing warehouse injuries entails giving laborers adequate space to bend, stretch and perform their tasks without the risk of running into another individual or piece of equipment.

3. Allow Variety

Repetitive motion injuries may not directly kill but can lead to fatalities by distracting workers. Furthermore, they lead to disability, meaning employers must train replacement staff. That's not to mention the human toll of being unable to work when your labor is all you have to offer.

Whenever possible, allow workers to alternate activities throughout the day. Choose actions that incorporate different muscle groups. 

For example, an employee might stand and walk stacking and loading boxes in the morning, then switch to seated assembly line work in the afternoon.

4. Allow for Training 

Humans aren't born instinctively knowing how to lift with their legs or avoid sharp, twisting motions. They'll often do whatever seems most practical at the time — until it starts to hurt.

Have regular training where you discuss and demonstrate proper lifting techniques. Find the most ergonomic ways of operating various equipment and share these with your workforce. Teach staff members to use two hands while lifting.

5. Allow Breaks 

Physical labor is tiring, so allow workers adequate time for breaks. Don't set unrealistic standards or impose disciplinary measures for returning from lunch a minute or two late. Sometimes, there's a line at the restroom or microwave, and those who use their bodies to work need nourishment and rest to perform.

Warehouse Ergonomics Checklist for Facility Managers

How can you remember everything you need to remember to protect your staff daily? 

Here's a handy warehouse ergonomics checklist for facility managers that can help you take better care of your team:

  • Have you provided ergonomics training? Have you trained everyone on the floor in proper lifting techniques? Do they know what movements to avoid to prevent injury?
  • Do you have an injury reporting system? What should a worker do if they feel like they might be suffering a repetitive motion injury? Is management prepared to shift them to an alternative position or give necessary breaks?
  • Is all equipment in proper working order? Have you met all scheduled maintenance requirements? Have you performed routine testing to ensure everything is functioning as it should?
  • Do you have effective safety procedures in place? Does your warehouse follow OSHA guidelines to prevent slips and falls, keep workers safe from hazardous materials and prevent them from getting trapped in equipment or small spaces? Do you require all workers to wear hard hats to avoid injury from items falling from warehouse shelves? Are there adequate fire extinguishers on the floor and have you written evacuation procedures to prevent workers from inhaling dangerous fumes after an electrical or chemical fire?
  • Is the temperature adequate for labor? Does your facility have sufficient AC and fans to keep workers comfortable and prevent heat-related illness?

Improving Ergonomic Practices for Increased Warehouse Safety

Improper warehouse safety costs businesses billions of dollars each year. However, they can stop many problems from occurring by employing ergonomic practices to avoid repetitive use injuries. Now that you know how to prevent warehouse injuries, create your warehouse ergonomics checklist and make your place a safer space for work.

Author: Beth Rush is the content manager and Managing Editor at Body+Mind. She is a well-respected writer in the personal wellness space and shares knowledge on various topics related to nutrition, fitness, holistic health, mental health, and disease prevention. In her spare time, Beth enjoys going for runs and trying out new fitness trends.

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