According to the U.S. Department of Labor, slip and fall accidents are responsible for 15 percent of all accidental deaths and 25 percent of all injury claims on the job. For a business, these injuries may cost an average of $41,000. Slip and fall incidents qualify as “general injury accidents” and have potential to occur across a broad range of workplaces.
Yet, not all work environments have the same hazards or propensity for general injury accidents. Based on findings from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), warehouses have a higher-than-average risk for such injuries. What makes a warehouse different from or more hazardous than a restaurant or office building?
About Warehouse Settings
As one contributing factor, warehouse facilities have a different layout, as well as docks and loading areas that can present multiple hazards.
There is also the nature of the warehouse itself, which may be used to store anything from merchandise to materials that could spill or melt and become a slip hazard.
The work performed in a warehouse setting also exposes employees to a range of potential injuries, stemming from conveyors and other equipment that can catch clothing, forklifts and routine lifting.
Preventing Workplace Slips and Falls
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has multiple regulations and standards for reducing slips, trips and falls in the workplace. Among them is 29 CFR 1910.22-.30, applying to walking-working surfaces. It provides general industry recommendations to avoid clutter, protruding objects and wet conditions that can increase the incidence of slip and falls, no matter the job or industry.
Furthermore, OSHA has highlighted additional factors contributing to slips and falls in warehouses and other workplaces, including limited or no training and reduced awareness of safety hazards. Based on current OSHA data, slips, trips and falls are responsible for nearly 20 percent of all fatal accidents.
With these OSHA regulations and standards in mind, multiple factors can increase slip and fall injuries in a warehouse setting.
Clutter from Pallets and Merchandise
Pallets take up a significant amount of room, whether stored away or left out in the open. Leaving a pallet in the middle of the floor, especially in areas where workers are carrying other items or may be distracted by other tasks, can be a trip incident waiting to happen.
Based on guidance from OSHA, pallets should remain structurally sound and, if not, discarded. Workers must also clean up and move the pallet after use, rather than leaving it on the floor.
Warehouses today, especially for large ecommerce operations and shipping companies, store a massive amount of merchandise. Some may be kept on a pallet, other items come down belts and most items are on shelves or stored in bins, awaiting to be packed for delivery.
Beyond a pallet spilling merchandise everywhere, individual products or groups of merchandise should not be left in the middle of a floor or walkway. It’s recommended that warehouses provide guidance for handling merchandise to avoid clutter and trip hazards on the floor and shelves.
Even when a floor is free of merchandise and pallets, the surface itself may be a hazard – for instance, rough or uneven, containing loose cords or with carpeting that easily bunches. There’s also the issue of weather, specifically how moisture, ice and snow are tracked in near entrances.
To address these areas, it’s recommended warehouses implement non-slip mats and adhesive stripping to increase traction. At entrances, moisture-absorbent mats with beveled edges hold onto any water tracked into the facility and are less likely to bunch up. Signage and barriers should also be used to indicate a potential slip hazard.
Especially when an ongoing issue is not addressed, poor lighting can further compromise visibility and increase the risk of slips, trips and falls. As such, all areas of the warehouse should be sufficiently lit, allowing workers to see clutter, equipment, obstructions and stairways.
Slick, Slippery Surfaces
A warehouse’s surfaces can quickly become slippery if merchandise is spilled. This incident not only affects employees walking through the facility but can turn deadly for workers using a forklift.
Warehouses store a range of supplies and items, but facilities providing food storage or used for material handling have higher risks. Foods or ice may melt, causing a puddle to form on the floor, or a container may accidentally tip over, resulting in an oily substance pooling over a larger area.
As with any slip and fall prevention strategy, a warehouse needs to anticipate these instances and have the supplies ready to quickly clean it up.
Forklifts, which present their own set of hazards, may be used for moving pallets and large merchandise. In other instances, workers do this themselves.
While workers may be more stable with their feet on the ground, some employees could be required to climb as high as 20 feet for certain items, reach with a tool or use a man-aboard order picker. In these scenarios, a few hazards may contribute to a fall, including:
- Merchandise that falls from the shelf and hits the employee.
- Workers having to bend or reach too far to access a product.
- Improper handling, possibly stemming from insufficient training.
- Workers losing their footing while standing on a man-aboard order picker.
Insufficient Safety Gear and Training
To reduce slip and fall risks in a warehouse, workers should be informed about appropriate footwear: Particularly, slip-resistant boots with electrical hazard protection and a steel toe to reduce crush injuries.
Beyond shoes, management should educate workers about their full attire – for instance, how loose clothing and jewelry can get caught on belts and conveyors. Safety procedures also need to be part of training, including how to avoid slip and fall injuries, respond to a spill and identify potential slip, trip and fall hazards.
On the other hand, management and higher-level staff should be briefed on maintaining the facility to reduce these hazards and any subsequent injuries. Solutions may include:
- Regular observance of work areas by management.
- A facility-wide housekeeping program.
- A safety prevention program that rewards staff for appropriate on-the-job behavior.
Depending on the injury’s nature and the worker’s relationship with the warehouse, a slip and fall accident could be a personal injury or workers’ compensation lawsuit. To pursue your claim, contact Trantolo & Trantolo today.