Warehouse Safety Laws and OSHA Standards (2021 Update)

Warehouse safety laws and OSHA standards include regulations for workplace hazards. These guidelines address potential problems from electrical issues to portable fire extinguishers. OSHA safety guidelines should be clearly explained, and all employees should be properly trained in following the proper procedures.

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has safety regulations for a variety of workplace hazards
  • The OSHA regulations include a protocol for everything from hazard communication to pallet safety
  • Warehouse safety laws and OSHA standards work together to keep employees and employers safe during accidents

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates safety in American warehouses through a series of standards and protocols. The OSHA was created by the United States Congress under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which President Nixon signed into law in December 1970.

The primary focus of OSHA is the prevention of work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths.

Since the administration was founded, the rate of occupational deaths has declined by a staggering 62%, with injuries also declining by 42%. 

The fatality rate of injuries related to the warehouse industry, however, is higher than the national average across all industries.

At a federal level, approximately 40,000 facilities are inspected by OSHA every year, while an additional 60,000 are inspected by the 26 OSHA organizations operating at a state level. 

Financial penalties resulting from citations issued by the OSHA can range from up to $7,000 for non-serious violations, to as much as $70,000 for serious violations or repeat offenders.

Many publications regarding warehouse safety issues are published by OSHA, as well as the solutions that businesses can adopt to reduce the likelihood of accidents and injury. 

Here are the top areas that elicit citations from OSHA:

  • Hazard communication
  • Forklifts
  • Electrical design
  • Electrical wiring
  • Exits
  • Guarding floor
  • Wall holes and openings
  • Respiratory protection
  • Lockout and tagout
  • Mechanical power transmission
  • Portable fire extinguishers

Hazard Communication

The term “hazard communication” refers to the sharing of information regarding chemical hazards, as well as the associated protective measures that apply and how they are communicated to employers and employees.

Hazardous chemicals can pose a range of health concerns, as well as their potential for creating physical hazards such as corrosion and flammability.

Importers and manufacturers of chemicals must evaluate their hazards and provide detailed information via Material Data Safety Sheets (MSDS) and clear labeling on shipping containers.

The OSHA recommendations for hazard communication measures include:

  • Chemical Knowledge: Training all employees regarding the risks of any chemicals stored or handled
  • Clean Up Kits: Providing kits for spill cleanup in all areas where chemicals are handled and stored
  • Safe Disposal: Training employees to protect themselves appropriately, clean up spills and dispose of used materials properly
  • Safety Plans: Maintaining a written spill control plan
  • Protective Equipment: Providing appropriate personal protective equipment and enforcing its use
  • Safe Storage: Storing all chemicals securely and safely

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Forklift Guidelines

According to OSHA, there are approximately 100 warehouse employees killed and 95,000 injured annually while operating a forklift, with the majority being caused by a forklift turning over.

The second highest percentage cause is being crushed between a forklift and another surface, followed by being struck by one, and then having a dropped load result in being hit by falling material.

The guidelines for safe forklift operation issued by OSHA include:

  • Slow and Steady: Drive safely, slowing down in congested areas and never above 5 mph.
  • Train and Monitor: Train, carefully evaluate, and certify operators to ensure the safety of use, following safety procedures for stacking and picking up/putting downloads
  • Hazard Education: Provide training to employees regarding the associated hazards of forklift operation byproducts, such as carbon monoxide
  • Adequate Space: Ensure that sufficiently safe clearances are maintained at loading docks or passages and isles.

Electrical Safety

Electrical hazards are a common cause of workplace injuries and fatalities – particularly on construction sites and in warehouse environments.

A common electrical hazard is ground fault electrical shock, and the first step towards electrical safety is eliminating or controlling any factors that may pose a hazard in the warehouse.

It is a requirement of OSHA that all employers provide receptacle outlets for ground fault circuit interrupters. Warehouses must also provide an Assured Equipment Grounding Conductor Program. Either of these measures can eliminate ground fault electric shock. 

Eliminating Floor and Wall Holes and Openings

Eliminating fall hazards is the easiest way to avoid warehouse falls, and using fall protection equipment is the best way to achieve this.

There are two types of fall protection, and combining the two ensures the optimal safety of your workers. 

  • Fall Restraint: like full-body harnesses, guard rails, and warning lines – all designed to prevent free fall
  • Fall Arrest: such as the use of safety nets – designed to stop a fall in progress.

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Respiratory Protection

Employers are strictly regulated by OSHA to provide all employees with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for the warehouse environment.

Many accidents occur because, despite being issued with the appropriate PPE, employees fail to wear it, and this is particularly common with respiratory protection. 

In some warehouse environments, toxic airborne substances are always present, which means that respirators should be worn at all times.

Respiratory protection protects the user from any substances, such as dust, fumes, pesticides, or sprays, that could create long term health impairment or even death.

It is therefore vital to ensure that all staff not only use their PPE appropriately but are trained to properly clean and maintain their protective equipment.

Lockout and Tagout

A common citation issued by OSHA is the incorrect usage of tags. Tags are used to identify the hazardous condition of a piece of equipment.

In a warehouse, for example, if an item of equipment is damaged or defective, it is important that the machinery is tagged as “Out of Service” until it is repaired or replaced.

Correct Heavy Lifting 

Improperly lifting heavy items is a major cause of work-related injuries too which can cause additional workers compensation claims. and one that is so easily avoided with the correct training.

Here are some tips for avoiding lifting-related injuries:

  • Estimate the Job: Assess the item to be lifted for weight, size, and shape
  • Prepare Your Body: Stretch your back and legs before lifting 
  • Get Help if Needed: If possible, it is always best to ask someone to help you when lifting something heavy
  • Use a Assistance Available: Use equipment such as a cart or dolly if possible and ensure that the load is evenly balanced
  • Prepare the Space: Clear the path you intend to take prior to lifting
  • Use Correct Form: Bend your knees, firmly grasp with your entire hand, and lower your body to the item’s level 
  • Maintain Safe Posture: Keep your back straight as you lift the item
  • Don’t Strain Your Arms: Keep the load as close to your body as possible
  • Don’t Rush the End: To set the item back down, bend your knees again slowly and lower it to the ground along with your body, not letting go until it has reached the ground.

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Pallet Safety

Another common hazard in warehouses can be pallets, and with approximately 2 billion of them throughout the United States, it’s important to carefully consider how to maintain safety around them. 

Ensuring that you use only reliable and appropriate pallets, never standing them on their end, and never using them as a man lift are some of the key factors to consider when training your staff. 

It also pays to invest in safe, high-quality warehouse storage systems. Additionally, like other potentially hazardous equipment, the use of PPE when working with pallets is essential.

In other words, gloves and safety shoes are a must.

Always Keep Safety in Mind

When a working environment, like a warehouse, incorporates such a wide scope of potential hazards, it’s more important than ever to ensure that all safety protocol is taken seriously and adhered to.

Prevention is certainly better than cure, and all companies ought to consider how to stop workplace injuries before they have to deal with additional problems.

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