Business continues to ramp up amid the loosening COVID-19 restrictions. And, when it comes to warehouses and factory distribution centers, we can expect business to shift into high gear in the coming weeks. The reason: material handling season is underway, and autumn will soon give way to the holiday rush. Retailers will be looking to keep their shelves stocked, optimize their supply chain and – perhaps most importantly – satisfy buyers. To keep up with demand, materials, containers and products need to be transported from one point to another. This means energized moving parts, machinery and the possibility of injury if the equipment isn’t used properly.
During this time, it’s important to keep forklift and material handling safety top of mind – particularly as more people head back to work. Read on for our material handling safety tips, including forklift safety practices specific to the COVID-19 climate.
Why Safety Is
Important When Moving and Handling Materials
Surge times in material handling comes with a significant downside: the strain put on manufacturers to keep up with demand. In the world of retail and parcel delivery, "timing is everything" is no mere cliché – it truly is everything. Overnight and two-day delivery promises start on the factory floor. Conveyors help to get boxes and packages where they need to go, but people have to be on the line and aware of what's moving to finish the job – and fast.
It's in factory professionals' haste to move product from one point to another that can lead to injury, some of them quite severe, as documented by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Conveyors can lead to minor, yet still debilitating injuries – like pinched fingers and sore hands, at best – to fractured forearms and severe disfigurements at worst, sometimes requiring amputation. Forklifts carry their own set of unique hazards, including those that cause severe injuries and fatalities. Accidents like these can be quite serious for the workers involved but also for the company, leading to losses both in productivity and profits. To drive this point home further, in 2019 ‘powered industrial trucks’ took the number 7 spot on OSHA’s top 10 safety violations list.
Material Handling Safety Tips
To keep users of material handling equipment protected, improve conveyor safety and maintain an uninterrupted supply chain on the part of retailers, here are a few material handling safety tips to ensure your peak season goes off without a hitch.
- Perform Preventive
Materials can't get to the right places without reliable distribution equipment. That's why it's important to conduct a full systems assessment in the days and weeks leading up to distribution centers' busy season. Are motors properly lubricated? Are conveyor belts frayed or making odd noises? Are forklifts safe for operation? These are all questions you should ask and answer so equipment doesn't break down at the worst possible time. Original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) can also provide an annual assessment to keep you informed of any upgrades needed. In addition, a label assessment can help improve safety on original and upgraded machinery.
- Plan Ahead to Optimize
Just as contractors use certain kinds of machinery more than others to do their jobs – like scroll saws or nail guns – the same is true for factory and manufacturing facility workers. Think about the parts that will get the most use when orders intensify and have replacements ready so that they can be quickly swapped out should they become damaged or worn.
- Keep a Checklist
An optimal supply chain hinges on consistency – performing the same job functions, checks and assignments every day, week or month. Be sure to implement and maintain a routine checklist at the start of every workday, for example, so conveyors and forklifts don't miss a beat when the heat is on and deadlines approach.
- Use Common Sense
As the old saying goes, there's nothing more uncommon than common sense, but in distribution centers, don't let this axiom fool you. If you see something that a worker shouldn't be doing or if unusual noises are emanating from the conveyor motor or belt, take the appropriate actions to correct the matter. Complete daily checks of forklifts and ensure that any required maintenance is performed. Ensure that your facility is outfitted with forklift warnings.
- Conduct an
Inventory is an indispensable aspect to any business that deals with customer demand for products and services, and this is certainly true in factories and distribution facilities. Performing an inventory assessment can help you determine what spare parts to order now so you're not stranded when malfunctions or misfires occur.
- Train to Help
Whether you use an online training system, manuals or something more interactive so workers can learn by doing, training provides the knowledge your crew needs to remember – and implement – the rules of operation and proper code of conduct. Even employees who have been through training before should go through it again from time to time, which serves as a refresher.
- Update Safety
While factory crews may know intuitively that conveyors and material handling equipment can lead to injury, it's not enough to rely on their instinctive understanding to keep them all protected from harm. Conveyor safety labels not only help you meet OSHA requirements, but help keep workers safe from crush hazards, moving equipment and other risks. Material handling labels help highlight hazards related to moving material – including lift and clearance warnings.
- Make Full Use of
Symbols and Colors
Words have meaning, but they truly resonate when they're used in combination with other visual forms of communication, such as symbols, pictures and vivid colors on safety labels and signs. Assess your labeling system. If it hasn't been updated in a while or doesn't convey the proper level of warning or sense of urgency, consider an overhaul and have your signs custom designed.
Forklift Safety in the COVID-19 Environment
As the economy reopens and work shifts from essential-only industries to all encompassing, warehouses are opening their doors and forklifts are operating in full swing. With that, workers and contractors who regularly interact with industrial trucks can be exposed to potential COVID-19 transmission risk without practicing proper sanitation measures. Developing a plan that prioritizes safety and minimizes the risk of exposure is key. Here’s a compiled list of important steps to follow to reduce virus transmission in the workplace:
- Provide Adequate Equipment: Equipping employees and contractors with proper sanitation supplies and PPE equipment can mobilize them to adhere to CDC guidelines and other social distancing and hygiene protocols. Practicing sanitation regularly helps to limit the airborne spread of viruses.
- Assess Forklift Touchpoints: By nature, forklifts have several touchpoints, and knowing them is important to keeping them sanitized while being used or repaired. Assess the high-touch areas when entering the truck, when sitting down inside the truck and other high-touch areas related to the truck’s storage.
- Make Sanitation a Regular Practice: To best avoid exposure, all workers and visitors who use forklifts should regularly wipe them down before and after each use. Consistent cleaning and sanitation of forklifts and related work areas is key. Create a pre-shift and post-shift sanitation checklist to ensure compliance.
Adjusting safety and health practices to adapt to the COVID-19 era is critical to keeping people safe in the new workplace climate. Implementing forklift sanitation best practices helps keep health and hygiene a top priority.
Effective Material Handling Warnings
Material handling, as crucial as it is to manufacturing, warehousing and nearly every industry, poses daily health and safety risks if not properly managed. Assessing and mitigating these risks – whether from forklifts or moving parts on equipment – helps to keep people safe around the transport of materials. As business resumes be sure to keep safety top of mind with effective visual safety communication. Get in touch, and let us know how we can help.
This blog was originally posted on 10/15/18 and has been updated with additional information throughout.