Every seven seconds, a workplace injury takes place in the U.S., and the costs of these injuries can be catastrophic. In fact, warehouses and factories are considered some of the most dangerous places to work in this country, but the need for warehouse workers in the U.S. has never been greater.
While many warehouse injuries result from accidents, others are due to things like repetitive motion or overexertion. Back pain, fatigue, and arthritis are only a few examples of the conditions warehouse workers endure to keep up with demand and continuously keep warehouses moving. Improving worker health and paying more attention to ergonomics within a warehouse can significantly reduce the number of chronic injuries and stress employees experience on a day-to-day basis. Below are a few ways warehouse workers can overcome a multitude of ergonomic challenges.
Why ergonomics in the warehouse must be a priority
Warehouse ergonomics refers to having jobs and tasks fit to a worker’s physical capacities instead of asking workers to force their bodies to fit the tasks. Ergonomics can help reduce workplace injuries by ensuring workers aren’t straining or performing too many repetitive motions. Below are four reasons that make ergonomics in the warehouse a priority.
- Better quality of work: Because ergonomics focuses on the efficiency of a system, work quality is likely to increase. If ergonomics are poor, it can lead to frustrated and fatigued employees. A tired or injured worker may not be able to complete a task or finish it according to company standards. A more ergonomically-designed warehouse allows workers to focus on quality and productivity instead of individual well-being.
- Improved well-being: When employees’ needs in the workplace take priority, they take notice. Employee engagement is a primary benefit of focusing on ergonomics. Workers will feel more comfortable doing their jobs, thus improving morale, and reducing turnover. Better employee well-being is also vital to attracting new talent. Workers looking for employment will be more likely to choose a company that demonstrates care for its employees.
- Lower costs: Another significant advantage of an ergonomically designed warehouse is its ability to reduce costs. The primary way is through the reduction in workplace injuries. When ergonomic changes help workers be more efficient and productive, the result is fewer errors and waste. Businesses with higher retention rates also significantly save on costs.
More opportunities: Employers are required to provide accommodations to workers with specific needs. Ergonomics can help a warehouse meet these requirements and provide additional employment opportunities to people with physical limitations.
How to overcome ergonomic challenges in the warehouse
Musculoskeletal and repetitive motion injuries in warehouses result in lost time from work, lower morale, reduced productivity, and high turnover. If a warehouse is impacted by strains, sprains, tears, and other injuries, it’s time to prioritize ergonomics. But how does one approach this? Below are some proven strategies to overcome ergonomic challenges in a warehouse.
Store items strategically: Repetitive lifting, awkward movements, and poor posture are common causes of employee injuries within a warehouse. Some changes in how and where products are stored can impact the number of repetitive and potentially dangerous motions workers make during a shift.
If an item doesn’t need to be accessed often, it can be stored on low and high shelves, but frequently-accessed items should be placed at eye level to minimize movement. Also, keep size and weight in mind when considering storage spaces. Heavier objects should be placed below waist level to avoid worker strain when lifting.
- Consider material substitutes: Warehouse work can be physically challenging, with worker fatigue significantly hindering productivity and safety. When employees are tired, they are going to sacrifice form by slouching and becoming more susceptible to sprains and strains.
If possible, see if materials can be substituted for something more worker-friendly. Provided it won’t damage products, using packaging envelopes might be lighter and easier to use than heavy boxes. Switching to alternative materials can also help save businesses money.
- Use machine assistance: When making ergonomics a priority within a warehouse, identifying areas where useful automation systems can help reduce worker fatigue and injuries can result in significant benefits.
Some examples include:
- Bubble wrap dispensers make it easier for workers to tear film when needed
- Self-leveling lift tables keeping work at a healthy and comfortable level
- Order picking carts that eliminate the need to carry items
- Tilted pick trays that allow workers to view articles on elevated pallets
- Automated picking and packing solutions
- Wireless warehouse solutions enabling employees to work hands-free
Focus on workflow: Workplace safety begins with planning the flow of work to ensure the environment is ideal for worker comfort and safety. Ideally, an employee’s workstation should be designed to minimize the travel and effort required for picking, scanning, weighing, labeling, packing, and routing products. Too much repetitive effort in these activities and travel can mean worker fatigue, injuries, and human error.
Grouping related tasks and developing a logical workflow can minimize efforts. Having workstations throughout the warehouse for the completion of tasks is better than a centralized point. For example, mobile computer workstations can travel around the warehouse and provide support for workers, reducing the amount of travel required between tasks.
Improve employee training: Ergonomics also involves training workers on appropriate workplace safety practices. It’s a good idea to hire an ergonomics expert to teach an employee safety course, or have someone work with employees one-on-one to improve ergonomics. There should be regularly-scheduled training in the warehouse on topics like proper lifting techniques and strain prevention to ensure compliance.
The emphasis of employee training should be on worker well-being and safety, with productivity second. Display posters throughout the warehouse as reminders of the principles taught in employee training and have supervisors actively reinforce these ideas on the warehouse floor.
Warehouses are busy places. But being in a rush to get things done can mean risking workers overexerting themselves, which invites injury and errors. When deploying strategies to address ergonomic challenges in the warehouse, you will have a more productive and efficient operation, fewer injuries, and overall improved results.