Working in a warehouse can be a hazardous job. Even with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implementing new rules and guidelines to keep workers safe, injuries and accidents still occur. In fact, warehousing workers are at least eight times more likely to suffer from back problems than any other workers according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
This article will explore the top 10 warehouse injuries, the areas where accidents most commonly occur, major causes of injury, companies with the highest repeat offender rates, and the role of OSHA in preventing injuries and enforcing safety regulations.
Areas of Concern and OSHA Citations in Warehouses
Warehouses and storage facilities are busy places with many moving parts. As such, accidents can occur in various areas of the warehouse. Here are some of the most common areas where accidents occur in a warehouse:
- Docks: Workers can be injured while loading and unloading trucks, particularly when using dock levelers and dock plates.
- Forklifts: Forklift accidents can occur anywhere in the warehouse, but they are particularly common in areas where workers are moving products or equipment.
- Conveyors: Workers can be injured while working on or near conveyors. This can include being caught in the machinery, getting fingers or clothing caught in the conveyor, or being struck by falling objects.
- Materials storage: Improperly stored materials can fall and injure workers. Workers can also be injured while moving or stacking materials.
- Ladders and elevated platforms: Workers can be injured while working on ladders or elevated platforms. Falls from ladders and elevated platforms can result in serious injuries.
- Pallet racks: Improperly loaded or overloaded pallet racks can collapse and cause serious injuries to workers.
- Hazardous materials: Workers can be injured while working with hazardous materials, such as cleaning agents, batteries, and paints.
- Slips, trips, and falls: These types of accidents can occur anywhere in the warehouse but are particularly common in areas with wet or slippery floors, cluttered walkways, or uneven surfaces.
- Loading docks: Workers can be injured while loading and unloading trucks, particularly when using dock levelers and dock plates.
- Automated systems: Workers can be injured while working on automated systems, such as conveyor belts and robotic equipment.
According to OSHA, there are several areas in which warehouses commonly receive citations. Failure to comply with these standards can result in citations. These include:
- Forklifts: OSHA requires that forklift operators be trained and certified.
- Hazard communication: Warehouses that handle hazardous materials must have a hazard communication program in place.
- Electrical/wiring methods: Warehouses must comply with OSHA standards for electrical safety, including proper wiring methods and equipment grounding.
- Electrical/system design: Warehouses must have electrical systems that are designed and installed to prevent electrical hazards.
- Guarding floor and wall openings and holes: Warehouses must have proper guards in place to prevent workers from falling through floor and wall openings and holes.
- Exits: Warehouses must have proper exits that are clearly marked and unobstructed.
- Mechanical power transmission: Warehouses must comply with OSHA standards for mechanical power transmission, including proper guarding of machines and equipment.
- Respiratory protection: Warehouses that handle hazardous materials must provide workers with appropriate respiratory protection.
- Lockout/tagout: Warehouses must have a lockout/tagout program in place to prevent accidental startup of equipment.
- Portable fire extinguishers: Warehouses must have portable fire extinguishers that are properly maintained and readily available.
Major Causes of Injury in a Warehouse
Injuries in warehouses can occur due to various reasons, including the handling of materials, the operation of heavy equipment, and poor housekeeping. According to OSHA, the most common causes of injuries in warehouses are related to musculoskeletal disorders, being struck by objects, and slip and fall accidents. Some of the specific examples of injuries that may occur include:
- Struck by falling objects, such as improperly stacked or unsecured boxes or equipment that falls off shelves
- Cuts and lacerations from handling sharp objects or working with machinery
- Burns from exposure to hazardous chemicals or electrical equipment
- Overexertion and repetitive motion injuries from lifting, bending, and twisting while handling materials or operating machinery
- Injuries caused by forklifts or other heavy equipment, such as being struck or pinned by the equipment or falling from elevated platforms
Reporting Violations & Repeat Offenders
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for warehouses and companies to try to cover up injuries and accidents that occur in the workplace. This can happen for various reasons, such as avoiding fines or negative publicity, or to prevent worker's compensation claims from being filed. In some cases, workers themselves may not report their injuries or accidents for fear of retaliation or losing their jobs.
One way in which companies may try to cover up injuries is by failing to report them to the appropriate authorities. According to OSHA, employers are required to keep records of all work-related injuries and illnesses and report them to the agency if they meet certain criteria. However, some employers may fail to keep accurate records or deliberately conceal injuries in order to avoid scrutiny or penalties. This is known as a recordkeeping violation and can result in fines and other penalties.
Examples of recordkeeping violations include failing to maintain proper injury and illness records, failing to report injuries or illnesses to OSHA, and knowingly making false statements on injury or illness records. These violations can be serious and can result in significant fines and penalties for the employer. Workers who are injured on the job should report their injuries to their supervisor or employer immediately and seek medical attention as needed. They should also make sure that their injury is properly documented and reported to OSHA if necessary.
Despite the numerous regulations in place to protect warehouse workers, some companies continue to be repeat offenders of workplace injuries. Here are five of the top companies with a history of such violations:
- Amazon: According to a report by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, Amazon workers made up almost half of all warehouse injuries in 2019. The company has been criticized for its high-pressure work environment, which can lead to overexertion and repetitive motion injuries.
- Walmart: Walmart has been cited for numerous safety violations in its warehouses, including inadequate training for forklift operators and failure to provide proper protective equipment to workers handling hazardous chemicals.
- XPO Logistics: This logistics company has been cited by OSHA for multiple violations, including failing to provide proper training to workers and exposing them to electrical hazards.
- DHL: This international shipping company has been cited for safety violations in its warehouses, including exposing workers to hazardous chemicals and failing to provide proper safety equipment.
- FedEx: This package delivery company has been cited for safety violations in its warehouses, including failing to properly train workers on forklift safety and failing to provide proper protective equipment to workers handling hazardous chemicals.
Repeat offenders like those listed above may be eligible for placement in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The criteria for placement was expanded by the U.S. Department of Labor effective September 2022. Employers with at least two willful or repeated violations can expect to be placed in the program. This new criteria focuses on repeat offenders, but also includes all safety violations, indicating that employers from additional industries can be included. Removal from the program can only occur three years after the date of verification that all hazards have been resolved.
OSHA Investigations in Warehouses
In order to prevent workplace injuries and hold companies accountable, OSHA conducts regular inspections of warehouses and other workplaces. These inspections can be initiated by a variety of factors, including employee complaints, accidents or injuries, or referrals from other agencies. OSHA also conducts targeted inspections of companies with high injury rates or a history of safety violations.
During an inspection, OSHA inspectors will evaluate the workplace for compliance with safety regulations and identify any hazards that could pose a risk to workers. They may also interview workers and review records related to safety training and injury reporting. If violations are found, OSHA may issue citations and penalties to the company.
However, OSHA inspections can only do so much to prevent workplace injuries. It is important for companies to take proactive steps to identify and mitigate potential hazards in their warehouses, provide adequate training and protective equipment to workers, and encourage workers to report any injuries or safety concerns. Employees can also play a role in promoting workplace safety by following proper procedures and reporting any hazards or unsafe conditions they encounter.