Ergonomics & Material Handling: Taking the Pain Out of Your Warehouse

Material handling is a pain. No, really. According to a report by The Travelers Companies, material handling is the most frequent cause of injury in the workplace. The Injury Impact Report by The Travelers studied over 1.5 million workers’ compensation claims. At the top of the list was material handling, capturing 32 percent of the total claims.

This should not come as a surprise. Most warehouse and distribution center settings demand product be moved quickly to the desired destination. Time is money and the longer it takes to accomplish the task, the less money is earned. 

However, the unintended consequences of getting the product to market faster also have the potential to reduce profit. Issues related to repetitive movement, slips, falls and other ergonomic dangers put workers at risk and slow productivity, particularly in the picking process.

The process of picking product is fraught with danger in many warehouse settings. Even when items are easily accessible, other forces are at work making the act of picking an adventure.

In this article, we’ll explore some common ergonomic issues with material handling that result in injuries and incidents. Let’s dive in.

Reduce Workplace Injuries With The Safe Lifting Zone

In an ideal world, all picking would happen within the picker’s safe lifting zone. This zone, according to the University of Virginia, is the distance between a person’s knees and shoulders. This zone minimizes bending or reaching. 

Unfortunately, the material handling world is not ideal for accommodating a safe lifting zone. The nature of warehouses, as you may well know, is characterized by a diversity of storage solutions that could present a problem for workers. Here are a few examples. 

Workplace Injuries Caused by Lifts

Many warehouses use the space beneath racks for storage, often for heavier items. Picking from these locations may be efficient in maximizing storage; however, it represents a major ergonomic challenge for the picker.

In accessing these items, a picker must bend at the waist. This places a high level of stress on their back and puts them at an increased risk of back injuries. Then while in that position, the picker must reach to retrieve the product, putting additional stress on muscles. 

While attempting to pick from these locations, pickers must also avoid injury from hitting their head on the rack above them.

So, what’s the solution? The right picking equipment like pallet trucks can alleviate this problem if the items are placed on a pallet. Additional items could be rendered more accessible by being organized and stored in containers such as totes

Workplace Injuries Caused by Heights

Pallet racks are designed for efficient storage of product, but they aren’t necessarily safe for picking. For the sake of speed, pickers often attempt to reach for product on racks higher than shoulder height. This is extremely unsafe. 

Products at this height frequently place the picker in awkward positions causing extreme strain on neck and shoulder muscles. Additionally, items near the desired product may fall on the picker causing further injury.

The best piece of equipment that can solve this problem is a high-quality used forklift. Allowing properly trained workers to operate forklifts can drastically improve throughput at your operation and reduce the risk of injury due to picking.

Reduce Workplace Injuries With Proper Warehouse Design

An unintended consequence of picking in today’s fast-paced warehouse is aisle congestion. Many warehouse configurations are narrow and do not allow for the level of traffic needed to meet efficient order fulfillment.

Too many bodies combined with forklift or other mechanized vehicle traffic creates an unsafe workplace. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics identified this as a major cause of fatalities and injuries in the warehouse.

The best solution to this is to follow best practices when designing and planning your warehouse layout.

Background

We Have the Solution to Workplace Injuries in Picking Operations

At East Coast Storage Equipment, our team of specialists can provide customized equipment plans to reduce the risk of workplace injury in your warehouse. CONTACT US

Create an Incident-Free Warehouse With Personalized Equipment Solutions

Every warehouse uses some manner of product picking. The challenge is doing so in a safe and efficient manner. There are many possible solutions to improve ergonomics and reduce injury. Some high-tech solutions call for the use of intelligent robotics to handle much of the picking. While this is an option, for many the investment makes it unrealistic.

Some solutions call for the use of pick modules, where product is retrieved from the warehouse and transported to the pick module. Pickers then take the amount of product needed to fill the order, often breaking down the pallet to pull individual items. This reduces aisle congestion and minimizes extreme bending, lifting or reaching.

There are several low-tech options too. The first and most important is training. Warehouse team members need training in best practices for picking. These practices are designed to reduce stress on the body. 

Proper lifting techniques, gear such as lifting belts and similar options can have a dramatic impact on reducing injury. Additionally, scissor lifts and pallet levelers also help by adjusting pallets to a safe height for loading and unloading.

Invest in Quality Equipment to Reduce Warehouse Injuries 

Warehouse management must consider different options to reduce worker injury. Making changes in warehouse design, incorporating racks designed with ergonomics in mind or rethinking the way picking is accomplished may sound expensive, but it will save time and money in the long run.
To find the solution that works for your situation, it’s best to work with a professional. At East Coast Storage Equipment, our warehouse professionals understand how to combine efficiency with ergonomics. Contact us to learn more about how we can guide you to the optimal solution.

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