OSHA Warehouse Requirements: Racking Considerations

The warehousing and storage industry in our country is booming. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of Americans employed in warehousing and storage facilities is estimated at 1,782,200. That number has increased by over a million in the past decade. Even with this growth, workplace injuries have decreased, which is a positive signal that warehouse safety is working. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the governmental organization that works to ensure safe working conditions for all employees. They set out guidelines and standards for hazard control and risk mitigation.

While we take these standards for granted now, it’s important to recognize that the OSH Act is responsible for a significant reduction in daily workplace fatalities — from over 38 per day in 1970 to 13 per day in 2020. 

These guidelines lay the foundation for safe, efficient and productive workplaces all over the country. They protect your team and your business.

So, how can you ensure your facility meets OSHA’s requirements? Keep reading to learn more about OSHA guidelines for warehouses.

What the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Says About Warehouses

In warehouses, the fatal injury rate is significantly higher than the average across all industries. This is because there is a wide range of potential hazards that workers are exposed to while on the job.

Some of the most common hazards include:

  • Forklift operation
  • Dangerous storage systems
  • Ineffective or misuse of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Insufficient lockout/tag-out procedures 
  • Fire risks
  • Injuries due to repetitive motion and poor material handling practices

In addition to OSHA’s standards, many states have frameworks to ensure the health and safety of workers. Local jurisdictions also have emphasis programs with facility-specific requirements that address the unique hazards in a particular area.

These programs must be as comprehensive as OSHA’s guidelines but are typically more stringent and specific.

Does OSHA Apply to Warehouses?

As workers in warehouse and storage facilities are at an increased risk of injury, OSHA has warehouse-specific guidelines.

Some general guidelines for warehouses include:

  • Proper PPE: All workers must have access to PPE such as equipment designed to protect the eyes, face, hands, feet, head, lungs and ears.
  • Hazard communication: All workers must be trained in proper, standardized hazard communication. 
  • Electrical design: Compliant wiring and safe design of a facility’s electrical system are important for fire prevention.
  • Emergency management: In the case of an emergency, proper exits, a clear plan, accurate signage, fire extinguishers and other measurements should be established.

Failure to Comply With OSHA Guidelines

OSHA is a government agency. This means warehouse owners and management are legally obligated to comply with all regulations. 

OSHA inspectors are trained to search for violations. In the case of non-compliance, the business owner will receive a citation. Depending on the severity of the violation, consequences can include fines, penalties and legal repercussions.

Citations include specific details about the violative concern. They also include corrective actions as well as a deadline to pay the fine. 

Fines for non-compliance vary based on the severity of the violation. OSHA categorizes non-compliance violations into the following categories:

  • Willful
  • Serious
  • Other-than-serious
  • Trivial
  • Failure to abate
  • Repeated

The fines range between $5000 and $20,000. If a worker is killed or injured as a result of a violation, it could be punishable by imprisonment as well. The time served could be six months up to a life term.

It goes without saying that protecting the health and safety of your team should be a top priority for business owners, and the consequences of not doing so could be dire.

It goes without saying that protecting the health and safety of your team should be a top priority for business owners, and the consequences of not doing so could be dire.

OSHA Warehouse Safety Guidelines

Let’s go over the warehouse hazards and safety guidelines as established by OSHA.

OSHA Hazard: Docks

Docks are a common cause of injury. They place employees at risk from falls and collisions with heavy machinery such as forklifts.

OSHA regulations regarding docks are as follows:

  • Maintain safe driving practices including speed limits when operating forklifts near docks
  • Conduct regular inspections on dock plates to ensure safe loading
  • Refrain from reversing equipment on docks and never drive along the edge of the dock
  • Create compliant signage for hazard areas 
  • Prohibit dangerous foot traffic near docks, including jumping or climbing docks
  • Conduct safety inspections on all dock ladders and stairs to ensure OSHA compliance

OSHA Hazard: Forklifts

Forklifts are responsible for approximately 100 worker deaths and 95,000 injuries annually. For this reason, OSHA has robust and strict regulations for forklifts in the workplace.

Here are OSHA’s regulations for forklift safety:

  • Enroll all operators in mandatory standardized employee forklift training
  • Enforce an age minimum of 18 years for all forklift operators
  • Conduct routine maintenance 
  • Conduct an inspection before each use 
  • Adhere to safe lifting and stacking procedures as per OSHA guidelines
  • Limit speed to 5 MPH or slower at all times
  • Use PPE, seatbelt and other mandatory safety equipment
  • Adhere to weight limits for lift capacity
  • Remove all unsafe machinery and equipment from the floor for repairs
  • Maintain aisle safety and cleanliness standards
  • Comply with ventilation requirements to prevent exposure to noxious gasses

OSHA Hazard: Conveyors

Employees at warehouses or facilities with conveyors are at risk of injury. Injury could occur as a result of falling product or becoming caught in machinery. 

OSHA recommends the following preventative measures:

  • Conduct routine inspections
  • Install protective guards at all pinch points 
  • Train employees in lockout procedures for conveyors
  • Ensure adequate lighting in work areas surrounding the equipment

OSHA Hazard: Materials Storage

Non-compliant storage practices frequently result in workplace injuries and even fatalities. 

Here are the OSHA guidelines to prevent material storage incidents:

  • Follow proper stacking and storing methods
  • Organize heavy materials on low and middle shelves and racks
  • Adhere to aisle safety and cleanliness standards
  • Routinely repair storage equipment such as racks and shelves
  • Follow aisle width guidelines when designing warehouse layout

OSHA Hazard: Manual Handling

Employees whose duties involve manual handling of materials are at an increased risk of back injuries and strains. 

To avoid these incidents, OSHA’s guidelines require the following:

  • Train all employees on proper lifting ergonomics
  • Provide task-specific training to each employee
  • Provide safe and well-maintained lift equipment to support proper lifting procedures
  • Create signage enforcing weight lift limits that recommend two-person lifts
  • Ensure forklift and manual lifts involve only one object at a time

OSHA Hazard: Hazard Communication

Proper hazard communication is the foundation of workplace health and safety. It ensures all employees understand the risks and how to mitigate them. Chemical burns, interactions with hazardous materials and other injuries can occur when workplaces neglect to create proper channels of communication.

Here are the OSHA standards for hazard communication:

  • Keep, maintain and display Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all chemicals
  • Provide comprehensive training on chemical safety, including how to read, understand and follow MSDS
  • Provide accessible spill kits for the safe handling of chemicals
  • Create a spill plan and inform all employees of the plan
  • Provide PPE to all employees who may be exposed to chemicals
  • Follow all safe chemical handling and storage procedures
  • Refrain from storing chemicals in areas with forklift traffic

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OSHA Hazard: Charging Stations

Forklifts and other machinery require charging stations that can pose a significant fire and injury risk.

Here are OSHA’s standards for charging stations:

  • Limit smoke and fire exposure near both indoor and outdoor charging stations
  • Adhere to proper ventilation requirements near battery charging stations
  • Equip all charging station areas with fire extinguishers
  • Provide gloves, eye protection and other forms of PPE
  • Train all employees on the proper use of forklifts, including safe parking, refueling and charging procedures
  • Conduct routine maintenance on equipment that requires batteries
  • Provide emergency resources such as an eyewash station and a safety shower to protect employees in the case of exposure to battery acid

OSHA Hazard: Ergonomics

Warehouse employees who manually move product are at significant risk of injury due to lifting, motion or accident. Prolonged misuse of body ergonomics can result in permanent musculoskeletal disorders.

OSHA solutions for these risks include:

  • Supply sufficient lifting equipment to reduce manual strain on employees
  • Provide proper lifting technique training including weight test methods and two-person lifts
  • Design racks and shelves to reduce lifts from shoulder height and above
  • Provide adequate lighting in all lifting areas
  • Outline load limits for single-person lifts

The Goal = Safe, Well-Resourced Warehouses

The health of your team directly correlates with the health of your overall business. It’s important to cultivate a safe workplace to ensure your team is looked after and able to do good work for you.

Following OSHA standards will help your team limit unnecessary injuries and illnesses. It will also foster an environment of appreciative and trusting employees who help you meet your business objectives.

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