Episode 22 – Warehouse Safety!


Toolbox Topic: Warehouse (and Distribution Center) Safety

In this Warehouse Safety episode, we will discuss several dangers you should be aware of when working in a warehouse. Also, precautions you can take to stay safe.



Warehousing is a physical location for storing goods (to be sold or distributed later) for profit.

A warehouse can also be a distribution center. But whereas a warehouse only provides storage, a distribution center stores products and fulfills orders.


History of Warehousing

Early Human History

Warehousing started early in human history. Granaries were used to store food, hay, and other agricultural products.


The Romans

Warehousing developed rapidly in societies centered around trade, and storage was necessary to facilitate exchange.

European explorers created shipping-trade routes with other nations; from the Middle Ages until the industrial revolution, ports were prime locations for warehousing.

During the second century BC, there were substantial warehouses in Ostia, the port city of ancient Rome. The Romans used these structures to store grain, olive oil, food items, wine, marble, and clothing. One warehouse contained 140 rooms just on the ground floor and was 225,000 square feet. This warehouse stored enough food to feed a million people for seven years!


The 18th Century

Fast forward to 18th century America between industrialization and the advent of the railroads, warehousing would change forever. Rail depots quickly replaced seaport warehouses.

The industrial revolution was in full swing, and U.S. factories and warehouses rapidly took over urban areas. Up until the 1900s, this growth occurred horizontally; as inventories increased, the footprint of buildings expanded outward. But as cities became dense and production continued to accelerate, a more practical way of storing and handling merchandise was needed.


Vertical Warehousing

One way to increase warehouse space was to expand vertically. With this method, warehouses could better use space. There was a problem, though, with slimmer aisles and higher ceilings, forklifts needed to become more narrow and easier to maneuver. The early forklift was bulky and cumbersome, requiring a lot of space to move around. Then a breakthrough came when in 1954, Lansing Bagnall designed a narrow aisle forklift with forks that could move side to side and up and down. Now, forklifts could not only navigate narrow aisles but lift objects much higher. This innovation, in combination with standardized pallets, marked the beginning of modern warehousing. – From Forklift Safety Shownotes


Statistics on Warehouse Safety

In 2018 warehouses, transportation, and utilities had the highest injury total of any other industry. There are numerous hazards you should be aware of when working in a warehouse. So, let’s talk about each and some statistics related to those dangers.



The NFPA reports there are 100,000 commercial fires each year – fires that happen at work. Although there are fewer fires today, the cost of property damage caused by fires has increased exponentially. According to some estimates, fires now cost businesses over 2 billion dollars annually.


Housekeeping – Slips, Trips, and Falls

According to the CDC, in 2019, there were 888,000 worker injuries related to slips, trips, and falls. Housekeeping likely contributes to many of those injuries, particularly the slips and trips.



Depending on the study, cuts and lacerations rank as the second or third most frequent workplace injury. Approximately 30 percent of all workplace injuries involve cuts or lacerations, and about 70 percent of those injuries are to the hands or fingers.


Forklift Incidents

In 2018, the three leading injuries from forklift accidents were fractures (1,710), bruises contusions (1,570), and sprains/muscle tears (1,490). [BLS]

Forklift overturns are still the #1 way to die using a forklift. [OSHA]


Safety Tips on Warehouse Safety

Safety Tip#1 Fire Prevention

Be proactive. Perform a simple inspection to identify any electrical issues or other fire hazards. Look for missing electrical outlet covers, frayed cords, and ungrounded plugs (those with only two prongs). Are flammable liquids in UL or FM-approved cabinets? These cabinets are typically red or yellow and constructed of double-wall steel. Instead of cabinets, some companies may have a flammable liquid storage room that conforms to NFPA 30. If you need to extinguish a fire, remember the acronym PASS, which stands for pull the pin, aim at the base, squeeze the handle, and sweep side to side.


Tip#2 Emergency Procedures

Make sure you know your company’s fire evacuation plan – what you should do and where you should be! Participate in fire evacuation drills and know where your muster or meeting point is.


Tip#3 Forklift Operation

Always operate the lift according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Always wear your seatbelt. Never exceed the load rating. Ensure the load is stable and balanced and never raise or lower the load while traveling.

Use your horn to alert other operators and pedestrians. This isn’t the county fair—no giving out rides. Never use the forks to lift people, not even on a pallet. Only operate a forklift if you are trained and certified.


Tip#4 Avoid Lacerations

Box cutters are commonly used in warehouses. Remember:

  • Wear proper gloves
  • Cut away from the body
  • Use a sharp blade; dull blades require more force when cutting, increasing the risk of an injury
  • Never leave an exposed blade unattended; use self-retracting blades when available
  • Do not put an open blade in your pocket


Tip#5 Avoid Lifting Injuries

We have a whole episode on lifting safety *(find it here), but here are the highlights:

  • Whenever possible, try to store items at waist height. Lifting an item a shorter distance reduces the likelihood of an injury. Whenever possible, Use carts, dollies, forklifts, and hoists instead of your body to move materials.
  • Prepare your body by stretching at the start of your shift.
  • Lift a corner to test the weight.
  • If you don’t have access to a mechanical aid, ask for help. Two people lifting an object decreases the weight by half. Three people reduce the weight by two-thirds.
  • Use Proper Lifting Techniques:
    • Spread your feet shoulder-width apart.
    • Bend down with your knees and get close to the object.
    • Get a firm grip.
    • Keep your back straight and your elbows close to your body.
    • Stand to lift the object and at the same time tighten your stomach muscles to provide back support. Don’t hold your breath while doing this, however.
    • Keep the load as close to your body as possible.
    • Finally, DO NOT twist or bend at the waist; move your feet and legs when turning. Twisting while lifting significantly increases the risk of injury. The reason is that some of your muscles do not engage when you twist, creating more stress on the ones that do.













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