Safe Solutions

Warehouse safety

It was Friday, and Vertigo Roofing had experienced a disappointing week. Several foremen had complained they could not find tools in the warehouse they needed for projects; the company was forced to buy new tools at a local supply store to keep projects on schedule—at a steep cost.

In addition, a forklift operator was retrieving some materials in a cramped area when he accidentally bumped a 5-gallon (4-L) can of mastic from a nearby shelf; the can burst open when it hit the ground. A customer, who was looking at shingle samples nearby, had his clothes ruined by the flying mastic and, needless to say, found another roofing contractor to complete his project.

Glenn, Vertigo Roofing's new warehouse manager, left work on Friday vowing to create a plan during the weekend to solve these and other warehouse troubles.

Glenn arrived early Monday morning with an extensive set of plans for the warehouse and conducted a staff meeting to orchestrate the renovation project. Within the next month, Glenn and his crew made several changes.

Glenn first directed the crew to widen the warehouse aisles to allow for easier forklift maneuvering and access. He also wanted the aisles marked with high-visibility paint and floor tape. The tape and paint were used to create "off-limits" zones where powered equipment was not allowed to enter.

Glenn's crew also reconfigured shelving to provide maximum support of materials and created wider shelving openings. Crew members installed side guards, back guards and bracing to prevent materials from falling off shelving. Glenn determined shelving load limits and marked the limits on the shelving to avoid collapse.

The crew painted or marked level-change areas, steps and curbs with high-visibility paint and tape. To protect rack corners, stationary equipment, stair supports and entrance areas from being damaged by powered equipment, the crew installed pipe bollards that were filled with concrete and painted with high-visibility paint.

A few sheet-metal shop workers fabricated cages and bars to shield lights, thermostats, switches, valves, sprinkler heads, electrical and alarm panels, pipes, meters and other sensitive areas from material and equipment damage.

In addition, one crew member etched the warehouse's concrete floors to make the surfaces less slick. High-traction coatings were applied on floor areas where snow and water often were brought inside by workers' shoes.

Glenn modified salvaged cyclone fencing to build a separate, lockable area for tool storage next to his office. His plan called for using storage cabinets, shelving and original cases to safeguard tools, as well as a checkout system for workers to track equipment. He marked tools, equipment and ladders with easily identifiable markings so employees knew those tools specifically were to be kept in the warehouse.

Glenn talked with Vertigo Roofing's owner, Al, about restricting access to the warehouse to appropriate personnel. Al agreed that signs should be posted to mark restricted areas. To keep customers out of the warehouse, Al let Glenn convert an unused office into a product display area.

Glenn also knew industrial trucks, such as Vertigo Roofing's forklifts, often are powered by propane engines that emit carbon monoxide (CO) when running. Glenn got Al's permission to install exhaust fans in the warehouse that discharge contaminated air to the outside and alarm devices that warn when the CO concentration level becomes dangerous.

Glenn purchased chemical cleanup kits for trained crew members to address spills of any hazardous materials stored in the warehouse. Glenn also placed several first-aid kits in conspicuous locations throughout the warehouse. In addition, he compiled a binder of material safety data sheets for all warehouse products. He planned to keep the binder in the warehouse for easy access.

After a few months, Al was amazed at how efficiently materials and equipment were being distributed from the warehouse. Damaged-inventory losses were at a record low, and warehouse accidents declined sharply. With Glenn's careful planning and effective daily management, Vertigo Roofing's warehouse had become one of the company's most valued assets.

Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of risk management.


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