Safety in Retail Warehouses

safety in retail warehouses occupational health

Last Saturday involved one of those must-do-don’t-want-to trips to the local DIY store. In collecting my goods I was presented with the rarefied opportunity of actually driving into the warehouse. Driving my car into a warehouse I thought, mmm, this doesn’t sound right.

But it’ll be OK, this is no tin-pot warehouse or retailer – this company moves millions of dollars of goods each year and surely they would have thought about the possible safety issues of letting random members of the public drive their cars inside their warehouse, right?

Seeing the Hazards

Well no, it wasn’t right. Inside I was confronted by forklifts, customers of all ages on foot- and kids-, racking piled high with wood, steel and other building materials and, worryingly, a bunch more cars like mine, all working their way through the isles, dutifully performing 3-point turns to make a hair-pin corner, and using improvised hand-signals to make sure the forklifts kept their distance.

It doesn’t take a particularly critical mind to get to a place where this situation appears absurd: letting the public (your customers) including kids into a warehouse environment where there are forklifts, heavy lifting and goods piled high is fool enough, but then letting them drive their cars in? In fact, my 3 year old daughter who was strapped in the back seat felt uncomfortable!

warehouse safety racking collapse

Guess what – one clip of my car against one racking upright and the lot could come down, taking with it anyone unfortunate to be close by – and on a busy saturday afternoon that’s potentially a bunch of people. That’s even before we start thinking about the fire risks, crashing into a forklift, hitting a pedestrian, and so on.

Tolerating the Risks

My saturday afternoon warehouse drive-through was a classic example of the all-too-common risk blindness and risk tolerance. The risks will be all too obvious should an accident occur and then we’ll take action, right? Well I’m sorry to say there are enough examples of warehouse accidents for us to see the risks ahead of time and to put in preventive measures before the unwanted events occur.

This is what a good hazard identification and risk assessment programme should deliver – using the right skills in the workplace to identify the hazards, understand the risks, and design and implement the right risk controls – balanced between Infrastructure, Systems and People – to reduce the risks to an acceptable level. Or eliminate them: like keeping customers and their cars out.

Getting Serious About Safety Management

It’s about time some very serious companies started getting serious about delivering genuinely safe working environments for both their workers and their customers. As long as ‘safety’ is nothing more than hard hats and high vis vests, and we avoid addressing safety risks as a core part of business thinking through robust risk assessment processes, then I guess I’ll always be able to drive my car into your warehouse.

Here is a link to a comprehensive document from the UK Health and Safety Executive on warehouse safety:Warehousing & Storage-A Guide to Health & Safety. HSG 76.