The holiday season is a time of joy and togetherness, but it’s also a busy time for one of the largest industries in the country. With increased demand for shipping and fulfilling orders, many warehouse workers face potentially hazardous work conditions that could result in serious injuries.
For example, a worker at a warehouse in New Scranton, Pennsylvania, was struck in the thigh by a pallet jack handle after he unintentionally ran over loose debris from broken pallets left on the warehouse aisles. The incident caused internal bleeding, and he had to be admitted to the hospital for surgery.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the warehousing and storage industry had a 5.5% injury and illness rate in 2022 – more than double the rate for the private sector. Additionally, there were 89,900 injuries and illnesses cases, increasing from 80,500 in the previous year. Among the injuries that resulted in at least one day away from work, more than 1/3 were due to overexertion and bodily reaction. Injury rates like this should get any company’s attention, and they should be working proactively to understand the root causes of those injuries and address them.
During the holidays and throughout the year, we in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are urging employers to implement safety systems and train workers on preventable warehousing hazards.
Our goal is to help employers align their business practices with the core value of safety and health in every workplace. That’s why we launched a National Emphasis Program this past summer to reduce workplace hazards in warehouses, distribution centers and certain retail establishments with high injury rates. The NEP addresses hazards related to powered industrial vehicle operations, storage and material handling, walking and working surfaces, exits, and fire protection. Workplaces also will be screened for heat and ergonomic hazards.
To keep workers safe and healthy in warehousing and online order fulfillment, employers should:
- Embrace health and safety as a core value.
- Provide health and safety leadership.
- Encourage participation by employees or their authorized representative to involve everyone in the effort to keep employees safe and healthy.
- Establish a health and safety management system that includes employee participation in ergonomic assessment where such hazards are likely to occur or where tasks are associated with musculoskeletal disorders or injuries related to frequent lifting and repetitive motion.
- Train, evaluate and certify all forklift operators.
- Minimize the need for lifting by using good design and engineering techniques.
- Ensure materials are stored or stacked in a stable manner.
- Keep aisles and passageways clear.
- Provide proper personal protective equipment and enforce its use.
- Ensure employees do not experience retaliation for reporting safety and/or health concerns.
While you celebrate the holidays, remember that everyone deserves to go home safely at the end of their shift. These workers have families and loved ones, too, and they have a right to do their job without being injured or sickened.
This blog originally appeared at the Department of Labor’s website on Dec. 6, 2023.
Learn about workplace health and safety at Workplace Fairness.