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Improve safety in basic handling operations.

Improve safety in basic handling operations

To improve materials handling safety, focus in on these four areas: receiving and shipping docks, lift truck operations, static storage, and equipment lockout procedures. You can have a dramatic impact on safety in these areas without having to budget a major expenditure--provided that management is squarely behind you. In the case of materials handling operations, improving safety and decreasing the risk of handling-related injuries is often a straightforward matter. But to make real gains the commitment to safety must come from the top down.

Almost every warehouse and manufacturing facility has four areas that managers can target for real improvements in safety. Here is an overview of each area, along with tips on how to make improvements that will pay off in a better safety record for your company.

Take a look at your dock area

Why start with the docks? An estimated 10-25% of all industrial accidents happen in the dock area. In fact, warehousing and trucking (grouped together) is usually classified as the second most dangerous work place, with twice the accident rate of the industrial sector as a whole.

To improve safety in the dock area, divide the operation into three parts:

* Employees' work habits and procedures,

* Dock equipment design and maintenance, and

* Dock area layout and housekeeping.

No matter how basic the job on the docks, the potential exists for a lost-time accident. Injuries sustained during manual handling account for roughly 37% of all disabling occupational injuries. Nearly 20% of all workers' compensation claims are filed for back injuries.

To help reduce such accidents in your dock area, introduce a training program for every employee (including temporary ones). The program should stress the common-sense fundamentals of what the job requires (e.g., lift with your knees--not with your back). But perhaps more importantly, it should clearly illustrate management's concern for, and commitment to, employee safety.

In addition, dock supervisors should be trained to watch for unsafe work habits and to correct employees when necessary.

Dock equipment--dock levelers, seals and shelters, and doors--must be designed to safely handle the trucks and trailers that service your docks. Accidents that occur at the interface between the truck and the dock are among the most dangerous and potentially fatal in industry. Selecting the right equipment for your dock area's requirements will help reduce the chances of serious accidents. For example, with high volumes, dock levelers with automatic recycling reduce hazards to lift truck drivers.

Whenever possible, pedestrians--especially non-dock workers--should be kept out of the dock area.

The area should be reconfigured if necessary to give truck operators the room they need for safe operation. For example, the traffic aisle for lift trucks should be located at least 15 ft behind the dock openings to prevent collisions between trucks.

Good lighting in the dock area and in trailers being serviced is a must for safety--and it's also a cost-effective way to decrease handling-related damage. Bright lighting can even improve employee morale.

Housekeeping is another critical activity that's often overlooked in the dock area. A dirty dock is a dangerous dock. According to the National Safety Council, falls result in between 200,000 and 300,000 disabling industrial accidents each year. Docks that are littered with packaging materials, empty pallets, and piles of debris invite falls.

Injuries involving lift trucks account for about 1% of all lost-time accidents in industry, yet they result in 10% of the serious injuries.

Can you improve lift truck safety?

Virtually any piece of powered materials handling equipment can be involved in an accident. However, in the case of powered industrial trucks, several factors combine to make such accidents potentially serious. Lift trucks are often used in areas in which pedestrians are present. Trucks may travel at a comparatively high rate of speed. And lift trucks are very heavy in relation to their size: for example, a typical counterbalanced truck rated at 6,000 lb capacity will weigh about nine tons when fully loaded.

The single most important key for decreasing the potential for lift truck accidents is good operator training.

Current OSHA regulations mandate training of all operators of powered industrial trucks. However, because the regulations do not specify the form and content of training required, programs for lift truck operators vary from thorough and comprehensive to barely minimal.

In past issues of Modern Materials Handling, we have described programs now being used by companies that are committed to safety. (See our August and September 1989 issues.) Our examples included corporations such as Eastman Kodak, Signode Corp., Champion International, and Alcoa, and these represent just a sampling of how companies are improving truck safety.

Training: go beyond the minimum

But there is also a flip side to training. Many companies choose to ignore the OSHA training requirement, or decide to use a training program that does little more than meet the requirement for a program of some kind. If the goal is to cut costs by reducing the number of hours that employees "lose" to training, then the effort is demonstratively short-sighted. Estimates by the Department of Labor Statistics put the cost of an industrial accident that results in a fatality at well over $1 million.

A top-notch operator training program cannot guarantee an accident-free operation, but it can and will measurably increase safety.

But as is the case with dock operations, employee training is not the only key to improving lift truck safety. Front-line managers must demand safe lift truck operation, and they must be supported by upper management. Good training will make operators aware of the need for safety; good managers will make sure that the operators put their training into practice.

Vehicle maintenance is another essential part of any program to improve lift truck safety. Regular, recorded testing or inspection of steering and braking systems, hydraulic components (especially hoses), tires, and mast parts such as lift chains, will keep trucks in good, safe operating condition.

Finally, lift trucks should be equipped with safety equipment. Although seat designs vary widely, seats equipped with wings to help hold the operator in place in the event of a rollover are gaining in acceptance.

Seat belts are also becoming commonplace on lift trucks. Some manufacturers now offer special operator restraint systems on small-to-medium capacity trucks (up to 10-15,000 lb), and conventional seat belts on larger capacity models. Other manufacturers offer conventional belts on their entire product line. Seat belt retrofits are available for most trucks from local distributors.

Clearly, manufacturers believe that seat belt use enhances safety. The catch is that operators whose job requires frequent dismounting from the truck are often reluctant to use seat belts. At this time, there is no good answer to the problem of how to encourage belt use, but the trend toward equipping lift trucks with belts will continue to grow.

Don't forget storage installations

In order to improve safety, your static storage equipment--racks, shelving, mezzanines, and drawers--warrants attention as well.

Rack or shelving units may collapse when a floor fails due to overloading. The results of such a collapse include damage of equipment and stored materials, loss of part or all of the storage structure, and, of course, the potential for serious injuries.

In the case of both racks and shelving, the vertical force of the static load is concentrated on the posts. Floor failures therefore tend to occur at post locations. You can prevent such failures by using load distribution plates to reduce the vertical loads at the posts.

Rack design must include the effect of dynamic loads, as well as the effect of static loads. If the racks are serviced by lift trucks, the beams must be designed to accommodate the upward forces generated by truck forks, in addition to the static load of the materials being stored.

Racks and shelving units should be installed level and plumb, and periodic inspections to measure possible movement should be a part of your safety program.

Take care when moving

Reconfiguring or relocating static storage equipment, or adapting such equipment to new uses, should raise a caution flag. Be sure that the floor ratings will withstand the loads, and also make certain that proper installation procedures are followed. Check for damage to posts and beams, especially if used equipment came from outside of your company.

Racks should also be designed with seismic forces in mind. Current rack design is concerned with the effects that horizontal forces may have on structural integrity, in addition to the vertical loading factors traditionally considered. Rack design factors should include soil characteristics, ductility of the structure, connection details, materials of construction, and loading in the upper areas of the structure. Some experts foresee a new approach to rack design--one that eliminates the use of very stiff rack structures by replacing them with moment-resisting, eccentric-braced frames.

One additional area of concern is truck-related damage. Even comparatively minor collisions between lift trucks and racks can weaken storage structures. To improve safety, protect racks and shelving from lift truck damage by installing corner guards and guard rails.

Lockouts are mandatory

The fourth area to concentrate on in order to improve safety is equipment lockout procedures. Injuries sustained because of lockout/tagout failures are often severe: the average lost time for such an accident is 24 days.

As is the case for lift truck operator training, instruction in safe lockout procedures is now federally mandated.

As of October 31 of last year, OSHA requires industrial employers to establish uniform lockout/tagout procedures for equipment, including materials handling equipment. The new regulations require initial and refresher training for affected employees.

From the materials handling perspective, these regulations translate into new rules for the design and operation of equipment such as conveyors and packaging machinery. As of now, approximately 90% of all electrical equipment and two-thirds of all energy control valves that are designed to accept a lock, must be locked out during servicing. Most new and overhauled equipment must now accommodate a lockout device.

OSHA estimates that the regulations will save 120 lives each year, and prevent 28,000 serious and 32,000 minor injuries annually.

Underlying these nuts-and-bolts OSHA requirements, however, is the same issue that links together the other three areas: docks, lift truck operations, and static storage equipment. Safety is a concept and a philosophy that will work only if it is driven from the top down. Ultimately, it is mainly management's level of commitment that will determine the safety of a plant or warehouse.
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Title Annotation:Workplace Safety special report
Author:Gould, Les
Publication:Modern Materials Handling
Date:Aug 1, 1990
Previous Article:Match work to workers with smart handling.
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