Warehouse Safety Best Practices for OSHA Compliance

February 06, 2023

By Casey Myers

Warehouse safety relies on workers being aware of their surroundings and being prepared to respond to hazards that arise. OSHA warehouse rules and regulations address the varying dangers that can affect the safety of workers.

In fiscal year 2022 (Oct. 2021 – Sept. 2022), OSHA issued 400 citations for a total of almost $1.7 million dollars in penalties to warehouse owners. The most common violations were for:

  1. Powered industrial trucks.
  2. General materials handling.
  3. Maintenance, safeguards and operational features for exit routes.
  4. General
  5. Hazard communication

As of mid-January, OSHA’s maximum penalty amounts increased as follows:

  • Serious / Other-Than-Serious / Posting Requirements - $15,625 per violation.
  • Failure to Abate - $15,625 per day beyond the abatement date.
  • Willful or Repeated - $156,259 per violation.

In addition, states that operate their own Occupational Safety and Health Plans are required to adopt maximum penalty levels that are at least as effective as Federal OSHA's.

Top Tips for Warehouse Safety

Using the tips below, you can help warehouse workers stay safe, free from injury, illness and even death. A safe work environment translates into more productive employees with less turnover, so keeping your team safe and healthy boosts your bottom line, too.

  1. Keep areas clean and organized - Dispose of trash and recyclables immediately. Keep work surfaces clear and orderly. Improve employee movement and efficiency by grouping similar items in a logical flow. Clean up spills. Have spill control measures ready. Tape work area outlines on floors. To reduce slips and falls, keep cables tied up and remove anything that could become a trip hazard.
  2. Only certified personnel should operate equipment - this may seem obvious, but it's a good reminder. Certification helps operators learn the correct way to load and unload forklifts, properly move and stack boxes, how to maintain equipment and how to guide the forklift.
  3. Define forklift paths - Forklift and pallet jack paths should be clear. Consider upgrading to lithium-ion batteries which charge in as little as one hour, eliminating the need to remove large heavy forklift batteries. It also removes the risk of toxic spills from battery watering and the necessity for battery charging rooms. After making this change, forklift paths may need to be adjusted and simplified.
  4. Supply and require the use of PPE - personal protective equipment should be tailored to your warehouse conditions and may include safety vests, steel toed boots, hardhats and hearing protection.
  5. Inspect equipment regularly - conduct regular inspections and maintenance of racks, conveyors and lift equipment.
  6. Hold routine safety training - Conduct initial training for all new hires. Schedule ongoing training sessions quarterly or as needed. Anticipate the need for new safety standards when internal and external changes occur, like new acquiring new equipment and modification of state or federal regulations.
  7. Optimize warehouse layout - Develop a logical flow. Reduce difficult and awkward movements for people and equipment. Solicit feedback from managers and workers about how reconfiguring tasks or flow could enhance productivity.
  8. Have an emergency plan and hold readiness drills regularly - Develop emergency preparedness procedures for fire, lockdowns and likely natural disasters in your area, such as tornado, earthquake or flash flood. Drills help employees respond to real-life emergencies with efficiency and a greater sense of calm.
  9. Encourage communication - Solicit input from the floor. Having a safety suggestion box is an anonymous way for people to provide new ideas. In addition, you may want to hold safety feedback meetings to uncover small or large changes that can help reduce risk of injury, preserve health and improve employee morale as their voices are heard.

OSHA provides resources for employers looking for compliance assistance, including a Warehousing Pocket Guide and an On-Site Consultation Program which offers individualized assistance to small businesses at no cost. For more information, please contact their Regional or Area Office near you.