3 Safety Standards to Keep in Mind While Designing a New Warehouse
When it comes to designing and building a new warehouse or distribution center, there are certain factors that get most of the attention: Namely, efficiency and productivity. Distribution Center managers want to make sure that the facility they are building has an optimal layout and utilizes the most advanced technologies so that their workers are able to process more orders, and make more customers happy, in less time.
But ensuring that your new facility is safe for your employees is just as important—if not more important—than ensuring productivity and efficiency. After all, a facility that prioritizes safety reduces accidents, allowing for less down time and, in effect, more productivity and profit. (And there is, of course, the moral imperative of providing a safe workplace for your employees, which we won’t get into here.)
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The bad news is, there are a huge number of safety considerations that must be taken into account before any design build has started. The good news, though, is that all of these will be top of mind to any experienced warehouse design consultant.
That being said, you should still aim to have at least a cursory understanding of the safety principles that will guide your design process moving forward, even if the the specific details will be handled by your consultant. These safety considerations can be split into three main buckets: Regulations, Design Safety, and Operational Safety.
Safety Regulations and Warehouse Design
When it comes to workplace safety, there are countless federal, state, local, and international safety regulations in place designed to ensure that employees are safe at work. While these regulations serve an important purpose—protecting employees—they can also complicate facility design by restricting the placement of certain technologies and systems within the workplace.
The Occupational Safety and health Administration (OSHA), for example, is a mandatory safety standard that US employers are required to comply with, or else face fines of many thousands of dollars.
General industry (non-construction) work is guided by OSHA Standard Number 1910, which consists of thousands of codes and subcodes impacting everything from stairways, ladders, guardrails, and scaffolding, to telecommunications, electricity generation, and working with hazardous materials.
And that doesn’t even take into account all of the voluntary, industry-specific safety standards and regulations that exist. The Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association (CEMA), for example, focuses its efforts on making conveyors safer for employees by developing a number of safety labels and label placement guidelines, while the Rack Manufacturers Institute (RMI) has developed very specific safety standards as they apply to steel storage racks and related structural systems.
Though these two standards are voluntary, they are a standard for a reason: Because they lead to reduced accidents and increased employee safety. As such, compliance is recommended and often expected, even if it isn’t required by law.
Thankfully, you don’t need to worry about the specifics of these regulations as you begin to work with a warehouse design consultant on your facility. What you should do, though, is ask them at the beginning of your engagement: How will you ensure that our design is compliant with all of the required and recommended safety standards? Use their answer to gauge how much trust you are willing to put in their design recommendations.
Compliance with the safety standards mentioned above should realistically be the baseline that your design is measured against, not necessarily the goal. You must be compliant with OSHA, and you should aim to be compliant with CEMA and the RMI standards, but ideally you’ll aim above and beyond these minimum requirements to offer the highest levels of safety possible to your employees.
If you are working with a warehouse design consultant, they can take measures to improve the safety and ergonomics of your facility beyond the bare minimum offered by the safety standards discussed above. You should ask them about:
- Pedestrian Access: How to isolate pedestrian and vehicle traffic within your facility so that risk of accidents and collisions are reduced.
- Lighting: Are you lighting your facility in a way that it both energy efficient and in a way that allows your employees to see what they are doing without injuring themselves or others
- Ergonomics: How can you eliminate or minimize any lifting, turning, or bending motions so that your employees can reduce the risk of physical strain or distraction.
When it comes to improving workplace ergonomics, for example, a warehouse design consultant might be able to design your pack station or pallet building area in such a way that allows a pallet to be lowered while it is being loaded, so that it is at the same height as your personnel, reducing the risk of injury.
Once your facility has been designed and built, and your systems implemented, you might believe that you are done with all of your safety considerations. But the fact is, the period right after your facility is built and work begins can actually be the most dangerous for your employees, who are unfamiliar with new processes, workflows, and systems. (This is especially true if building a new facility leads to the hiring of new, younger workers, who account for up to a third of all workplace accidents.)
That’s why it is critical that you have an operational safety process for your facility. This process should include:
- Training: Making sure that your employees are properly trained on all systems and equipment, especially new systems or equipment, before work begins.
- Safety Plans: You need to have safety routes and evacuation plans in place for your facility before any work begins. Otherwise, in the event of a fire or other emergency, your staff will not be able to effectively get to safety.
- Proper Maintenance: It’s a fact of business and a fact of life that equipment and machinery needs to be maintained or else you face the risk of a breakdown, which can lead to both downtime, lost revenue, and potential injury. That’s why it’s critical that you conduct regular audits of your systems and employ qualified maintenance personnel to keep your system in peak operating capacity by performing regularly-scheduled maintenance.
The Bottom Line
Though efficiency and productivity are two key concerns when designing a new warehouse or DC, employee safety is paramount. By keeping regulations, additional design considerations, and operational procedures top of mind, a qualified warehouse design consultant will be able to help you navigate the complex world of workplace safety.