Keeping Your Warehouse Safe

Juliette Garesche

Last month, safety topics specific to dock areas were covered, and this month we will cover safety issues that commonly apply to the rest of the warehouse. This article will cover methods to keep pedestrians safely separated from vehicular traffic, safety concerns related to refueling or recharging of forklifts, and then list other warehouse hazards to keep in mind and where you can find more information on the relevant OSHA standards.

Keeping Pedestrians Safe From Vehicles

Any location where forklifts and personnel coexist is an opportunity for serious injury. One of the most obvious safety steps is to set appropriate speed limits for inside the building and for outside in parking lots and driveways. Post the speed limits and enforce them. When possible, separate pedestrians (foot traffic) from vehicular traffic. OSHA requires permanent aisles and passageways to be appropriately marked as per 1910.176(a). Paint, tape, and decals can be used to identify
where people should move, and which paths are just for vehicles. It is helpful to train employees to only use “people doors” and to never use overhead or commercial doorways designed for vehicles.

If employees must work near moving vehicles, it would be helpful (not required) if they wear high-visibility clothing. Forklifts can be outfitted with red or blue LED warning lights that shine beside, ahead of, or behind the forklift. This visual warning is especially helpful in loud or dimly lit warehouses. Some foundries establish “No Go” zones around forklifts and pedestrians are trained not to enter the “zone” unless the forklift driver clearly signals for them to approach. Traffic cones, barricades, and crossing gates are all useful in preventing collisions between pedestrians and vehicles. Domed mirrors hung at busy intersections improve visibility for both driver and pedestrian.

Contractors, Vendors, Temps, and Visitors

Those visiting your site for any reason should receive a quick briefing regarding the hazards in your facility. Give thought to the movement of contractors, and whether they will be escorted, and provide safe paths for waiting truck drivers to access restrooms, lunch areas, waiting areas, and the office. This training should be conducted and documented during the contractor or visitor’s initial visit to your facility and repeated at least annually. Attendance at this training can be made a part of all contracts. Contractor and vendors coming on site should be asked about chemicals they may bring onsite. They should provide Safety Data Sheets, and also receive SDS from the facility for any chemicals in the area where they are working. Contractor information should include coordination of Lockout Tagout, confined spaces, machine guarding, and other pertinent topics.

The presence of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) must be shared if visitors will be entering a regulated area. Regulated area warning signs are required to be posted at each entrance to an area with silica concentrations above the PEL. Anyone entering the area must wear a respirator and be trained regarding both RCS and respirators, and meet other requirements of 1910.134. In most cases, the visitor should bring their own respirator if entering a regulated area. Require your
contractors and visitors to present documentation of this training.

Cell Phones and Other Distractions

Distractions are one of the largest contributors to injuries of all types. For this reason, it is common for many companies to prohibit cell phones in the warehouse, or to require they only be used when safely within an office, lab, or other enclosed and protected area.

Pallet Jacks

No one should use a pallet jack unless trained. Safety shoes or boots with a safety toe should be worn. Know the maximum load capacity of the pallet jack and never allow it to be exceeded. Manual pallet jacks are to be pushed rather than pulled. That way, they won’t run over the heels of the operator if they must be stopped quickly, and there is less risk of back injury. If the load is high and obstructing the view, the operator should ask a spotter to assist. Park pallet jacks in a
level place with the forks lowered to the floor. When parked, leave the handle in the upright position. Pallet jacks and other hand-held and portable powered
tools are covered in 1910.244.

Autonomous Guided Vehicles

AGVs are becoming more common in warehouses. It is important that they be highly visible, audible, and that their speed is limited so that employees can respond and stay out of their way. They must have bumpers or other sensors that stop travel if an obstruction is encountered. Some facilities mark the AGV’s travel path so employees know to keep clear.

Storage of Flammable or Combustible Liquids

1910.106 covers flammable liquids and spells out the quantity of various materials and how they must be stored. Flammable cabinets are used for smaller containers of flammables.

Chemical Storage, Hazard Communication, and Labeling

A Safety Data Sheet is required for all hazardous chemicals on site, and employees who use the chemicals must be trained on hazards, symptoms of over exposure, and how to protect themselves. Protecting themselves often includes the type of personal protective equipment to be worn when using each chemical. Remember to label any secondary packaging. It is also important to know which chemicals are incompatible and should not be stored together or mixed. The Hazard Communication standard is in 1910.1200.

Liquid Petroleum Gas (Propane or LPG) and Other Gas Tank Storage

Propane tanks must not be stored where temperatures could exceed 120F or higher and there should be “No Smoking” signs in the area. Forklift cylinders should be stored on their side with the relief valve in the up position so it is in the vapor space in the container. (Grill cylinders should be stored vertically with the valve up.) All tanks should be secured to prevent them from falling or rolling which could break the stem valve. Oxygen tanks must be stored at least 20 feet away from fuel tanks (ex. propane or acetylene for welding) or have an engineered fire barrier between them. No more than 300 lbs. of Liquid Propane Gas (LPG) may be stored in one location and propane should always be stored outdoors in a well-ventilated area, away from traffic [National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 58]. It is common to have a securely locked, open air, mesh cabinet for propane storage.

When changing propane tanks on a forklift, do so outside when possible, but always in a well-ventilated area as close as possible to your tank storage area. Wear
eye protection and insulated loose fitting gloves such as dry leather or insulated neoprene. Contact with liquid propane can cause frostbite. Close the valve on
the cylinder and run the engine until it is starved of fuel before breaking connections. Use caution to prevent dropping or damaging the tank or breaking the valve.
Ensure the locking pin on the forklift engages the cylinder, indicating it is in the proper orientation. Cylinders are heavy, so good lifting technique is a must.

Gasoline and Diesel

We are familiar with fueling our cars, but it is important to remember it is highly flammable. Fuel outdoors, make sure the engine is off, and that there are no sources of heat, flame, or sparks. Do not smoke while refueling. Flammable liquids are covered in 1910.106.

Electrical Charging Stations for Forklifts- 1910.178(g) Powered Industrial Truck (PIT) Changing and Charging Storage Batteries

Concerns when charging forklift batteries are weight, caustics, hydrogen gas and electricity. If the forklift battery can be charged in place, that is best. Often
forklifts operate more than one shift so the forklift battery must be replaced with one that is fully charged. In this case, a crane may be used to remove and replace
batteries. Forklift batteries contain sulfuric acid which can cause chemical burns. It is also a Section 302 Extremely Hazardous Substance and quantities over 500
pounds must be reported on the Tier II Reports. Charge batteries in a well-ventilated area and ensure all sparks, heat and flames are kept away. It is important that
forklift operators not touch the batteries while charging as this could cause a short circuit, electrical burns, or an explosion. An eye wash station is required, and a
drench shower and spill kit should be nearby. Hydrogen gas detectors may also be required. PPE for charging batteries includes: an acid-resistant face shield,
goggles, gloves, and an apron. Special non-conductive tools may be needed, and jewelry should not be worn. Never use a battery that smokes.

Safety Showers & Eyewashes

Wherever there are injurious corrosive chemicals (such as battery acid) being handled, employers must provide a safety drench shower reachable within 10 sec. Delaying access to the showers or eye washes, for even seconds, could worsen the chemical burn or damage. You can read about the need for quick drenching
or flushing of the eyes and body, as well as the required flow rates, duration of flow, and water temperature at 1910.151(c) and ANSI Z358.1-2014. Eye wash stations must be kept clean, and water in reserves of self-contained eye washes (not plumbed) must be checked and replaced regularly. Plumbed eyewashes should be
inspected weekly. This includes flowing water to flush the lines.

Mezzanine Load Limits

Many warehouses have mezzanines, or raised storage, over office, restrooms, or storage spaces. Two issues to think about with mezzanines are load limits and fall prevention. At the time the mezzanine is designed, the engineer will calculate the load limit per square foot based on the construction methods and materials used in making that mezzanine. The load limit must always be posted in a conspicuous location. If you have no load limit posted, you cannot store anything
on the mezzanine and must post it with a sign stating, “Do Not Store.” If people will access the mezzanine level (as opposed to reaching it by forklift) some form of fall protection must be provided as per 1910.28.

Access to Rooftop

Many warehouse spaces contain one or more roof access points. In this case, ladder safety requirements may apply as specified in 1910.23. Also, make sure that all workers on roofs are kept away from edges, skylights, and other openings, including the roof hatch, protected with gating, nets, or fall prevention equipment as
required in 1910.28. Keep in mind that fixed ladders over 24 ft. installed before November 2018 must be equipped with a personal fall arrest system, ladder safety system, cage, or well. If installed after November 19, 2018, a personal fall arrest system or ladder safety system is required.

Fire Evacuation Routes and Extinguishers

Always keep evacuation routes and paths to fire extinguishers clear. Emergency exit paths should not pass by flammable, combustible, or explosive materials. 1910.37(a). Fire extinguishers must be visually inspected monthly. Initialing the tag is a good way to record the inspection and many local fire departments or insurance companies require the tags be initialed. Every year extinguishers must be professionally inspected and tagged. Finally, each type of fire extinguisher
has a set number of years after which they must be pulled from service and/or maintained by a professional service.

Exit Signs

They must be lighted and meet the requirements of 1910.37(b). Each doorway that could be confused as an exit must be marked “Not An Exit." 1910.37(b)(5)

Conveyors and Other Equipment With Moving Parts

All moving parts must be guarded to prevent employees from getting gloves, clothing, hands, hair, and other limbs pinched, or entangled in the parts. Machine Guarding is covered in 1910.212. Supplies are required to be readily available and it describes under what conditions first aid trained employees must be on site. Foundries can also consult ANSI Z308.1 for the most up to date first aid supply requirements.

Permit Required Confined Space

Confined spaces are defined as those that are not designed for continuous employee occupancy, are large enough an employee to enter with their whole body, and have limited or restricted means of entry or exit. If a confined space has additional hazards, such as poor air quality, a confined space permit is required for entry. A few common examples in foundries include sewers, storm drains, baghouses, and tanks. Each space should be labeled as a Permit Required Confined Space. Only trained and authorized personnel should be allowed to enter such areas after receiving training, PPE, and possibly air monitoring. There must
always be an attendant who can seek additional help or initiate rescue procedures if the worker runs into trouble. If your rescue plan is to rely on the local fire department, check with them to make sure they have the appropriate rescue capabilities.

Awareness of these regulated topics will give you an opportunity to confirm that your own safety programs cover the hazards common to warehouses. Electrical safety, arc flash, slips, trips and falls, and many other general safety programs should also be reviewed and folded into your safety plan. 

Click here to see this story as it appears in the March 2020 issue of Modern Casting.