3 Best Practices for Productivity-Enhancing Warehouse Ergonomics

Injuries are far too common in the warehousing industry, with workers experiencing nearly twice as many musculoskeletal injuries as workers in the general private sector. However, good ergonomic practices can help prevent these injuries from occurring in the first place.

According to a 2013 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. warehousing and storage industry reported a total recordable rate of 5.2 injuries per 100 full-time workers. These injuries resulted in absences, job restriction or transfer, leading to “considerable money” claims for many warehousing and distribution companies.

OSHA Defined Examples of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • Rotator cuff injuries (affects the shoulder)
  • Epicondylitis (affects the elbow)
  • Trigger finger
  • Muscle strains and low back injuries

Implementing best practices to support proper ergonomic working conditions helps to minimize worker strain from repetitive activities, bending and reaching which reduces the risk of back injuries and simultaneously improves pick rates. If you reduce the risk of injury you also eliminate the associated costs. Here are three best practices strategies to help identify workplace risk factors and reduce worker injuries in the warehouse.

Best Practices Strategies

  1. Material Handling Equipment
  2. Warehouse Policy
  3. Protective Equipment

1. Material Handling Equipment

There are a number of material handling solutions that support an ergonomic approach to hand picking. Ideally, you want workers to operate in the neutral position as often as possible, limiting strain which can lead to injury. This means less bending or twisting and having materials available from hip to chest height, the ideal positioning.

Case Picking - Apex Warehouse Systems
Carton Flow with Roller Conveyor

Ergonomically Supportive Order Picking Equipment

  • Industrial Lift Tables
  • Goods-to-Person
  • Carton Flow Rack
  • Carousels (Horizontal & Vertical)
  • Conveyor

Industrial Lift Tables – are used commonly to case pick from palletized inventory. The lift table can be lowered or raised the make the load more ergonomically accessible to workers. Tables can be manual, electric or hydraulic depending on type and need.

Goods-to-Person Picking Technology – There are a variety of systems that operate on a goods-to-person methodology. In essence, the inventory is picked by an automated device and brought to the worker. When workers can stand in one place to select inventory and fulfill orders, they can fill more orders than if they had to walk through the warehouse to choose the individual items.

Carton FlowWheeled or rollers tracks harness gravity to propel cartons, totes and individual items to flow from the load aisle to an opposite pick aisle. The pick face automatically replenishes with each pick saving the worker from having to reach into the rack. Carton flow can be equipped with angle trays at the pick aisle to further improve SKU visibility and pick ergonomics making for faster, more accurate picks.

Carousels (Horizontal and Vertical) – These systems are a type of automated storage and retrieval solution that store a inventory in a highly-condensed space and automatically deliver the selected SKU to an easy to access pick position.

Case Picking - Apex Warehouse Systems
Case Picking to Conveyor

Conveyor – Whether electronic or gravity fed, conveyor is an economical and efficient mechanism to support order fulfillment operations and minimize worker activity.

2. Warehouse Policy 

Setting worker-supportive policy can also have a big impact on risk reduction. Warehouse injury prevention policies can include:

Warehouse Safety - Apex Warehouse Systems

  • Follow OSHA Guidelines for Lifting – Loads over a certain weight require at least two people to lift. Guidelines also include weight limits based upon if the worker is twisting during lifting, how high the load is lifted, the distance of the load from the worker, the distance of movement while lifting the load, and how easy the load is to hold.
  • Rotate workers – Repetitive motion injuries should also be on your radar. Switching up jobs can relieve strain to muscles that would be overused by doing the same motions or tasks over and over again.
  • Require the use of power tools – Require workers to use power-operated and pneumatic machinery to help take the load of their muscles.
  • Ergonomic Safety Training – Teach your workers to prepare for their jobs with beneficial stretching. You can also educate your team to the benefits of musculoskeletal self-care, rest and recovery and how to identify the warning signs that your body is fatigued.

3. Protective Equipment

Warehouse Safety - Apex Warehouse SystemsProvide properly fitting protective equipment to reduce the risk of common injuries.

  • Padding to reduce direct contact with hard, sharp, or vibrating surfaces.
  • Thermal gloves in cold environments… must still maintain the ability to easily grasp items
  • Protective eyewear
  • Hardhat
  • Protective earphones that allow for hearing warehouse vehicles

Where to start? Two Great Resources: OSHA & Apex

OSHA has a preventative outreach program to help facilities come up with and implement an ergonomic plan. Their preventative division can visit your facility to make recommendations and give the company time to comply afterward.

And Apex Warehouse Systems is a great resource with a team of trained warehouse safety experts that can help evaluate existing systems and common safety concerns to ensure your facility is operating optimally for worker safety and effectiveness.

Contact Apex to schedule a visit or consultation.