How to Stay Safe in the Warehouse

You’re the kind of worker who goes the extra mile.

If there’s a job to do, you don’t let anything get in your way. You’re up to the physical challenges that come with the territory. You’ve seen a lot — and you know how to handle yourself on the floor.

But not all warehouses or machinery are the same, especially when it comes to safety. All it takes is one mistake and you could be facing forced time off, missed paychecks and potentially serious injury.

What tips can you follow to stay safe on the warehouse floor? What should you know as a contract worker about workplace safety? What are your rights and protections?

We spoke with Aerotek Regional Safety Manager Mary Beth Clark to answer those questions. Clark has extensive experience in safety issues: Before joining Aerotek, she worked for eight years as a specialist in manufacturing and warehouse safety.

Safety starts before you take the job

Workplace safety starts well before your first shift on a new job. At Aerotek, it begins before you even interview, with a safety screening of your potential workplace.

“We follow a checklist to help with the safety verification process of our clients,” says Clark. “We collect information about what safety looks like at our clients’ sites. What personal protective equipment do they provide? Are they providing and documenting safety training? Then we get into the specific training they're giving to our contractors in whatever role and location they might be staffing.”

Clark also makes sure that potential clients follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) recommended practices to protect temporary workers. Often, clients will partner with Aerotek’s regional safety team to make sure they’re meeting their responsibilities to their workers.

The interview process is your opportunity to understand if a particular contract job is one you can safely complete. That means asking questions about the work environment. Is it clean? Is it hot or cold? Is it well lit? How much lifting is required? Will you be expected to operate machinery? Asking these questions during your interview will help you ask even better questions during training and help avoid injuries on the job.

When you accept a job, Clark’s team provides safety training during the onboarding process.

“We touch on a lot of safety topics, including lockout-tagout, safe lifting, confined space awareness and emergency action plan awareness,” Clark says. “Then we work with our clients to ensure that they follow up with site-specific training.”

These rigorous screening and onboarding processes allow Clark’s team to provide contractors with as much knowledge as possible before they start a warehouse job.

Safety tips — before your shift

Your role may involve repetitive lifting, standing for long periods or working in an environment that may be cold, noisy and close to heavy machinery. It’s important to prepare yourself physically, so start with a warm-up.

“Stretch before and after work, especially if you’re doing a lot of lifting,” says Clark. “Keeping your muscles loose can help you avoid a work-related injury.”

It’s the employer’s responsibility to provide the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), but you need to do your part and wear what’s provided. Slip-resistant, steel or composite-toe shoes, safety glasses, bump caps, reflective vests and noise-reducing headphones are among the common PPE OSHA requires employers to make available, most of them at no cost to you.  

How you start a shift can determine how you finish it.

Staying safe on the warehouse floor

Once your shift begins, you’re as responsible as your supervisor for your safety. That means you need to speak up if you find yourself in a position you’re unsure about.

“No one should ever be afraid to ask questions about the machine they’re operating, the training they’ve received or the PPE involved," says Clark. “Asking questions is really important for employees so they can understand how to protect themselves every day.” 

Asking questions — especially before you jump into a new task — is especially important for contractors. The forklift at your new gig may look like the one at your last job, but it could be a newer model or may be equipped with different features. You won’t know for sure unless you ask. Your fresh set of eyes may help your supervisor see that there’s a better, safer way to do something.

“Contract employees take a lot of pride in their work and want to keep things moving,” Clark says. “They want to prove themselves. They're sometimes willing to take some risks if they think it will pay off for production. But you’re always better off asking questions if you’re not absolutely sure about your situation.”

After all, it’s no good for you or your supervisor if you’re injured on the job.

What to expect from your recruiting partner

The best recruiting partners will be as invested in your workplace safety as you are.

They’ll be aware of what the client’s responsibilities are. That’s why it’s essential to report any workplace incidents to your recruiter — and to your supervisor — as soon as you can. Reporting an accident helps recruiters and warehouse leadership keep accurate records and can prevent future injuries.

“Safety is important to us and to our clients,” Clark says. “Injuries disrupt workers’ lives and we want to avoid that and send our people home the same way they came to work."