New Approaches To Warehouse & Distribution Employee Safety

forklift driver inside a warehouse

Within the last year, health and safety on the jobsite has taken on new significance for warehouse and distribution businesses.

COVID-19 has a multiplying effect on health and safety activity. Businesses must do more to protect their workers while exploring new options to prevent on-site outbreaks.

How can warehousing and distribution employers meet these new health and safety challenges?

We asked Aerotek Regional Safety Manager Mary Beth Clark for recommendations based on what she’s seen.

Evaluate the effectiveness of your current protocols

Staying updated can be difficult since rules vary by location and may change over time. The key to keeping up with rules and regulations is knowing where to find them.

“I always tell people to use OSHA as a resource,” says Clark. “Their website has a lot of great info and training on standards and plenty of new info on COVID-19.”

Even if you have a strong foundation for implementing on-site health and safety best practices, Clark recommends a thorough review of relevant documentation. Employers may need a COVID-19 addendum to address specific changes, but the right framework is often present in the Master Services Agreement.

“We look at contract language that reflects the standards for training that need to be followed,” says Clark, “and key issues such as need and responsibility for PPE are usually outlined in the service contract from the beginning, so that has scaled pretty evenly.“

Even during times of change, many of the jobsite health and safety basics remain the same. Employers should continue resolving injury reports and continue to outline the responsibilities on all sides of their staffing partnerships.

Make sure to keep your workforce involved. They’ll know more about on-the-ground conditions than anybody else and asking for employee input makes workers feel more comfortable and motivated.

Improving communication is critical

Existing contract language may cover a lot of ground in addressing the new state of health and safety. However, the methods used in implementing key initiatives have changed almost completely.

Virtual tours with health and safety representatives are likely to continue. The effectiveness of these tours depends on the quality of communication and mutual trust on both sides. Increasing the specificity of the questions asked will lead to more effective tours.

Clark says, “You have to ask a lot more questions and be very intentional with your communication.”

Training is another area where communication methods need to change. Forklift and pallet jack operators need both classroom and hands-on training. This can present challenges due to social distancing guidelines, but all training must still occur in accordance with OSHA regulations. Training currently requires some homework before coming onsite. It also requires new mechanisms to verify learning retention and instructors who can answer questions in real-time.

The goal of improving communications should be to keep a good relationship with your workforce, including contract laborers and temporary workers. Without as many face-to-face interactions, small issues can develop into larger problems. Instituting new ways of getting worker feedback will also keep employees engaged and productive.

Anticipate new and changing regulations

While federal guidance from OSHA serves as a good baseline for health and safety best practices, some locales may have more stringent guidelines. Local governments can mandate new procedures at the drop of a hat in response to outbreaks and surges.

“The easiest way to stay on top of COVID-19 protocols is to be more cautious than the regulations stipulate,” says Clark. “You need to keep your people safe whether there’s a law or not.”

Building flexible protocols that respond to shifting COVID-19 guidelines is a great start. You can expect more regulatory changes are on the horizon. For example, OSHA’s powered industrial trucks standards are in the impact study phase, but looming.

Warehouse and distribution employers need to proactively prepare for a consensus update, changing standards for new forklifts with ANSI and powered industrial truck training standard updates.

Warehousing and distribution employers may feel burdened as COVID-19 increases scrutiny on health and safety regulations.

Maintaining a high level of on-site health and safety requires an active partnership between staffing vendors and your workforce. The process is certainly more complex due to COVID-19, but it also offers a key competitive advantage. When your people feel valued, cared for and listened to, they tend to go the extra mile to deliver productivity.

To find out more about how you can earn a reputation as the most reliable employer in your area, reach out to Aerotek.