Warehouse workers face dangers that can easily cause serious injury. With the right procedures and design choices in place, it’s possible to mitigate many of these issues — but only if organizations know what to look for.

If warehouse storage isn’t well-designed — or if the proper materials storage and handling procedures aren’t in place — workers can be exposed to falling items, collapsing racks or even fires and explosions.

Excellent storage design can prevent some of these hazards and ensure safety in the warehouse.

Design impacts safety

Improperly marked storage areas and accumulated materials — like poorly stored goods or discarded packaging — can easily create a fire hazard or increase the risk of falls and slips. In some cases, accumulated materials may even harbor pests, like rats.

Incompatible materials — those that create an explosion or fire risk when stored together — can create issues if not properly separated in storage. Improperly stacked loads — especially those that are top-heavy or makes goods difficult to access — can create the risk of falling objects that may strike and injure workers. When cylindrical items, like drums, are stacked on top of each other, they can also create similar hazards.

Storage that isn’t ergonomically designed can produce health problems for workers and increase the risk of injury. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) — sometimes called repetitive stress injuries — can be caused by repeated awkward movements, insufficient moving equipment and poor lifting technique. MSDs are extremely common — they accounted for 33 percent of all workplace injuries in 2013.

Carrying loads that are especially large, awkward or heavy is a common contributing factor in many back injuries, a type of MSDs. Additionally, loads that are large enough can impair worker eyesight, making accidents and collisions much more likely.

Organizing warehouse storage

When designing storage for safety, a good place to start is with reviewing current procedures and ensuring that they follow OSHA guidelines and recommendations regarding materials storage, use and handling.

Strong materials handling and storage procedures can also help ensure worker safety. Be sure that employees are aware of OSHA regulations and recommendations surrounding materials handling. Workers shouldn’t lift more than 50 pounds without assistance from another employee or heavy lifting equipment, such as a forklift.

Follow and encourage good safety practices — like cultivating a culture of safety and spreading the importance of the safety mindset around the warehouse. Employees that understand and buy into safety procedures can be more likely to follow cautious practices.

When designing or installing new storage, work with reputable companies. Ideally, the storage company will have notable experience in designing and installing warehouse storage and provide recommendations from others in the warehousing industry. Research the brands and storage methods they use and be on the lookout for any potential red flags — especially lawsuits or business complaints.

Design storage and select pallets based on the weight and size of the items the warehouse has. Companies should only use pallets for the items they are designed for. A pallet that can be used to move boxes of cereal by forklift may not be suitable to move differently-shaped objects, like cans of paint.

Damaged or heavily-worn pallets should be removed from the warehouse floor as they can create a safety risk if they break while racked or transporting goods. Workers should also ensure that they store pallets in a way that makes them accessible to heavy equipment — for example, stringer pallets only have fork access on two sides. If stored improperly, it may not be possible to move one with machinery.

Designing for safety

Poor warehouse storage design can expose workers to a range of safety hazards. Falling objects, collisions with equipment or other workers and fires can all occur without the right storage design in place.

With the right planning, it’s possible to mitigate most of these risks. Following all relevant OSHA guidelines and working with an experienced storage design company can help warehouses avoid some of the most common storage design mistakes.

Organizations that establish a culture of safety and ensure they train workers in warehouse safety tips — like proper lifting techniques — can also cut back on the potential dangers of materials storage and handling.