An efficient and functioning warehouse should run like a well-oiled machine. Everything should be in its place, and everyone should know where to go at all times. Of course, that only works on paper. Once we introduce humans and the problem of human error into the equation, things start to go awry.
One essential element of warehouse safety is traffic management. With equipment and workers alike moving at a fast pace, defining their routes and safety rules can reduce the risk of warehouse injury. What do you need to create an efficient warehouse traffic management plan? And once you have it in place, how do you keep things flowing smoothly?
Plan vehicle routes
Like the cars on any highway in any city in the world, there are specific routes that the traffic follows in order to prevent accidents and keep things moving smoothly. The same rules should apply in a warehouse setting, especially when forklifts and other heavy equipment are in use.
Forklifts alone are responsible for tens of thousands of injuries, as well as one out of every six on-the-job fatalities. Creating established routes for equipment usage can reduce the amount of contact warehouse employees have with machinery.
There may be some exceptions to traffic route rules, especially if a piece of equipment ends up needed in an area outside of its normal operational zone, but under most circumstances, forklifts and other vehicles should stick to their assigned routes.
Create a flow simulation
Finding the perfect flow in any given warehouse is never easy. Until 3D modeling programs became more common, it was often a case of trial and error, tweaking things until they worked smoothly.
Today, that sort of time-wasting experimentation is no longer necessary. It’s easy to create a 3D model of any warehouse and try a number of different scenarios without having to shift so much as a single shelf or tape line.
There can be a bit of a learning curve with these programs, but when it comes to creating a warehouse traffic plan, they quickly become an invaluable tool.
Understand the “rules of the road”
We’re going to use a lot of traffic analogies here, but when it comes down to it, creating a warehouse traffic plan really isn’t much different from planning out a city’s traffic pattern. That means implementing and enforcing your own rules of the road.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or your local state workplace safety officials may already have their own rules of the road designed for forklift safety. If that’s the case, then most of the work has already been done for you, and all that’s left to do is enforce them.
If there aren’t already rules in place, take the time to consider the “What If’s” to create a comprehensive set of rules to keep both operators and workers safe.
Enforce speeding restrictions
Just because a forklift has a top speed doesn’t mean you have to reach it. As with most cars, the top speed on the speedometer indicates how far the engine can be pushed, not how fast it should be driven under normal circumstances.
Consider also the amount of time it takes for a forklift to come to a complete stop. These beasts can’t stop on a dime. A forklift traveling at just 7mph can take a full 16 feet to stop. At 9 mph, that distance increases to 21 feet. They aren’t capable of stopping fast enough to protect someone who steps out in front of them, and that can lead to accidents or deaths. Set a safe speed limit and strictly enforce it.
Keep signage updated
Speed limit, directional, and caution signs aren’t just for the highways and byways of the world. Appropriate signage should be posted throughout the warehouse for both operators and pedestrians.
No-go zones where pedestrians are not allowed should be clearly marked. Instructional signs for drivers should also be clearly posted, whether they contain the speed, a map of the traffic route, or even instructions to honk at blind corners to alert pedestrians and other forklifts to their presence.
This signage should also be updated frequently, and everyone on the team should be informed of any changes as soon as possible. Signage, both on the road and in a warehouse, is only useful if people actually read it and understand what it says.
Separate vehicles and pedestrians
Modern robotics have come a long way and there are many situations where humans and heavy equipment can work side by side. A standard warehouse, with forklifts and human operators, generally isn’t one of them. The best way to keep pedestrians safe is to completely remove them from the path of the forklifts and other equipment. There may be situations where these two paths cross, but it should not be a standard operating procedure.
The best and safest choice when creating a warehouse traffic plan is to give forklifts and pedestrians their own operational spaces. If their paths ever have to cross, serious considerations need to be in place to ensure there are no accidents.
Establish a warehouse traffic management plan
When you have soft and squishy humans working alongside heavy equipment, safety is always going to be paramount. Warehouse traffic plans are just one part of that.