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  November 1st, 2022 | Written by

Avoiding 7 Workplace Injuries Common to the Supply Chain

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Keeping the supply chain operating at peak performance relies on reducing accident and injury rates. Luckily, there are some concrete steps supply chain employers and industry leaders can take to help protect employees. 

Here are the seven most common workplace injuries in the supply chain and some tips for preventing them.

1. Slips, Trips and Falls

The most common cause of workplace injuries is slips, trips and falls. An estimated 18% of nonfatal workplace injuries requiring time away from work are due to these occurrences. That’s nearly one in every five serious workplace accidents. 

In the supply chain, slips, trips and falls can be particularly dangerous since warehouses often involve working on mezzanines and shelves well over a dozen feet off the ground. Warehouses are busy places, too. If someone simply slips on a wet spot on the floor, a minor fall-related injury could quickly become serious if a passing forklift hit them or something fell on them. 

To prevent slips, trips and falls, start by ensuring everyone has the proper footwear. Supply chain employers should make sure all of their workers are wearing anti-slip footwear, whether that is boots or sneakers. Additionally, staff should have access to and training on proper fall-prevention gear. For instance, if an employee uses a boom lift, they should be trained to operate it safely and wear the right protective gear.

It is vital to ensure fall-prevention gear is available in a wide enough range of sizes, such as harnesses and helmets. People who are small or large may skip wearing crucial fall prevention gear simply because there isn’t any available in their size. Employers can avoid this risky behavior by providing plenty of sizes for safety gear.

2. Caught Between Objects

Caught-between-objects injuries occur whenever an employee is injured by getting a body part stuck or trapped between two objects. For instance, if someone is moving heavy items down a ramp and one slides against the other with their hand caught in between, that could result in a caught-between-objects injury.

Other examples include fingers getting caught in machinery or toes getting caught between objects on the floor. Similarly, a worker may get trapped between a wall and a forklift or crane, resulting in an injury. Caught-between-objects injuries can also occur due to an employee’s clothing getting caught in or on something.

Preventing caught-between-object accidents can be tricky. It requires training employees to stay highly aware of their surroundings while ensuring the proper safety precautions are in place. Many caught-between-objects injuries result from wrong-place-wrong-time situations, such as a person accidentally walking between two moving objects. So, practice and train constant situational awareness in the workplace.

Additionally, all moving equipment should have emergency stop switches of some kind and staff should know exactly how to use them. It may also help to create designated forklift lanes in warehouse aisles to reduce the likelihood of employees accidentally straying into a forklift’s path.

3. Struck by a Moving Object

Hit-by or struck-by accidents are similar to caught-between accidents but slightly different. In these cases, there is only one object involved in the accident, often a vehicle of some kind. Struck-by accidents include being hit by a forklift, truck, crane, lift or crane arm. These injuries can pose an exceptionally high fatality risk simply due to the impact caused by large moving objects.

Preventing struck-by injuries is all about communication and awareness. Poor communication is a surprisingly common risk in supply chain jobs that often goes overlooked. If employees consistently and clearly communicate about their actions, it is less likely someone will accidentally get in the way of a moving object. For instance, warning signals could be established when a worker is going to back up a forklift so others nearby know to stay back.

4. Heavy Lifting Injuries

Lifting heavy objects is often an everyday part of the job in the supply chain industry. Employees are frequently expected to lift objects weighing 50 pounds or less, but it is not unheard of for them to try lifting much more than that on the job. Unfortunately, ​​heavy lifting causes about 30% of work-related injuries.

Doing so can result in muscle injuries, broken bones and serious back injuries. Additionally, attempting to lift heavy objects can result in other types of injuries such as slips, trips, falls and caught-in-between injuries. So, preventing lifting injury situations as much as possible could result in a much safer workplace.

Reducing the likelihood of a heavy lifting accident often requires investing in the right equipment. For instance, there may be a shortage of forklifts or carts workers could use instead of trying to pick something up themselves. Automated warehouse robots could help solve this problem, as well. Additionally, encourage employees to speak up and ask for help when they are struggling to lift something.

5. Repetitive Strain Injuries

Repetitive strain injuries often occur when an employee works too much or for too long, using the same muscles or muscle groups over and over in a similar fashion. For example, a worker might develop a repetitive strain injury from lifting and placing heavy boxes for an entire shift or double shift. These injuries can be hazardous since they are often hard to spot at first but result in long recovery times.

One way to prevent repetitive strain injuries in supply chain workplaces is to raise awareness of signs of overwork and fatigue. For instance, if someone feels sick during or after an active shift, it may signal something is wrong. Any severe or prolonged muscle pain should be reported and investigated to ensure employees don’t sustain serious repetitive strain injuries on the job.

Employers can also help prevent repetitive strain injuries by setting aside time at the beginning of shifts for staff to warm up and stretch. Working in a warehouse can be a highly active job — just like a workout or playing a sport. Warming up and stretching are known to help prevent injuries in athletics and executives can use the same tactic in the workplace.

6. Forklift Accidents

Forklift accidents occur any time an employee is injured while operating a forklift or by a forklift in operation. For instance, a worker could accidentally flip over a forklift while driving, resulting in a potentially fatal injury. Similarly, an employee could be accidentally hit while a forklift backs up.

A common culprit in forklift accidents is the seatbelt. Staff who skip wearing their seatbelt while operating a forklift put themselves at a much higher risk of being seriously injured in the event of an accident. So, employers must be strict about enforcing seatbelt requirements for forklift operators.

Another common cause of forklift-related accidents and injuries is improper operation. Employees who have not been thoroughly trained to operate a forklift safely put themselves and others in danger of an accident or injury. Warehouse managers can reduce this risk by requiring safety training for everyone and maintaining strict rules about who is allowed to operate a forklift. 

7. Contact With Hazardous Materials

Contact with hazardous materials in warehousing can result in chemical burns and exposure-related illnesses. Both can be serious injuries and result in time off work and possibly a stay in the hospital. Preventing hazardous materials accidents and injuries requires diligence, but it is possible.

An excellent place to start is to understand why chemicals and hazardous materials commonly cause accidents in warehouses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has published guidelines on common compliance concerns, offering insight into this topic. For instance, accidents could be caused by containers of chemicals — particularly flammable ones — going unaccounted for on a warehouse’s property. Warehouse managers must also be careful volatile chemicals are not stored close to one another.

In addition to practicing safe chemical storage, safe materials handling training can also help prevent hazardous-materials-related injuries. Warehouse managers can protect employees by teaching safe chemical-handling procedures and going over what to do in the event of exposure. For example, everyone should know where to find the hand and eye washing station if a dangerous substance splashes them.

Improving Supply Chain Safety

Supply chain employers and industry leaders can help improve the industry as a whole by strengthening workplace safety. These injuries in supply chain jobs may be the most common, but employers can prevent them by implementing detailed and diligent safety protocols and training. Everyone can work safer and smarter with the right precautions and keep the supply chain moving at top performance.