The Most Common Causes of Warehouse Injuries (and How to Prevent Them)
January 11, 2023
Warehouses, distribution centers (DCs) and fulfillment centers are busy places – even more so with the exponential growth of eCommerce in recent years. Not only are hundreds of people moving around loading, unloading, picking and putting away, but increasingly technology is on-the-move as well. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are moving through the aisles carrying replenishment containers. Forklifts are transporting pallets. Sortation and conveyance systems are moving boxes around rapidly and sending them to the right place. And automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) are bringing goods to the people who are helping fulfill orders and pack boxes. People play a pivotal role in maintaining these technologies, cleaning and making repairs at the large DC facilities and managing unplanned events that crop up throughout the day.
With all of this going on, there are bound to be injuries on the job. Because the warehousing sector is so large—employing more than 2 million people in the U.S. alone1—the cost of these injuries is high. Liberty Mutual Insurance’s 2021 Workplace Safety Index found that the top five causes of injury—represent nearly 75 percent of all injuries in the transportation and warehousing sector—account for more than $3.9 billion in costs each year.2
The top 5 causes of injury
What are those top five injury causes? In the TLW space, overexertion comes first from performing duties like handling heavy objects. Overexertion is the culprit for nearly 30% of all transportation and warehousing injuries and most commonly results in sprains or strains to the back and shoulders. Falls on the same level are the next most prevalent cause of injury, representing 16.4% of all TLW injuries.2 Given that warehouses are such huge places—some of the largest in the U.S. range from half a million to more than five million square feet—workers there regularly walk long distances.3 Some estimate that pickers can walk up to 12 miles each shift!4 Taking that many steps undoubtedly increases the risk of falling.
The remainder of the top five warehousing injury causes include:
- Injuries from awkward postures – 11.3%
- Roadway incidents like delivery truck crashes – 9.4%
- Falls to a lower level – 8%5
Hearing, hand and other injury risks
In addition to these top five hazards, other factors in the warehouse like loud noises leading to hearing impairment and cuts and crushing injuries to the hands present risks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 40% of all Transportation and Warehousing workers have been exposed to hazardous noise, roughly 13% have hearing difficulty and 7% have tinnitus or a ringing/buzzing noise in one or both ears. Despite these numbers, 59% of noise-exposed TLW workers report not wearing hearing protection.6
Further, Occupational Health & Safety reports that warehouse workers are one of the top five highest-risk groups for sustaining work-related hand injuries (along with those in manufacturing, construction and restaurant work).7 Hand injuries can occur when operating DC equipment or from repetitive motions.
While the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that forklift injuries make up only about 1% of warehouse accidents8, they can result in serious consequences: the latest estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics show approximately 20,000 serious injuries and 100 deaths per year in the U.S. related to a forklift.9 These typically involve the forklift overturning, falling from a forklift and pallets slipping from the rack onto passing workers or the forklift operator.
A combination of proper training, creating a culture of safety from the top down and using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) all help contribute to making the warehouse and DC a safer environment for the critical workers who keep the engine of retail and eCommerce running. OSHA’s page dedicated to warehousing provides helpful resources across a number of safety areas encountered in a DC setting, from ergonomics and musculoskeletal disorders to forklifts, trips and falls, hazardous chemicals, electrical hazards, heat stress, automation and robotics, cold storage and fatigue. Here you can find guidelines for operating a forklift (29 CFR 1910.178), fall protection standards, materials handling and storage guidance (OSHA 2236, 2002 revised) and more.
A best practice for preventing injury is wearing high-quality PPE fit for the strenuous DC setting. To determine what types of PPE warehouse and DC workers should wear, OSHA requires companies to perform continuous hazard assessments.10 Honeywell offers options such as hard hats, gloves, hearing protection, safety glasses, eye wash and harnesses, all key to working safely in a busy warehouse.
To learn more about how we help warehouse operators and their employees avoid common injuries while remaining comfortable and productive, visit our website.