As the digital revolution continues to shape the way we work there is also a case for how technology can make our work environments safer. This is especially true within the warehouse and fulfilment center space.
Workplace safety within the warehousing industry is becoming more of a topic of concern given the growth of the sector of over the last few years. These have been highlighted by news stories of large warehousing operations and reports of workplace related injuries. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the US Department of Labor, released a report which showed that nearly 1 in 20 warehouse workers fall victim to a workplace related injury every year. As the logistics and warehousing industry continues to grow and demand puts more pressure on resources, workplace safety becomes imperative.
With this in mind, how can businesses ensure that they are doing their best to make the warehouse environment safer for their workers and what strategy can they employ to address the situation?
Technology is of course becoming ever more a driver for change in business by helping to solve and address problems. This is equally true when it comes to warehouse safety. This being the case a modern and robust WMS solution can be a driving component for increasing warehouse safety. With a WMS you can begin to gather data on your warehouse and use this to gain insights on areas concerning worker habits and patterns. For example, WMS data can indicate how long people are logged on to their scanner devices or workstations. This can then allow you to know if workers are taking scheduled and routine breaks to avoid fatigue. It can also indicate how many steps in a process a worker must take in order to fulfill a given task. By analyzing the data you may be able to reduce worker exposure to injury by eliminating certain interactions and steps within the process. Furthermore, you can also ensure that enough human resources are allocated to specific tasks by reviewing fulfilment times in relation to either certain products or areas of your warehouse. By making sure you have adequate resources for the task at hand you make sure that people are safe and limit the chances of an accident or injury.
A WMS can also validate and track things like weight capacity for storage locations to avoid situations that may overburden shelving and racks which might cause accidents. You can also determine how best to use your storage locations by strategically locating easy to handle items in areas where they are quickly accessible while consolidating heavier and less wieldy items in specified zones of your warehouse. By doing so you can limit the areas where forklifts are required and reduce the risk of forklift related accidents. This is significant since forklift related accidents tend to be one of the primary causes of warehouse related injuries.
WMS’ further help to organize the warehouse by making sure that fast moving inventory is stored in easily accessible locations which are closer to packing, staging, and dock areas. These items can be isolated through reports that show order and worker interaction frequency. A process can then be put in place whereby which the WMS can suggest to staff where best to put items away for storage. This takes the guesswork out of the putaway process and reduces the unnecessary amount of physical steps involved for the worker. Less steps means less exposure which translates into a reduction of potential injury.
The WMS solution can also be configured to suggest putaway and pick routes and help to efficiently guide workers through the warehouse environment. Employees thus avoid situations where they are haphazardly roaming isles of the warehouse trying to find an item. It also helps train up new staff faster and give predictability to tasks. On the other hand, warehouse a worker who is distracted by looking up at rows, locations, and storage bins often can lose a sense of their surroundings. Add to this physical and mental exhaustion, frustration, confusion, and stress to reduce fulfilment times, and it becomes a recipe for disaster.
Physical counts have always been part and parcel of the warehouse environment. Operations are shut down and all hands are asked to help with the count of inventory. This is often done either in off hours or weekends and can lead to worker fatigue and errors. As well, flooding the warehouse with so many workers (even some who may not be familiar with the warehouse), all moving about, often working on their own, moving items of various weights, opening boxes to verify amounts, and working as quickly as possible to get the job done increases risk factors. WMS’s though provide accurate tracking of inventory from the time product enters the warehouse to the moment it leaves. Instead of doing a physical, a process in and of itself open to errors, a staff or managers can simply run a cycle count and get real-time inventory levels in minutes by counting and verifying the amount of inventory in a particular location through a handheld scanner. These cycle counts can be performed during regular work hours, are efficient, and reduce workplace risk.
Yard management systems (YMS) and WMS’s that have this technology as a component, like Akatia’s WAM solution, can also help to make the exterior of the warehouse a safer place. The yard of the warehouse can be a particularly high traffic area with trucks and trailers moving about. Sightlines can be diminished, and accidents can happen when people are moving about this environment. A YMS allows for the organization of that traffic, and all from the comfort and safety of the office. Scheduled appointments can be managed through the system to alleviate congestion within the yard, and rather than workers having to tell trucks where to go or do checks of documentation, these tasks can be done through SMS and email. By reducing congestion and worker interactions within the yard space workers are less exposed to this high risk area.
As we’ve seen WMS technology can go a long way to making the warehouse a safer environment. Of course, this is only one aspect of creating a safer environment for workers and should be taken as a part of an overarching and holistic approach to safety. WMS technology like Akatia’s WAM though can help to strengthen and enforce your safety conscious processes and provide the data and tools to be able to implement them alongside other initiatives. By putting into practice strategies that are supported by technology not only will your warehouse become safer but more productive as well.
If you're looking to transform the way you manage your warehouse and inventory, get in contact with us by clicking the link below. We'd be happy to speak with you.