Is Automation Hurting the Health and Safety of the Warehouse Worker?
Blog | March 23rd, 2021

Is Automation Hurting the Health and Safety of the Warehouse Worker?

During my career I have worked, walked, and welcomed digitization and automation in the warehouse. I realize first-hand how organizations compete on supply-chain performance and what happens in the warehouse is no different. The growth and digitalization trend in the warehouse has implications for the working conditions and health and safety of those receiving, picking, packing, and putting away products for inbound and outbound materials.

As an example, Amazon warehouse workers and former safety professionals are saying the use of robots to ratchet up production quotas has reached the point that humans cannot keep up without hurting themselves. Special events like Cyber Monday put additional levels of stress on warehouse employees. As a result, for each of the past four years, injury rates have been significantly higher at Amazon’s robotic warehouses than at its traditional sites.

Additionally, according to labor statistics in the US, there has been a drop in safety at warehouses due to various issues including talent shortages and a lack of properly trained workers. Other challenges include workflow and workload changes, worker engagement, and injuries and fatalities, whether from unsafe working conditions, or even human errors.

As enterprises look to improve the overall safety culture across the organization, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) solutions that address the health and safety of the warehouse and distribution center need to be integrated into the fabric of the supply chain execution processes and infrastructure. So how does the integration between EHS and Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) drive greater throughput and less risk across the distribution channel?

Let us explore where the risks lie within the warehouse and then link the processes and transactions that support their execution.

Warehouse Resource Planning is Key to the WMS Integration

The warehouse resource planning system lets you define your areas and your workforce priorities, so you can drive the picking of bulk pallets in the warehouse, letting you keep trucks in specific zones of the warehouse or manage the transition of operators spending their shift moving full pallets from bulk locations to marshalling locations. Native appointment scheduling and dock door management are other capabilities of resource planning where EHS integration can help increase visibility, safety, and throughput.

The EHS integration can ensure all operators are competent and have completed certified training. The combined solutions can perform regular refresher training and evaluation when an operator is observed operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner.

Operating within new levels of automated warehouses places additional pressure on employees to follow proper lockout tag-out procedures during conveyor maintenance and repairs. Loads should be placed evenly and properly positioned, and heavier loads must be stacked on lower or middle shelves.

Warehouse Execution is Where Best Practices Need to Be Deployed

Here are the eight most common warehouse safety hazards where an integrated EHS solution with warehouse management systems helps you identify and control them:

1. Forklifts
These workers are directed by alerts and notifications from WMS solutions to transfer materials from one location to another within the warehouse or from the dock to stock and vice versa. When operated incorrectly these can cause serious damage to operators, the equipment itself, nearby workers, and property. The unsafe use of forklifts is the most often cited hazard in warehousing operations by OSHA.

2. Docks
One of the worst accidents a worker could suffer when working in a warehouse is being pinned or crushed between a forklift truck and the loading dock. This typically occurs when a forklift runs off the dock and strikes a person.

3. Conveyors
The conveyor equipment is commonly used in the transportation of goods from warehouse to warehouse and poses serious dangers including workers getting entangled with the equipment or being struck by falling objects. To ensure warehouse safety the organization needs to ensure proper safeguarding equipment to protect against the entanglement of clothing, body parts, and hair.

4. Material storage
Improper stacking of loads and storage of materials on shelves can result in unintended slip and trip hazards for nearby workers. Keep aisles and passageways clear and in good condition, this prevents workers from slipping, tripping, or falling. Always remember to remove one load at a time.

5. Manual lifting/handling
The most common cause of physical injuries in warehouse and storage facilities involves improper manual lifting and handling. Though automation can help, failure to follow proper procedures can cause musculoskeletal disorders, especially if done with awkward postures, repetitive motions, or overexertion.

6. Hazardous chemicals
When handling hazardous chemicals in your warehouse or storage facilities, a hazard communication program should be implemented. Your hazard communication program from the EHS solution covers effective training on identifying chemical hazards; proper handling, storage, and disposal of chemicals; and the use of appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment).

7. Energized equipment
A Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) program must be implemented in all warehouse operations to ensure that all energized equipment is properly shut off and to prevent employees from being caught between mechanical parts or being electrocuted. An EHS solution is a critical component of this program.

8. Minimize cutting dangers and enforce safe handling of sharp objects.
Workers in a warehouse environment handle a lot of packing and unpacking tasks; they constantly use a lot of corrugated, metal, and plastic straps and plastic pallet wrappings. Therefore, it is vital that they use proper protective equipment for themselves and in the workplace to avoid serious injuries.

Bottom Line: Set safety goals and monitor progress closely. Nothing is more important than the well-being of your employee assets. When committing to new automation investments consider operations safety measures by integrating an EHS solution with warehouse management. Leverage technology investments in safety from masks and gloves to enhanced cleaning and sanitization supplies required to protect employees. Have executive management commit to programs for installing guardrails, investments in safety training and education programs, and technology to facilitate the new safety infrastructure.

To understand how the ComplianceQuest EHS solution can help you achieve operational and safety excellence, email us at or sign up here:

Written by David Cahn, ComplianceQuest Marketing team

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