Warehouse safety depends on ergonomics, but different fulfillment tasks carry different ergonomic risks. Order pickers face more than a few of the ergonomic hazards listed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. These include:
- Lifting, carrying, or otherwise handling heavy loads unassisted.
- Bending or twisting while accessing loads.
- Repetitive gestures, such as reaching, lifting, or carrying loads.
Workers who lift large, heavy, and awkward objects place themselves at serious risk for musculoskeletal disorders. In fact, in 2015, a full 31 percent of injuries requiring time off were caused by overexertion during a lift, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
You couldn't design an object that's more hazardous to lift than a large wire spool if you tried. Loaded spools can easily weigh hundreds of pounds, and their circular shape makes them difficult to grip. That must be why OSHA's Ergonomics eTool for electrical contractors points to spools of wire as one of the most hazardous objects that electrical workers have to handle on a regular basis.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration responds to dozens of letters every year to clarify their rules. One of the most common sources of confusion, as reflected in the OSHA Standard Interpretations posted on the Administration's website, concerns the manual lifting of heavy loads. What's the official weight limit that employers can ask workers to lift, writers ask?
The simple answer is that there are no OSHA lifting limits. In a 2004 reply to Kemberly Ladner, who asks if there's "a policy or guide which states the maximum weight a person may lift," Richard E. Fairfax, then-Director of the OSHA Directorate of Enforcement Programs, replied, "OSHA does not have a standard which sets limits on how much a person may lift or carry."
Injuries occur at a significantly higher rate in the warehouse and storage industry than they do in all industries combined. This fact may be unsurprising given the physical nature of the work, but a high injury rate is not inevitable if warehouse managers follow some basic guidelines set by OSHA.
While many managers fear having a run-in with OSHA, a warehouse with a good safety program has little to fear from the agency. In fact, using OSHA guidelines can help a warehouse become more profitable by avoiding common injuries through training and the use of powered equipment for heavy loads.