Furniture Warehouse Injury & OSHA Data
Furniture World Magazine
Fines for racking, lift trucks, electrical issues, hazardous materials and equipment lockout procedures are just some of the most common.
By Dan Bolger
A workplace injury has ramifications for the employee involved, associates and the storeowner. There was a Workers Comp-ensation injury that occurred in a furniture store in mid January. The employee slipped and broke his ankle. The injury required surgery with metal plates and the recuperation time was three months before returning to light duty. In addition to personal pain, the employee was unable to drive, which put a burden on his family and friends who drove him to rehabilitation therapy, helped with the shopping and family chores. It was challenging for his employer to cover the employee’s job duties during his absence, and even more difficult for his family because of the lost income.
General Duty Standard: Citation 312522535
Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970: The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees in that employees were exposed to struck by hazards, while performing warehousing work: On or about 10/21/08 at Covington, GA: Employees were exposed to struck by hazards, while performing work in a warehouse. The employer failed to ensure that storage rack structural components were maintained properly and that columns were anchored to the floor. (recommendations for correction followed).
Worse yet, an accident may result in litigation and can also affect the employer’s longer-term experience rating under the Workers Comp system, not to mention inevitable business liability insurance increases.
To provide FURNITURE WORLD Magazine readers with information relevant to warehouse accidents, the latest available OSHA 2008 data for General Warehousing was reviewed. Furniture warehousing is represented within this category. The table on page 36 shows relevant data about the most frequent OSHA citations. The top ten list is similar to prior years.
The data clearly shows that lift trucks (powered lift trucks) are the most frequent and costly citation category. Forty eight percent of the inspections resulted in OSHA citations.
Ninety-four inspections resulted in 155 citations. The most frequent violations were for lack of training, lack of maintenance records, unauthorized use of equipment and injuries to pedestrians in the warehouse. Seat belts or safety harnesses are required, based on the operation. When cited on an inspection, the average penalty was $1,735. Averages can be deceptive, as a serious injury or fatality may result in a very large penalty.
The next two on the top-ten frequency list are both related to electrical issues for equipment and building infrastructure. Some citations were as simple as taped electrical cords while others related to problems in the building electrical circuits. The average fine for equipment violations was $688 and $588 for building violations.
Hazardous Materials Communications violations are relatively easy to correct. Commonly referred to as Employee Right to Know, employees must have awareness training about hazardous materials in the workplace. You must be able to document the training, provide necessary protective equipment and appropriate access to the Material Safety Data sheets. Despite the simplicity of this item, when cited, the average cost was $531 per inspection.
Blocked exit routes or deficiencies in marking exit routes had an average cost of $615 per inspection. While not an accident in our industry, I’m reminded of multiple deaths of employees and firefighters trapped in a fire where the emergency exits were blocked or locked.
Requirements for portable fire extinguishers apply to the placement, use, maintenance, and testing of units provided for the use of employees. There are exemptions where detailed plans exist for all employees to immediately evacuate the facility. Average penalty was $189.
Mezzanines or platforms are frequently used over offices or shipping docks for storage. Standard railings and toe boards are required to prevent falls and items from falling. Platform gates must be closed when not in use. Stairways need standard railings. Railings must be placed around open manholes. The average penalty was $977.
Lockout/Tagout procedures must be followed for equipment under maintenance or repair. For example, a lift truck with bad brakes must be tagged “Out of Service”. If operated, there is a risk of injury to the operator or a warehouse pedestrian. Typical 2008 penalty was $1,072.
Furniture retailers must keep records of occupational related injuries and illness on specific forms and post them annually. The forms are available on OSHA.gov. When cited, the average penalty was $338.
Failure to maintain and mark permanent aisles, stacking merchandise in unstable piles and poor housekeeping were the second highest penalty at $1,301. Aisle designation can be challenged in flexible bulk storage situations and racked areas. Settlements have to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.
The General Duty Standard to provide a safe workplace noted in the boxed citation (on page 34) is included in the Other Standards Summary. OSHA Section 5(a)(1) requires employers to provide “a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” This section also requires employees to comply with safety regulations. Racks are frequently cited as shown in the actual citation shown in the box on page 34. Rack failures can result in catastrophic damage and injury. It is important that all racks, new or used, be designed and installed by qualified people. Appropriate bracing and anchoring are required.
Racks must not be overloaded. If rack uprights or beams are damaged they must be properly repaired or replaced. Rack guards provide additional protection for systems. Penalties for General Duty Standard violations can be modest or thousands of dollars.
This article is intended to provide an overview of the most significant issues affecting warehouses. It cannot cover all aspects of OSHA compliance, but provides summary information about the most significant warehouse findings during OSHA inspections. Additional information can be found at OSHA.com.
Remember that a safe workplace with good housekeeping is a major motivator for every worker and also improves your bottom line.
Daniel Bolger P.E. provides operations consulting services to clients throughout North America. FURNITURE WORLD Magazine readers can contact him at email@example.com. For more information on transportation, logistics and furniture warehousing topics, go to furninfo.com to read all of Dan’s articles.
Contributing editor Dan Bolger of The Bolger Group helps companies achieve improved transportation, warehousing and logistics. See many other articles by Dan in the Operations Management article archives on the furninfo.com website. You can send inquiries on any aspect of transportation, warehousing or logistics issues to Dan Bolger care of Furniture World Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him direct at 740-503-8875.
Read other articles by Dan Bolger