How to Prepare for Your Next Warehouse Safety Audit

For any commercial enterprise, safety audits are a necessary evil. It’s not just about keeping workers and personnel healthy and secure, but also about protecting the company in a number of ways, such as reducing operating costs. It’s no secret that accidents cost a great deal of money to businesses and can hurt the operation in many ways — $161.5 billion in 2017 alone.

Preparing for and carrying out an audit can be an overwhelming task, and that’s true whether the inspection is for official verification or just internal improvements.

While OSHA does mandate that every warehouse operation must have a safety checklist and detailed guidelines in place — all of which routinely followed — it also happens to be the best way to plan for and conduct an audit. Documentation offers proof the business and its workforce are doing what’s necessary.

Conducting a Safety Audit Step-by-Step

Here’s a comprehensive checklist for how to carry out a safety audit:

  1. Examine the Existing Operation

An audit of any kind starts with an initial assessment. To understand how to move forward and what changes must happen, managers must first be able to analyze the existing conditions. That means examining the bulk of current operations to understand what safety procedures currently exist, where things are lacking and what potential changes can be made.

In reality, this is a process that should be ongoing throughout the life of an organization. That means the warehouse should be assessed routinely to establish current gradings and identify necessary improvements. Many companies create a health and safety committee or dedicated team to this end, which is an excellent idea.

Routine workplace inspections should cover the entire facility, including active work areas, storage spaces, and common areas like parking lots, break rooms, or locker rooms.

Fire safety inspections include an additional step at this stage, which calls for collecting previous inspection reports. It’s also a way to pinpoint safety gaps that have been addressed in the past.

  1. Review Current Safety Protocols

Existing safety procedures should be compared to OSHA requirements to ensure all bases are covered. Also, those same protocols should be explored to identify potentially safer alternatives.

  1. Develop New Systems and Fill Gaps

While the findings for both steps listed above will identify where safety guidelines are lacking and should be improved, they don’t necessarily deal with taking action. Every safety audit should incorporate an action plan that outlines adopting new protocols or upgrading old ones without putting anyone in danger during the process. In other words, it means putting together a separate checklist for developing new systems and addressing existing problems.

The related teams should be able to move step-by-step through the checklist to incorporate the changes. When it’s all done, there should be an assessment protocol in place to ensure everything is in working order and truly safe as expected.

As an example, the roll-out of new, safe forklifts across the organization would follow a roadmap. The first part of that process would include dealing with existing equipment and the proper removal or revision of said lifts. Next, it might consist of steps for educating and building awareness amongst workers on the new machinery. Then, it might lay out the requirements and changes expected across the workforce for the new lifts. Of course, it should close with a proper assessment that gauges how well the entire system was carried out and whether or not there are further revisions necessary. Are the new lifts safer, as reported? Does everyone understand how to use them and what that means for their responsibilities? Are there any gaps that need to be addressed?

  1. Go Above and Beyond

To ensure safety standards remain as high as possible, it’s necessary to go above and beyond what OSHA might require, or what management teams might initially set. For instance, upgrading the lighting within a warehouse to be brighter and more accommodating can certainly improve working conditions.

Safety audits should always incorporate some of these extraneous improvements, at the least, to measure what else might be done to enhance the overall health and safety of an operation.

  1. Hire Additional Help and Educate the Workforce

The final step in the audit process should decide whether or not additional help is necessary to retain established requirements. For instance, if the health and safety committee needs more support, it may be vital to hire additional staff. Or, maybe the warehouse requires a thorough cleaning, which might call for hiring a third-party to come in and do some extensive cleaning?

It’s essential to remember these personnel will need protective gear in many cases, which requires procuring the necessary equipment and supplies.

Top 10 Most-Cited Warehouse Safety Violations According to OSHA

In many instances, it helps to know where to look for potential safety hazards. Since warehouses tend to have much higher risks, knowing these hazards is a vital part of conducting a proper safety audit, as well.

According to OSHA, these are the most commonly cited warehouse safety violations the industry sees:

  1. The unsafe use of forklifts.
  2. Hazard communication or failure to educate employees on risks and safety protocols.
  3. Electrical wiring hazards.
  4. Inefficient electrical system design such as inadequate ventilation or failure to use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
  5. Fall hazards.
  6. Blocked or hidden emergency exits, so no outlets.
  7. Conveyor and mechanical power transmission failures.
  8. Failure to use personal protection equipment (PPE) or outright negligence. Respiratory protection is one of the most important items.
  9. Improper lockout or tagout procedures, or the failure to deploy them.

Ultimately, the above violations should be considered when assessing the existing conditions within a warehouse. They shouldn’t be the only elements that health and safety committees focus on, but they should certainly take top priority.

Conducting a Safety Audit the Right Way

After becoming familiar with and following the tips discussed here, auditors and safety teams should be able to navigate the process. But most importantly, the safety checklist assembled as a result should provide clear documentation to everyone involved.

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