When we think of material handlers, we think of warehouse workers. Certainly, that is a fitting job description for warehouse laborers who inventory and move product all day long, but materials are handled in all businesses. Even professional office exposures receive cases of paper and supplies. Restaurants handle bulk food products, commonly in 5-gallon bucket quantities. Retailers receive crated, binned, or palletized inventory shipments. Construction workers suffer frequent strain/sprain injuries from handling raw lumber and building materials. Painters, carpenters, manufacturers – all of these industries receive shipments of products, typically via common carrier.
The process of receiving products, breaking down palletized freight, moving and storing materials in warehouses, picking and packing orders, and shipping those products to customers are part of the material handling process. Much of the process is manual. Material handlers, much like mechanics, find themselves frequently bending, stooping, and lifting during the day in order to move boxed or cased products of various weights, shapes, and sizes. Best practice is to limit the weight manually lifted to a maximum of 50 pounds, and many businesses restrict that limit to 40 pounds. Repetitive motion injuries, or cumulative trauma, are also common in warehouse workers due to the continuous lifting and moving of boxes and materials.
Falls from heights and struck-by falling objects are another common reportable injury in the material handler realm, as products are lifted onto and removed from high rack storage. Safe operation of forklifts and proper inventory storage are essential to preventing injuries caused by dislodged or falling objects. Many struck-by injuries occur when pedestrians are struck by mobile equipment, including forklifts. It is important that forklift operators have been properly trained and certified.
Other common injuries experienced by material handlers include cuts and lacerations, hernias, knee and low back injuries. The risk of these injuries may be lessened by implementing a warm-up stretching protocol at the start of each shift and training workers to assess the material load prior to attempting a lift or move.
Thankfully, much of the material handling function has been automated, but there remains a great deal of manual handling and physical labor involved in the job. Beyond the 40 to 50 pound maximum manual lifting restriction, and sometimes even below that level, employees should have access to dollies, wheeled carts, hand trucks, pallet jacks, and fork lifts to assist with heavy or awkward lifting. Team lifts are an option often utilized for awkwardly shaped or sized items like airplane wings or heavy engine components. Robotics and other automated systems are also available to assist with handling, sorting, and stacking of materials. These systems, while costly, can bear huge savings over the long-term due to their ability to reduce and even prevent injuries.
Does your company have formal safety policies in place? Are you responsible for workforce safety or risk management? Email us or give us a call at (816) 349-0850 to see how we can help design a safety and risk management plan that meets your unique needs.