Safer Warehouses: A Pressing Need

In an attempt to shed light on the grim reality of industrial accidents, we delve into the critical topics surrounding warehouse safety in India’s rapidly growing logistics and warehousing sector. This feature story explores the causes of accidents, advocates for a culture of safety, and highlights technology’s role in prevention. Further, it talks about evolving post-incidents through structured responses for continuous improvement in warehouse safety.

It’s widely known that industrial accidents claim the lives of hundreds of individuals and lead to the permanent disability of thousands each year. In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, safeguarding the well-being of employees has emerged as a topmost priority for companies committed to establishing a secure and efficient workplace.

According to official government data, the disconcerting reality is that 3 workers lose their lives daily in Indian factories. Over the span from 2017 to 2020, the nation experienced a distressing tally of 1,109 fatalities and over 4,000 injuries in registered factories on an annual average.

However, these statistics present a limited view, as the predominantly informal economy coupled with instances of underreporting in even the formal economy leads experts to believe that the actual figures surpass these estimations.

The numerous incidents in the warehousing space reported in recent years are a testimony to the high rate of industrial accidents in the nation. Some of the recent spine-chilling warehousing accidents are:

 • On 23rd May 2023, a 32-year-old fireman died while attempting to douse a massive fire that reportedly erupted on low-quality cotton abandoned in the warehouse, before it reached the bleaching powder that was bought during the COVID crisis, at the state-run drug warehouse. The drug warehouse, owned by the Kerala Medical Services Corporation Limited (KMSCL) was located at the Kinfra Industrial Park near Thumba.

 • A fire broke out at a garment warehouse in South Delhi on August 19th, 2023. Eight fire tenders were rushed to the spot and the blaze was doused around 9 a.m., the officials said, adding that no injuries were reported.

• A laborer was killed, and thirteen others were injured when an under-construction wall collapsed in a warehouse in the Kanker district of Chhattisgarh on June 24, 2023.

And, the list goes on…

However, in an even more heartbreaking revelation, the e-commerce giant Amazon is allegedly forcing injured employees to continue working in the warehouse. Investigations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and WIRED have revealed that Amazon’s on-site first-aid clinic, known as AmCare, at Amazon warehouses is prioritizing keeping employees working instead of referring them to appropriate medical care.

These incidents serve as reminders of the critical significance of prioritizing worker safety within operations. They underscore the shared objective, which encompasses not only operational efficiency but also the fundamental principle of ensuring that employees depart the workplace as unharmed as they arrive.

The repercussions of warehouse accidents are two-fold, impacting both human lives and financial well-being. Consequently, averting such accidents should stand as a paramount priority for all enterprises engaged in corporate and commercial logistics operations. Understanding the causes of warehouse incidents is a crucial step toward addressing the issue and ensuring a safer environment for all.

THE CAUSES:

According to the OSHA, a multitude of potential hazards underscore the importance of prioritizing safety in warehouses.

Leading the way away from work are Forklifts, which are responsible for the majority of warehouse accidents. Following this is the risk of chemical burns stemming from unmarked or mislabelled hazardous materials. Electrocuting dangers also loom large due to sub-standard wiring, while inadequately designed and maintained electrical systems further contribute to electrocution risks. The imperative of guarding floor openings and holes becomes evident as slips, falls, and trips, accounting for 15% of workplace fatalities, and underscore the need for comprehensive precautions. During emergencies, lack of clear pathways to exits and visible exit signs are also significant causes of injuries and loss of life. The improper handling of mechanical and power equipment poses amputation risks. Workplace fires and explosions also kill hundreds and injure thousands of workers each year.

 So, what can be done to build a safe ecosystem?

A HOLISTIC SAFETY ECOSYSTEM

Safety, which is a dynamic journey requires consistent efforts towards implementing initiatives. Keeping a warehouse safe, encompasses a range of strategies and practices that collectively contribute to creating a secure and protected work environment. Safety at the workplace can be ensured by assessing the following tasks regularly:

• Risk Assessment

• Fire Safety

• Electrical Safety

• PPE ( Personal Protective Equipment)

• Safe Material Handling

• Emergency Preparedness

The industry is making many efforts to constantly improve workplace safety. Emphasising the Industry’s commitment towards constant improvement in warehouse safety, Vivek Juneja, Founder & Managing Director, of Varuna Group, says the industry is incorporating technology, offering training and education, implementing robotics and automation, utilizing personal protective equipment (PPE), and promoting collaborations.

“These efforts are aimed at raising safety awareness, conducting regular audits, devising emergency response plans, reducing manual interventions, ensuring proper storage practices, and enhancing safety measures through partnerships and predictive analytics, he adds.

Regular Training and Education: Conduct regular safety training sessions for warehouse staff to educate them about potential hazards, safe practices, and proper use of equipment.

While it’s true that such training programs cost money, warehouse accidents will cost you a lot more money. According to OSHA, businesses see an average return of $4 to $6 for every dollar invested into their workplace safety programs. So investing in training to prevent warehouse accidents makes good business sense.

“Investing in advanced training modules that empower our team with knowledge of safety protocols, emergency response procedures, and the correct usage of safety equipment at warehouses leads our workforce to confidently handle various situations and contributes to a safer environment at the workplace,” says Dinesh Kumar Yadav, Head of Operation, Om Logistics said. Ongoing education ensures that employees are well informed and safe.

Mr Juneja highlights that at Varuna, they leverage virtual reality for hazard simulations, and use predictive analysis to identify and preempt safety risks.

Scheduling monthly safety drills and EHS training at the site, and surprise night patrolling done by security can also help in training and spreading awareness among the workforce.


This is an abridged version of the feature story published in the October edition of the Logistics Insider Magazine. To read the complete story, click here.

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