Warehouse Ergonomics: Order Picking and Pallet Building Safety Tips

October is National Ergonomics Month, and in honor of this yearly reminder to match “the work to the worker,” we’re reviewing two of the most common tasks in the distribution warehouse: order picking and pallet building.

Both of these jobs traditionally contribute to the risk of musculoskeletal disorders such as strains, sprains, and pulled muscles. The reasons for this are clear. Without the proper ergonomic training and the right equipment, both jobs require workers to reach, to stretch, to twist and bend and to repeat those actions again and again, hour after hour.

Freight, stock, and material movers were among the top three occupations that had the highest number of injuries involving days away from work in 2015, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By providing ergonomic equipment and a little training, every operation should be able to reduce injuries for every job at the warehouse — including order picking and pallet building.

Safe Pallet Building and Unloading

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has studied the act of pallet building and identified two serious hazards: “Employees repeatedly bend forward at the waist to place boxes on the lowest level of pallets,” the OSHA guide to grocery warehousing states. That, and, “The heaviest units are placed on the bottom layer for stability. This work process requires employees to lift the heaviest loads using the worst body postures.” Warehouse-Ergonomics-Order-Picking-and-Pallet-Building-Safety-Tips

Unpacking pallets can also be risky. Staff must bend and reach to pick up items from the far end of the pallet, and the further they go, the lower they have to position their bodies. The Pallet Carousel & Skid Positioner is the solution to all of these problems at once.

This specialized piece of warehouse equipment consists of a turntable surface attached to a self-leveling base. As employees add more weight to a pallet, the spring or a pneumatic airbag (depending on model) adjusts to keep the level at the exact same height — right where it’s safe and comfortable for the worker to work.

The turntable allows easy, 360-degree access. This prevents bending and reaching for the far end of the pallet. All in all, the Pallet Carousel & Skid Positioner makes both pallet building and unloading simpler and safer.

Improving Ergonomics During Order-Picking Tasks

No matter which strategy a distribution center uses to fulfill orders — whether that’s wave picking, piece picking, or a pick-to-box technique — the ergonomic risks of traditional order picking remain the same. “The disadvantages of this system are that Selectors are exposed to a number of musculoskeletal stresses, including heavy lifting, bending, reaching, twisting, etc.,” reports OSHA.

Unfortunately, providing ergonomic equipment for order pickers isn’t as simple as installing a Lift Table or providing access to a Bin Tipper. “Because employees move about the warehouse, development of mechanical aids to assist with heavy lifting or reducing awkward postures is difficult,” says OSHA.

So if the mobility of the order pickers themselves is the challenge, then the solution is to provide ergonomic equipment that’s as portable as the worker. This doesn’t have to be complex. Often, a customized Order Picking Cart is all it takes to reduce muscle fatigue, prevent unsafe lifting, and reduce repeat trips by providing plenty of space to store orders.

As National Ergonomics Month 2017 progresses, we’ll continue to revisit common issues in warehouse ergonomics and provide tips that can make the workplaces safer all year round.

Grocery Warehousing Ergonomics.OSHA. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, n.d. Web. 5 Sept. 2017.

Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away From Work 2015.BLS. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 10 Nov. 2016. PDF. 5 Sept. 2017.