Warehouse workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the fatal injury rate for the warehousing industry is higher than the national average for all industries. From forklifts to falling objects, warehouse workers face a variety of workplace hazards.
A recent report by an investigative journalism website, shows that injuries continue to increase at Amazon warehouses. Despite the company’s claim that it prioritizes the safety of its workers, investigators found that some Amazon warehouse workers were being discouraged from reporting workplace injuries and seeking medical care. However, Amazon’s fulfillment centers still logged 14,000 serious injuries in 2019, nearly double the most recent industry standard.
According to leaked internal documents provided by a whistleblower, Amazon’s injury rates have steadily increased each year since 2016. Based on these internal reports, as well as weekly injury numbers from 150 Amazon fulfillment centers, investigators further concluded that injury rates were higher during Amazon Prime Day and the holiday shopping period. Although an Amazon representative previously asserted that recordable incidents do not increase during these peak times, nearly 400 serious injuries were recorded during Prime Day in 2019, which amounted to the highest injury rate of the year.
Amazon emphasizes the role of robots in its picking, packing, and shipping processes, noting that robotic systems increase efficiency and safety. However, the Amazon investigation reveals that in warehouses that process small to medium-sized items, injury rates average 50 percent higher for workers at warehouses with robots than those without. According to investigators, workers at robotic fulfillment centers are expected to pick up and scan four times the standard number of items per hour than workers at other facilities.
The report also details how Amazon reassigns injured workers to light duty jobs instead of putting them on leave due to their serious injuries, thereby giving the appearance that the company had lower serious injury rates. Amazon maintains that it did not underreport warehouse worker injuries and that it has so far invested $800 million to improve safety measures at warehouses, such as providing workspace assistance equipment and ergonomic workstations.
Common Types of Warehouse Hazards
Warehouse workers face many job hazards depending on the duties of their job, which may include packaging orders, labeling, managing inventory, or loading shipments. Common types of warehouse hazards include:
- Forklifts: OSHA estimates that 100 employees are killed and 95,000 injured each year in forklift accidents Many of these fatalities are due to forklift turnovers.
- Loading docks: Loading docks present many hazards, including the potential for workers to fall from heights, become crushed while loading or unloading, be hit by a vehicle, slip and fall, or become injured while lifting heavy objects.
- Conveyors: Warehouse workers may become caught in moving parts of a conveyor, which can lead to amputation or degloving injuries. Also, workers may develop musculoskeletal disorders due to the repetitive motion.
- Improperly stored objects: Improperly stored objects may fall and injure warehouse workers. Workers may also become injured by tripping over boxes or clutter in the walkway.
- Chemicals: Workers may suffer chemical burns if they do not handle hazardous chemicals appropriately. They may also be injured by chemicals that spill over after being stored incorrectly.
- Poor ergonomics: Warehouse workers who repeatedly put their bodies in awkward positions or engage in strenuous motions over time may develop musculoskeletal or repetitive stress injuries. They may also sustain such injuries because of a single, isolated incident.
- Improper lockout/tagout procedures: OSHA frequently cites warehouse employers for violating standards pertaining to lockout/tagout. When defective or damaged equipment is not tagged correctly, workers may become seriously injured.
- Overexertion: Long hours, high temperatures, and lack of breaks can lead to overexertion injuries among warehouse workers. Lack of proper lifting techniques and other training can also exacerbate injuries.
How to Prevent Warehouse Injuries
When seeking to reduce risk factors specific to a particular warehouse operation, OSHA identifies hazards and the corresponding feasible controls. For example, one New Jersey warehouse operation went from an average of two back injuries per month to zero back injuries after implementing several OSHA recommendations.
OSHA identified specific hazards, including that employees had to reach and bend to access materials and were lifting and placing heavy boxes onto pallets on the floor. In addition to working in poorly designed workstations, employees were performing tasks with their wrists bent in awkward postures. The agency’s specialists identified several feasible controls, including adjusting the height of the shelves, providing employees with stools or ladders, reducing the shelving depth, raising loading heights, and placing faster-moving products on shelves that are easier to reach. After implementing 13 of the 19 recommendations, the New Jersey company not only reported zero back injuries, but also improved productivity and higher employee morale.
Feasible Controls to Reduce or Eliminate Warehouse Worker Injuries
By implementing feasible controls, employers may be able to eliminate or at least reduce warehouse worker injuries. OSHA provides potential solutions to warehouse hazards, including:
- Ensuring that dock ladders and stairs meet OSHA specifications
- Training and certifying forklift operators
- Inspecting conveyors regularly and ensuring that pinch points are adequately guarded
- Storing heavier items on lower shelves
- Stacking items evenly
- Protecting employees from floor openings, pits, and other fall hazards by providing covers and/or guardrails
- Keeping isles/floors clean, clear, and in good repair
- Training employees on proper lifting techniques
- Encouraging employees to take periodic rest breaks
- Maintaining Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for chemicals stored in the workplace
- Providing employees with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Using powered equipment instead of requiring manual lifting whenever possible
- Identifying emergency exit locations and having evacuation procedures in place
- Providing adequate warehouse ventilation
- Having an eyewash station, safety shower, and fire extinguisher in the workplace
- Driving slowly, especially through congested areas
- Maintaining a lockout/tagout program
Workers’ Compensation for Injured Warehouse Workers in New Jersey
Although there are exceptions for volunteers for nonprofit organizations, farm workers, and domestic workers, most employees are covered under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act. All New Jersey employers are required to have workers’ compensation coverage, which provides financial assistance to injured employees, regardless of who is at-fault for their accident.
New Jersey warehouse workers must typically provide notice of their injury to their employer within 14 days and file their claim within the two-year statute of limitations to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, including:
- Payment for reasonable and necessary medical treatment
- Wage replacement
- Vocational rehabilitation
- Death benefits
Once an employee has reported the accident to his or her employer, the employer must notify its insurance carrier so that a First Report of Injury may be filed with the state. The employer’s workers’ compensation carrier will evaluate the claim to determine if it is compensable under the law. Common reasons for denial include disputes over whether the injury or illness is work-related, the level or extent of medical treatment necessary, or the payment of temporary disability benefits.
Workers whose claims are denied may either file a formal claim petition or an informal hearing application with the Division of Workers’ Compensation. A qualified workers’ compensation lawyer should be able to assist with filing an initial claim or appeal, in addition to assuring compliance with all legal requirements and deadlines.
South Jersey Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP Advocate for Injured Warehouse Workers
If you sustained injuries while working in a warehouse, contact a South Jersey workers’ compensation lawyer at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP. Our experienced legal team can help you receive the benefits you deserve. Call us at 856-761-3773 or submit an online inquiry for a free case review today. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we represent clients throughout South Jersey, including Pennsauken, Cinnaminson, Camden, Maple Shade, and Delran.