In warehousing and distribution, productivity and efficiency are king. When this happens, safety can often take a back seat. A simple google search for “warehouse safety metrics” provides results focused on warehouse performance metrics and warehouse KPIs that include: on-time shipments, cycle times, number of picks per hour, perfect orders, and warehouse capacity used, among others. We have to be sure that we are not incentivizing shortcuts that put worker safety at risk. One way to safeguard this is to elevate safety metrics to measure alongside performance metrics. Here are our favorite ways to measure warehouse safety.
The Traditional Warehouse Safety Metrics
There are some metrics that you have to track to stay in compliance with OSHA and to prove the value of safety programs to the rest of the company. These metrics should be regularly monitored to show the effectiveness of your safety programs.
1.) Number of Incidents and Injuries
The simplest metric to track safety is the number of incidents and the total number of injuries. Tracking and revisiting this number on a monthly basis can tell you whether your safety programs are having the desired effect. However, this metric is becoming outdated. While critical to track, injuries incident is an example of a lagging indicator. Lagging indicators are results that typically only change after a pattern or process has been established for a while. If you implement a new safety initiative, your incident/injury metric won’t tell show you its effect for months. Instead the industry is shifting more towards leading indicators, which shortens the feedback loop and helps track if the desired change in behavior is taking place.
2.) Number of Near Misses
OSHA defines a near miss as
"an incident where no property was damaged and no personal injury sustained, but where, given a slight shift in time or position, damage and/or injury easily could have occurred."
Some near misses need investigations or training to take place, but there is a benefit to tracking near misses and encouraging their reporting. These occurrences provide an opportunity to identify the factors that led to the unsafe situation and fix them Keep track of the number of near misses that occur on a regular basis to track whether the environment is getting safer or regressing. Unsafe acts and unsafe conditions should also be tracked when they are observed.
3.) Time Lost
Each incident and injury will result in a number of hours of lost time and productivity. These numbers can also be converted into metrics that correlate to the performance of the warehouse and the business. The lost time can be the time spent cleaning up a mess, repairing damaged/out-of-order property, or an employee being out of work. This can directly translate into cost added and profits lost for the business.
The Data-Driven Warehouse Safety Metrics
These metrics require data collection. It can be more resource intensive, but will provide dividends by allowing you to spot problems before they happen. Most of these items have to do with tracking worker form and fatigue to make sure they are not being put in positions where they might suffer injury.
4.) Expected vs. actual task times
Most companies use systems that track the amount of time it takes a worker to perform certain actions. They set expected times to complete these tasks and compare them to the worker’s actual times. Usually this data is used to judge a worker’s performance and productivity. Workers that don’t hit their expected times are seen as costing the company money.
A better use of this data might be to track worker fatigue. This data is a fantastic trove of information that can be used to keep workers safe. One use is to track deviations and ask questions to develop real insights:
- Are workers hitting their times early, but times are sliding near the end of a shift?
- Do times slide before breaks but pick up afterwards? What about the beginning of the week compared to the end?
- Are there ways that you can optimize to keep employees times where they need to be?
5.) Lifting Intensity
In weightlifting, especially among recreational lifters, there is a general consensus that you should do your big compound lifts - squats, deadlifts, etc. - at the end of your workout. The reason for this is that these big lifts can make the rest of your workout less effective, more prone to improper form, and more prone to injury. The intense lifts wear you out and when you are worn out bad things can happen. Could the same thing hold true in material handling? Most warehouses have extremely heavy items that cause more strain to lift. Optimizing when these items are lifted may help save works from getting hurt later that shift.
What does a lifting intensity metric look like? The medically preferred way to measure intensity is through heart rate. The general metric is to start at 220 bpm (beats per minute) and subtracting a worker’s age to find 100% intensity. For example, a 30 year old employee would be at 100% intensity when their heart rate reaches 190 bpm. Once this is discovered, you can set a threshold to try to keep employees under. The amount of time an employee spends above a certain threshold can be measured and adjusted.
However, tracking employee heart rate may not be feasible. In this case you can go with a simpler metric. Most warehouses have a weight limit to items that employees can lift. Lifting intensity can be measured as a percentage of this limit and a focus can be made to limit the amount of times an employee surpasses a certain threshold. If the warehouse has a 60 lb. item weight limit, it may be smart to set a threshold at 80% of this limit and track how often employees have to lift items over 48 lbs.
6.) Fatigue through repetition
Even if you are able to keep an employee away from long periods of high intensity lifting, they may still be at risk due to fatigue from sheer number of lifts. All athletes will hit a point where they’ve done too much and need time to rest and recover.
Measure the number of lifts for employees on a daily and weekly basis and find the point where form starts to break down. Then try to keep this from happening. This may mean being more creative with days off and break times. Or it may mean rotating warehouse roles to provide days with lower numbers of reps and lower intensity.
Trust driven metrics: the two-way street
You can’t be on the floor all the time. The only way for a truly safety-conscious culture to form is to be sure that your employees are invested in building that culture too. Employees will be more likely to invest if they feel that they can contribute to the creation and maintenance of the culture.
7.) Employee feedback metrics
The best way to ensure that employees are contributing is to form a safety committee. The committee can help conduct inspections, provide training, and gather input from the rest of the employees. The committee should meet regularly with rotating safety meeting topics being covered. Through this input you can measure how safe employees feel, how tired or sore they get, how much rest they get during the day, and other metrics. Track the improvement of these metrics to see if your initiatives are having the desired effect.
Make sure that employees feel like they can have a direct impact on their environment. Ask for ideas and suggestions for improving workplace safety and - most importantly - implement the ideas where appropriate. Acting on the suggestions will build trust and provide concrete evidence of your desire to build a safer workplace for your employees. Always remember that your best information is going to come straight from the source, but only if they feel comfortable giving it to you.
VIT Initiative is creating technology to reduce back injuries in warehouses and distribution centers. Arc, VIT's first product, is a wearable sensor that identifies unsafe lifting habits in real time as well as negative issues and trends in your workplace. If you are interested in learning more about how VIT can help your business succeed, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.