Should we be integrating safety into warehouse employee performance metrics to improve forecasting?

Employee performance in warehousing and distribution is typically measured based on productivity and throughput. Many factors go into determining this performance, but overall speed and accuracy reign supreme. 

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Metrics are typically along the lines of items picked/manhour or orders fulfilled/manour. More advanced warehouses may set up time standards for completing certain tasks and/or use software that computes a standard time to travel from one location to another. These facilities can then compute baseline rates for the amount of time every action and order should take to fulfill. Employee performance is judged against this standard. Employees who consistently take more time than the standard are punished whereas employees who can complete tasks in less than the standard time may be rewarded.

But how can we be sure that our performance today will be our performance tomorrow, next week, or next month?

Safety and Performance

One answer to to make sure we are keeping employees as safe and healthy as possible. Employees are not going to consistently meet these metrics to their peak capability if they are working in unsafe conditions or performing unsafe acts. Sometimes they might push to meet these metrics so they aren’t punished, but in pushing they may be forced to act in an unsafe manner. When it comes to repetitive motions and tasks, this type of action leads to microtraumas over time which cumulatively increases risk of injury.

“We had an associate on my line, he just kept working, kept working, kept working, next thing you know—he just fell on the ground.” - Mikey Catura (line worker). 

Nagging injuries, soreness, fatigue, and, worst of all, catastrophic injury can all result from cumulative trauma. Injured employees, whether injuries are minor or major, will not be happy employees. And when employees are not happy, they are unlikely to perform at peak levels. 

Injured employees can affect performance metrics in a number of ways.

  • For minor injuries: performance numbers will decrease due to not being able to perform the current job function optimally.
  • For major injuries:
    • An employee may needed to be shifted to a different role. This may require new training. At the beginning of these transition, the employee won’t be able to perform this new function to the highest degree until they become accustomed to their new role and responsibilities.
    • An employee may need to take time off for short or extended period of time. This employee’s performance and productivity contribution drops to zero. To make up for this, the facility may choose to spread the workload to the rest of the staff. This causes the rest of the team to need to press harder and end up possibly disregarding safety standards which just exacerbates the problem. Another option is to hire a new team member to take over. New team members will still reduce warehouse productivity as they need to be trained and get up to speed on the work.

Okay so we know safety metrics can affect performance? Now what? We believe it is smart to consider using leading indicator safety metrics to forecast what may happen to employee performance in the future. If the leading indicators show that an employee is at higher risk for injury, it is likely that they might suffer poor performance in the future. A revised metric might take the basic form of:

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When viewing performance through this lens, we can get multiple benefits. We can see a true estimate for how performance might change in the future. Including safety in the equation requires that everyone in the company recognizes its importance and makes it a priority. Employees can see a focus on safety as a focus on their wellbeing. This helps strengthen company culture and employee morale, as well as employee health. We can’t perform at our highest level unless we are healthy, both physically and mentally.


VIT

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 info@vitinitiative.com.