Planning for Safety
Workplace injuries are incredibly expensive - in a number of ways. Lost days, workers' comp premium increases, reputation, impact on worker commitment to the company, overtime, and even the basic ethical cost of not doing everything reasonable to protect workers.
So it's no surprise that companies work hard to prevent unsafe activities and behaviors that lead to preventable workplace and loading dock injury. That's one of the core principles of a lean approach to loading dock operations.
Designing risk free processes
A typical step is to identify high risk activities (on the loading dock bending, lifting, and such tasks are easy to identify) and implement process changes to eliminate the requirement for workers to perform actions that lead to injuries.
A great example is using a pallet wrapper to reduce the unpleasant and injury prone task of manually wrapping pallets. Hand wrapping is often thought of as inexpensive and expedient. That's a misconception. Aside from not requiring a machine, it typically increases operating cost in several ways:
- requires more film (higher material cost)
- takes longer (slower throughput)
- leads to higher rates of product damage in shipping (loads are inconsistently contained and locked to the pallets)
Hand wrapping a pallet means that a worker will have to lift rolls of film, apply steady pressure as they walk backwards around the load, and slowly bend over as they walk to reach the lower portions of the load. Rolls can be heavy and, like any other heavy object that is manually lifted, carries not only crush risks (from dropped loads) but also repetitive motion injury risks.
The risk of injury doesn’t end there, however. Workers also face the risk of a repetitive motion injury from the act of wrapping itself, both in how they hold the film and the continuous bending and stretching to reach all levels of the load.
Walking backward in a circle for any length of time can also be potentially dangerous. Not only can workers become dizzy from the circular motion, but they also (obviously) can’t see where they are going. A working with no line of sight who is also dizzy is at serious risk for injury in the busy, sometime chaotic, landscape of a loading dock.
With all of the downsides and risks of hand wrapping, it's obviously an easy place for a plant manager or process engineer to look for opportunities to reduce risks and increase efficiency on the loading dock.
Trade up, not laterally
But simply replacing hand wrapping with a machine based process isn't a panacea. Not only are the other issues (throughput, materials consumption, load containment) subject to the details of the technical solution, but the machine itself needs to be inherently safe or the ultimate goal of reducing risk of workplace accidents may be missed.
As we mentioned before, a typical loading dock is the scene of lots of activity, sometimes a bit chaotic, with honking horns, opening and closing doors, forklifts zipping to and fro and loads swinging around corners without warning and amidst all that activity it's easy to overlook some potential injury risks in a simple machine like a pallet wrapper - but that's a mistake.
Other safety features of many semi-automatic stretch wrappers include:
- emergency stop button
- large distance between the mast and the carriage
- automatic stop if the film breaks
The film delivery system on the Lantech Q Series Semiautomatics (turntable machines) is suspended from a belt which loses tension and becomes slack if the film delivery system encounters an obstacle (body part, etc.) while descending. A switch detects the slack and stops the descent of the film delivery system thus avoiding injuries.
Improve warehouse safety
It’s important, when shopping around for suppliers, to choose suppliers with enough experience to know how to build for safety. Find a supplier that's built enough of these machines, and seen enough situations, to anticipate potential problems and engineer around them. You shouldn't have to worry about them...but you need to make sure the supplier does. That's your task.
This post was published on July 14, 2016 and updated on December 4, 2019.