Better traffic management in warehouses results to higher productivity, reduced risks and better safety. There will be a smoother workflow among the forklifts and personnel. In addition, the work environment will look orderly and professional to everyone.
Let’s first cover the basics (safety & movements of forklifts and pedestrians). Then, we’ll cover how to create traffic management plans based on those fundamentals.
Let’s first talk about safety
The most important thing is that almost every effort should be directed towards better workplace safety. It’s especially the case with the operations of forklifts. Accidents, injuries and fatalities may result from collisions, tipovers, slips and falls.
The most serious accidents often involve a pedestrian being crushed or pinned by a forklift. Material handling equipment may also hit a pedestrian during a normal routine. These scenarios may lead to injuries and fatalities.
The key to prevent those scenarios is to have a sound traffic management plan in the workplace. Making the environment safe in the first place is crucial to preventing accidents.
This can be accomplished by minimising the interactions between pedestrians and vehicles. This way, there will be minimal contact and risks. It can start with designating specific areas for forklift operations and separate areas for non-forklift tasks. Occasionally pedestrians might come near to forklifts during a normal day. But these contacts will be minimised due to the effective traffic plan.
Another way to improve workplace safety is by installing proximity alarms. These work by sounding an alarm if a nearby pedestrian is within a certain distance (e.g. 1 to 6 metres). This is valuable when the vehicle or pedestrian is approaching a corner, narrow aisle or an intersection. The alarm will give enough time to the driver or pedestrian to adjust course.
But first, minimise the interactions between pedestrians and vehicles in the workplace. Some companies install gates and physical barriers to accomplish that. This is still the most effective way to minimise accidents while forklifts are in active operation.
Planning forklift operations & pedestrian movements
It requires an integrated approach to achieve a smooth workflow and safe workplace. Both the forklift operations and pedestrian movements should be carefully planned to achieve an optimal result.
For example, everyone should be on the same page when it comes to workplace safety. Both drivers and non-drivers should be aware of the safety devices, alarms, right of way and traffic flow in the warehouse. In addition, everything should be documented so everyone will be held accountable. This will also make us rely less on common sense. That common sense may not be consistent from day to day and among all the personnel.
Aside from the engineers and managers, drivers and other workers should also participate in the planning. They can identify additional risks that could endanger workers’ lives or reduce productivity. They can also provide more suggestions on how to further mitigate those risks.
For example, there could be aisles that other personnel visit from time to time. These should be designated as low-speed areas to prevent collisions between pedestrians and vehicles. There could also be aisles that contain chemicals and liquids. These should also be designated as low-speed areas to prevent agitation of the contents.
Inspectors and visitors are also at risk during a normal workday. Everyone should be notified that there will be other people using the area. This way, drivers can take extra precautions (e.g. slowing down) while working. Moreover, inspectors and visitors should also be aware of the safety practices in the workplace.
What does a traffic management plan include?
Now we’ve covered the basics (priority on safety, forklift operations and pedestrian movements). Next is let’s focus on creating a traffic management plan based on those fundamentals.
This is often an extensive and evolving document to keep everyone safe and maintain high productivity. The traffic management plan continuously evolves because workers may identify new risks. This is also for continuous improvement which every department should strive for.
Aside from continuous improvement, we should treat each plan as unique because each workplace has varying requirements. For instance, warehouses that primarily store hazardous chemicals will have different requirements than warehouses that are full of consumer goods. The risks could be different for each area. As a result, the workflow and traffic could also be totally different.
We can think of the goal as making the workplace safe, quiet and boring (but still with lots of activities). These are the signs of a smooth workflow and efficient workplace. This means everything’s in place and all workers are able to perform at their best with minimal risks and interruptions.
To accomplish this, we can work backwards by first identifying those risks and hazards such as:
- Collisions between forklifts
- Staff and visitors being hit or pinned by forklifts
- Personnel getting hit by delivery trucks at the loading docks
- Objects falling from delivery trucks and forklifts
- Forklifts hitting the racks, walls and other surfaces
- Drivers falling from forklifts
- Spilling of contents or falling boxes due to manual handling
Those are just some of the risks in a normal warehouse. Other warehouses may have unique risks (e.g. handling fragile items) which require additional treatment.
Whichever is the case, we can work backwards from those risks and formulate a safe and effective traffic management plan. For instance, we can significantly reduce the number of forklift collisions simply by eliminating blind spots and installing effective lighting. In other words, many of the collisions could have been prevented just by improving visibility.
These action steps may also effectively keep staff and visitors safe while in the warehouse. Often, blind spots and poor lighting can make both drivers and non-drivers to miss threats. Once they noticed those threats it might often be too late to adjust course.
To somehow eliminate blind spots, some warehouses have visibility mirrors installed. This is to somehow widen the field of view and see what lies near the intersections. When another forklift or staff is approaching, the drivers can slow down once they see something or someone on the mirrors.
Other warehouses have automated gates and barriers. They can close down aisles and other areas when traffic is incoming. This automated approach may significantly reduce human errors and workplace accidents.
Another approach is by having alert systems (both sound and noticeable lighting) to give enough time for the drivers to adjust course when another forklift or a pedestrian is nearby. This is also applicable at the loading docks. As a result, the driver can safely park the truck in position.
Aside from identifying the risks, it’s also crucial to identify the responsibilities of each personnel. This is for accountability and making the expectations clear. As mentioned earlier, everyone should be on the same page when it comes to workplace safety. The rules should be consistent and everyone should be aware of those rules.
This is especially important during emergencies. Traffic control would be different in these cases because the aisles should be cleared to give way to the injured and emergency staff. Perhaps the forklifts should be parked first (or placed in designated areas) before emergency healthcare procedures are performed.
Paying attention to things aside from forklifts & pedestrians
Vulnerable racks and shelves endanger workers because of falling packages and collapses. It’s important to perform regular inspections of these structures to maintain integrity of the racks and prevent accidents. These things could block the traffic and introduce new risks to the drivers and non-drivers.
Shelves, racks and conveyor belts also greatly affect the traffic flow in the warehouse. In fact, the workplace layout is mainly about the dimensions and placement of those structures (and then the forklifts and pedestrians work around).
From the top view, it could be practical to distribute the workflow among the different aisles. This is to reduce contact between forklifts (thereby minimising the risk of collisions). It’s also practical to prevent certain areas where forklifts are frequent from becoming people-dense.
Effective traffic management in warehouses for safety
Once a traffic management plan is formulated, it will undergo several iterations before “finalising.” Through the months and years, the plan will still evolve as new risks are identified and as the requirements of the company also change.
The priority will always be on safety of the staff, inspectors and visitors. To accomplish this, focusing on the environment and installing safety devices will lead to optimal and sustainable results (instead of enumerating countless do’s and dont’s). This makes mistakes almost impossible and thereby making the warehouse a safer place to work in.
If you require such safety devices in your workplace, you can contact us here at ShockWatch. We have effective alert systems and fleet management technologies to better execute your traffic management plan.
For more than 40 years, we’ve been specialising in Damage Prevention (in the manufacturing and logistics industry). We’re able to provide specific solutions to both Fortune 100 corporations and small businesses. Contact us today and we’ll provide you excellent recommendations.