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How automation instills a culture of safety and innovation

Distribution distribution center fresh food grocery retail safety

By automating and embracing new technologies, warehouses and distribution centers can cultivate not only a greater culture of safety, but also of innovation. Automation marks a transition from the traditional, physically demanding warehouse of yesterday, to more modern facilities that run better, faster and safer operations for the next generation of warehouse workers.

Healthy workplace means productive workforce

Ergonomics is not just a buzzword. In fact, employee well-being and safety are some of the top reasons behind the decision to automate distribution centers, together with greater reliability in distribution. A safer workplace leads to healthier workers, lower injury costs, less stress and higher employee retention. Most traditional warehouses require employees to manually lift and carry crates of goods that are often heavy. Repetitive twisting, turning and reaching put warehouse staff at constant risk of injury, which potentially leads to long-term physical harm. Particularly in times of labor shortage, manual order fulfillment results in warehouse staff having to work harder and faster, increasing their risk of workplace injury. Automation can eliminate these ergonomic hazards and optimize facilities to run better and safer operations all year round.

Especially when it comes to fruit and vegetables, the crates are heavy – often more than 25 kilos each. The trucks are packed up to two meters high, and to pick up such heavy crates from a height of two meters is very strenuous for the human body, not to mention the possible safety issues.

Kari Miikkulainen, Director of Warehouse & Distribution Industry Sales at Cimcorp

Investing in workplace safety

In addition to the ergonomic challenges, insufficient staffing increases the operating pressures that beset manual distribution. SKU proliferation among growing consumer demand makes warehouses and distribution centers search for ways to accommodate growing inventories within a shrinking amount of space. Investing in workplace safety is vital to ensure the well-being of workers and to stay competitive. Work hours lost to avoidable injuries hamper the productivity and efficiency of the workplace. Automation creates a safer workplace by taking high-risk tasks away from workers and also provides an opportunity to consolidate the entire distribution center through system integration.

Workplace safety
Photo: Alimerka

Safety and innovation

From conveyors and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), to automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) and order picking solutions, robotics and machinery can alleviate the demanding task of order fulfillment. These automated solutions can provide rapid and accurate movement of goods – from receiving through storage, replenishment and picking, to packing and shipping – optimizing material flow from end to end. Distribution centers can limit human intervention to supervising operations, releasing orders, selecting picking sequences, transport planning or stepping in for products with special handling instructions.

With the help of automation, warehouses and distribution centers can minimize employee strain due to absences and provide better job satisfaction with the help of safety culture. With automation taking over the majority of material handling, distribution centers can proactively eliminate the risks of injury and counter absence by protecting workers’ safety and long-term health. Moreover, a workplace where injury prevention is the main goal helps to set the tone for a company’s commitment to safety. A positive safety culture has an influence on workers’ morale and turns them into safety advocates, directly impacting employee performance and retention.

How employees can lead the way

With growing distribution volumes and the need for efficient logistics, technology innovations play a pivotal role in revolutionizing safety in distribution facilities. When moving towards automated solutions, it is essential to ensure that employees are on board with the changes.

Safety and innovation
Photo: Alimerka

Automation is not meant to replace human workers – it is about supplementing human workers by providing them with more efficient and safer workflows

The tasks for employees are elevated from repetitive, physical labor into more sophisticated work in terms of supervising automated operations and reviewing performance data. Today’s jobseekers gravitate more towards careers where they can apply some technological acumen, in addition to enjoying a safe work environment.

“The safety risks often make careers in warehousing and distribution less appealing to jobseekers and create difficulties with retaining employees,” says Kari Miikkulainen. “Automation can alleviate the physical burden for workers and elevate them into new, technical and supervisory roles. In effect, automated systems not only fill the operational gaps left by widespread labor shortages, but also protect current employees with more fulfilling, tech-driven positions. Thus, automation can present a drastic improvement in ergonomic conditions and the future outlook of distribution centers.”

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