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National safety month: automatically safer with automation!

Distribution ergonomics labor safety

Happy National Safety Month! For 25 years, the National Safety Council has dedicated the month of June to promoting workplace safety and helping organizations reduce unintentional injuries and death. So in honor of the occasion, let’s look at one workplace where proactive safety measures can make a huge impact—the warehouse.

In traditional facilities where orders are picked by hand, most employees spend the day running up and down aisles, moving products in and out of storage, and lifting/lowering heavy containers of goods. All this repetitive twisting, turning, bending and reaching puts serious strain on their bodies. Staff are at constant risk of sprains, pulled muscles, and other minor injuries—not to mention life-long, chronic conditions caused by prolonged physical stress.

While some companies focus their efforts on promoting proper posture and lifting techniques, better training can’t eliminate the inherent risks of physical labor. This is one major reason many warehouses look to automation as a better solution for workplace safety.

Why automation is the answer

Automated solutions are available today that can take over the majority of product handling operations, including  robotic order picking systems, conveyor systems, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RSs). Once these solutions are incorporated:

1. Automation does the heavy lifting

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, work-related injuries in warehousing lead to job restrictions, transfers or absences at a much higher rate than in other industries. Such staffing issues can be a major blow to facilities already facing labor shortages or struggling with rising demands for faster order fulfillment. Healthy workers then must pick up the slack, pushing themselves to the limit to keep orders flowing out the door

But by investing in automation that runs 24/7 with minimal human involvement, companies can shift employees to value-added positions that pose less risk of injury. They’ll be proactively protecting their workers from added strain and injuries, while safeguarding their company from the impacts of labor challenges.

2. Humans are happier

An ergonomic-friendly workplace—supported by automation—sets the tone for a company’s commitment to safety and creates better morale among employees. After all, it’s no secret that less fatigued, safer workers are more productive and satisfied.

Automation also opens up better opportunities for existing employees! So rather than intensive manual labor, they can take on more advanced responsibilities like supervising automated operations, operating equipment, reviewing performance data, and transport planning. These new roles are not only safer, but also exactly what tech-savvy, up-and-coming jobseekers look for in a career.

3. Operations are optimized for safety

In addition to ergonomic improvements, automation also helps warehouses optimize material flow which results in a safer, more efficient environment. In a busy manual operation, employees have to be on the lookout for fleets of fast-moving forklifts, increasing the risks of injuries and load related accidents. Equipped with a fully automated system, facilities can manage storage and retrieval and order picking in a completely contained environment, free of human interaction.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the benefits of a safer, more efficient workplace make warehouse automation an investment well worth exploring. After all, doesn’t the First Law of Robotics state that a robot may not injure a human being or allow a human to come to harm?

Want more on how your warehouse operations can run better, faster and safer? Check out our free white paper, “Safe and sound through automation.”

Author Joel Kuusman

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