If you’ve read our previous blog post on ergonomics, then you know that safety matters in materials handling and that there are regulations and guidelines found around the world regarding the safe handling of loads.
While actual legislation varies from country to country, they are all designed to do one thing: minimize employees’ risks for injury and thereby promote safer work environments for all.
Workplace safety around the world
To reduce the physical strain on the body in manual handling, some countries have set weight limits for what an employee can lift. For example, in France, the code du travail (French labor code) sets the weight lifting limit per load for a male employee at 55 kilograms (~120 pounds). For a woman, the limit is 25 kilograms (~55 pounds).
Other countries have daily limits for how much a person can lift during a single shift. In Denmark, the Danish Working Environment Authority states that an individual may only lift 10 tons in total per day if they carry the loads close to the body. Some nations also recommend taking caution when carrying loads across distances. The general consensus is anything over 10 meters is dangerous.
When employees exceed the recommended or enforced limits through no fault of their own, it’s a danger not only to themselves, but also overall operations. They may incur short-term or long-term physical injuries, requiring time off work. For facility managers, this can leave a sizable gap in the workforce and lead to potential regulatory action from local governing bodies.
What can you do to protect your organization and employees?
Across land and sea, local safety regulations and guidelines all share a common thread. They all recommend that facilities use mechanical equipment whenever and wherever possible to reduce the risks associated with manual handling. Tools like forklifts and pneumatic lifts are common recommendations, but automation presents one of the best options today.
From conveyers and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), to automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RSs) and order picking solutions, automated systems can now take over the many demanding tasks of warehousing and distribution, including the heavy lifting during order picking.
Namely, an order picking system with an overhead design can rapidly and safely pick products stored in stacked plastic crates, totes, trays, or baskets from above. Such a high-density design has the added benefit of optimizing storage space. The robotic system can handle all order fulfillment functions with ease, preparing and moving products from storage all the way through to dispatch.
Human intervention is thereby elevated from physical labor to managerial tasks such as:
- Supervising operations
- Order release (although this may also be automated)
- Order picking sequence selection
- Transport planning
- Product shortage management
- Storage emptying for cleaning or maintenance
Ultimately, no one has to break a sweat (or bone) lifting or carrying heavy loads of inventory. The result is a far safer and more efficient work environment, which is a huge benefit anywhere in the world.
Author Jarno Honkanen