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21.04.2020

How Warehouse Automation Is Improving Worker Safety

In addition to optimizing the processes involved in supply chain management, robotics can also help keep warehouse employees safer on the job.

As warehouse technology advances, automation is poised to play an even greater role in supply chain management. From assisting with workforce shortages to optimizing the efficiency of inventory management, automation and robotics in supply chains add important operational value.

So which roles are robots taking on in the warehouse? In addition to absorbing some of the more repetitive, low-value activities, automation is tackling high-risk tasks like accessing hard to reach inventory. In this way, robotics have the potential to increase efficiency as well as improve the safety and quality of life for warehouse employees. 
 

Preventing Injuries with Warehouse Automation

Robotics and automation in supply chain management can help address a number of safety hazards, including lifting injuries, falls, and worker fatigue. 

The lifting and transportation of inventory and materials is an inherent part of warehouse management. While using mechanical equipment cuts down on the risk of injury, even with safety measures in place and adequate training on proper lifting techniques, accidents can still happen. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a rate of 5.1 recorded illnesses and injuries per 100 warehouse workers in 2018. Because many autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are designed to lift heavy objects — and because they don’t experience physical fatigue like human workers do — they can go a long way toward preventing these types of injuries.

Another advantage of AMR and other automation solutions is reducing the risk of falls. Inventory management in warehouses helps maximize space, incorporating both horizontal and vertical storage. Robotics can safely reach items that are too high up for human workers. While there is always some risk on the warehouse floor, warehouse robots limit the amount of time that human workers are required to spend at potentially hazardous heights.

Warehouse automation can also help prevent injuries caused by worker fatigue. A recent study found that workers’ risk of injury increases substantially when breaks are too infrequent or too short, when shifts are nine hours or longer, or when shifts take place at night — and especially after three or more consecutive night shifts. One key advantage of robots is that they’re able to work long shifts without the dropoff in performance that can happen as human workers become fatigued. Human workers still need rest breaks, of course, but by assigning more strenuous physical duties to robots, warehouse managers can avoid overworking employees.

The Safety Advantages of Automated Warehouse Robots

Item retrieval in warehouses often requires traveling several miles each day, which robots can do faster and more efficiently than human workers. Robots follow optimized, predetermined pathways through a warehouse, using environmental sensors to detect and avoid obstacles. This increases the speed of inventory retrieval while cutting down on the risk of injuries.

Another important aspect to consider is the safety of temporary and new workers. There could be higher risk for workers who are unfamiliar with the day-to-day operations and warehouse layout. Robotics, on the other hand, function based on precise programming. So, once the robotics logic is built, new units are ready to go without a learning curve. While there will always be the need for people in the warehouse, leveraging robotics for repetitive pick and put-away jobs could improve productivity while increasing safety.

All in all, the benefits of warehouse automation and robotics solutions are many — from helping support flexible and reliable supply chains to freeing up human workers to work on problems that require greater levels of critical thinking. Improving worker safety is just another compelling reason to incorporate automation into warehouse management practices.

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