Workplace injuries in the fulfillment and storage industries are a serious concern. In the EU, a 2017 report found that almost 18 percent of all fatal accidents at work took place within the transportation and storage sector.  Similarly, an Australian report found that the transportation, postal, and warehousing industries accounted for more than a quarter of workplace fatalities in 2016.  In Canada, transportation and storage is listed as the fifth most dangerous industry, with 16 workplace fatalities per 100,00 workers.  As for the U.S., in 2018 the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that there were 5.1 injuries for every 100 full-time workers  , with nearly 70,000 reported injuries requiring time away from work.  On top of that, the number of worker fatalities in the U.S. has been increasing year over year, from 11 in 2015 to 26 in 2018.
Fortunately, supply chain technology mitigates risk. For example, warehouse automation and robotics offer tools that put humans out of harm’s way. Supply chain and logistics will continue to shift towards these systems. In fact, some estimates project that the industry will be worth $27 billion by 2025.  Yet, as of 2019, only 4 percent of companies report having “highly automated” operations, while 42 percent use a mix of manual and automated processes. Of those surveyed, nearly half still rely mostly or completely on manual processes. 
By incorporating more robotics and automation into supply chain management, warehouse managers and fulfillment teams can eliminate inefficiencies, improve productivity and profits, and help keep workers safe. Here’s how...
Warehouse Automation Overcomes Common Safety Risks
- Falls - In an effort to maximize available space, especially in crowded areas, many warehouses are building up rather than out. In addition to risks when reaching overhead for products, this introduces more material handling machinery to the floor. Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) are a good example of warehouse automation designed to retrieve items that are too high for workers. By removing the risk of falling from a ladder, injury from machine operation, or from dropping a box, materials continue to flow with far less risk.
- Collisions - As order volumes rise due to eCommerce shopping habits, there can be more workers and machines causing aisle congestion. Congestion can be problematic for efficiency, but also for safety. One way to mitigate this risk is through the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) sensors. Not only can these be used to track and manage inventory more efficiently, but RF sensors can also trigger proximity warnings to keep workers away from dangerous areas or moving vehicles.
- Worker Fatigue - Quite a few factors contribute to worker fatigue, so it’s important for warehouse teams to properly manage the risks within their control. Making sure workers aren’t exhausted from repeating physically demanding tasks and aren’t working back-to-back shifts goes a long way toward preventing workplace accidents. Studies have found that working night shifts, working shifts longer than nine hours, and not taking sufficient breaks can significantly increase the risk of injury for warehouse workers.  This is another situation in which warehouse managers are turning to AMRs. Robotics can relieve human workers from physically demanding and potentially injurious assignments, while also reducing burnout. With this approach, workers still play an important role in the warehouse, but robots take over the tasks that are particularly monotonous and time-consuming. This means that employees can conserve their energy for jobs requiring problem solving or high dexterity, while robots optimize picking efficiency.
- Lifting Injuries - Even when employees are properly trained, outfitted, and prepared to work on the floor, accidents can still happen. Back injuries, which often stem from improper lifting, are one of the most common forms of musculoskeletal injuries that require employees to take time off work. Fortunately, certain robots are designed specifically to assist with heavy lifting, thereby sparing human workers from extreme physical fatigue. Plus, through the use of voice picking technology, workers can direct and guide these robots while lowering their risk of injury. We’re also seeing the emergence of exoskeletons that augment worker strength, ease strain on joints, and increase endurance.
Training and Safety with Voice Technology
The last safety concern we’ll touch on is training. Improperly trained employees are a major safety risk to themselves and others. Prevention is the best form of safety, and training is the key to avoiding issues before they happen.
Of course it’s key to provide critical training and onboarding; it’s also important to get workers on the floor as soon as possible. Some companies use voice technology to reduce training time while benefiting from the productivity boosts voice technology provides. We’ve seen voice reduce training from hours to under thirty minutes while still providing a thorough foundation for workers to be productive and safe.
Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) provide training simulations that allow workers to practice before stepping foot on the warehouse floor. This might be on the pricey side, but for those with particularly complex or intricate operations, these systems can reduce the learning curve and put workers in position for success (and safety).
Warehouse Safety and Efficiency Go Hand-in-Hand
Ultimately, warehousing is an essential part of supply chain management, and it’s important that orders are fulfilled without a hitch. Augmenting human workers with AMRs provides multiple benefits for everyone involved. Workers are kept safe from harm, and warehouse management teams will often see improvements in productivity and efficiency — both of which are crucial parts of an agile and well-organized supply chain.