One thing that is common to almost all workplaces is material handling. Whether it’s an automotive factory, food manufacturing facility, steel plant, or agricultural operation, materials come into the workplace, get moved around, and are shipped out. How things are moved around—whether manually or with machines—can be hazardous, which is why the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development (MLITSD) is currently focusing on it.
The MLITSD has begun a focused inspection campaign on material handling at industrial workplaces. The campaign will run until March 31, 2024, This will include all types of manufacturing operations from agriculture and automotive to wood and metal fabrication. In a recent webinar hosted by WSPS to help employers prepare for this campaign, a representative from the MLITSD discussed fatality and injury statistics from the past two years. The statistics showed that workers were being crushed or struck-by heavy material and mobile equipment; therefore, inspectors will look for evidence that controls are in place to prevent this from happening.
“While this campaign covers all material handling, I think inspectors will primarily look at how large and bulky materials are being moved. These types of materials are often more difficult to move, which may increase the risk of serious injury,” says Don Patten. Don is a Specialized Services Lead for Ergonomics with WSPS. “For example, inspectors may pay more attention to items that don’t fit neatly on a pallet, or heavy material that is being hoisted overhead. They will want to see that the right equipment is being used, that the load is tied down to the pallet properly, and that the load is not going to tip and fall,” says Don.
Proper planning is key
According to Don, proper planning is the best way to prepare for this inspection blitz. “Start by making sure that what you are lifting is well matched to the device you are using to lift it,” advises Don. When determining the most appropriate devices or equipment to use, consider the shape of the load you are moving, its weight distribution across the device, and the speed at which you are moving it. Following load ratings and capacity limits are also crucial to safe material handling.
“It’s also a good idea to complete a risk assessment,” says Don. A risk assessment will help identify the specific hazards associated with moving your material. Understanding these hazards will help you determine the safest way to get the job done.
Norm Kramer, Warehouse and Distribution Specialist with WSPS, echoes Don’s emphasis on planning. Where you move material is just as important as how you move it. “You need to ensure that pathways and aisles are large enough for operators to safely turn without hitting pedestrians or storage racks,” Norm points out. “For example, if you have a conveyor system that connects to an aisle and you find that there is a lot of traffic in the aisle, it may be practical to change the layout, such as the angle of the conveyor, so that a lift truck can pick up the material in a less busy area.” Norm also recommends looking for opportunities to have more one-way routes, eliminating blind spots, and considering technology that will warn both operators and pedestrians of each other’s presence.
Review training and maintenance documentation
If an inspector comes to your workplace, they will assess the effectiveness of training and communication. They will want to see evidence that workers have received training and that they understood the content of the training, which means inspectors will likely complete an administrative review.
“To prepare for an administrative review, ask yourself these questions: Who has what role? Has each worker completed the training required for their role? Is the training clearly documented? Are workers implementing what they learned in training?” says Norm. For example, ensure that all of your forklift or mobile crane operators have completed training and have up-to-date certificates. Inspectors will also look for documented evidence that equipment and vehicles are being regularly inspected and maintained, so ensure that this information is readily available as well.
How WSPS can help
Safe Lifting and Manual Material Handling Training Course (classroom; 3 hours)
Safe Lifting & Manual Materials Handling - Supervisor (classroom; 1 hour)
Inspecting & Maintaining Steel Storage Racks - Training (classroom; in-person or virtual; 1 day)
Safety Connection (free instructor-led session): WSPS Safety Connection - Warehouses - Traffic Management & Pedestrian Safety
Safety Connection (free instructor-led session): Safe Material Handling - Enhancing compliance efforts through an ergonomic lens