Workers in the construction industry have a high risk of accidents and injuries. Although falls are probably the number one risk, materials which are not stored properly can be hazardous to workers and damage expensive materials.

Minor slips and falls can lead to more severe injuries down the road, which costs time and money for both you and your employee. In fact, a 2020 report shows that in the U.S., work injuries cost employers around $1,100 per worker. When you take material handling guidelines seriously, you’re creating a safer and more productive workspace.

Materials which are stacked improperly can collapse on an employee and cause fractures. Items which are too heavy to carry correctly can cause strains and sprains. Falling materials can cause bruises or cuts.

In Standard 1910.176(b), OSHA says this about secure storage: “Storage of material shall not create a hazard. Bags, containers, bundles, etc., stored in tiers shall be stacked, blocked, interlocked and limited in height so that they are stable and secure against sliding or collapse.” This is a good rule and there are other important safety measures to remember.

Employer Responsibilities

Construction safety begins at the top. Employers have to take the lead to make sure employees know how to handle and store material safely. Training needs to be offered to all employees responsible for stacking and storing materials. Employees should also know, understand and comply with all federal and state OSHA requirements. There should also be a procedure in place to handle concerns or problems with material handling. Employers should make sure employees have protective equipment, such as:

  • Gloves or hand protectors
  • Steel-toed safety boots
  • Handles and holders to move loads
  • Eye protection when opening a wire-bound box
  • Band cutter to break down packaging materials
  • Self dumping hoppers to store debris and broken down packaging materials
  • Tools for moving and lifting heavy or large loads
  • Granite racks or a granite a frame to safely and securely store large slabs of rock or granite

Safe Stacking and Storage Rules

No matter what type of material is being stacked, there are standard guidelines which can help employees stay safe:

  • Don’t block emergency exits or equipment, such as fire alarms, when stacking materials
  • Make sure that there is sufficient clearance around stacks to have easy access
  • Observe stacking limitations, the height to base ratio should not exceed 3:1
  • Make sure stacks are self-supporting and stable
  • Leave clearance between stacks and the heating pipes, lights and sprinkler heads

Boxes should be placed on a pallet for better security and stability. Banding the boxes together with shrink wrap or banding increases stability too. Bags, sacks and bundled materials should not be stacked closer than 18 inches to the walls or sprinklers. Interlock the rows for more security and stability.

Pipes, poles, and bars have their own hazards and need to be carefully stacked, stored and secured. The racks that store these materials should not face the main aisles, as this creates hazards to workers who are removing other supplies. Do not stack or store pipes in a way that could cause them to spread or tilt, unless the materials are in racks.

Methods for Handling Materials

Not only do employees have to know how to stack materials safely, they should also have the knowledge to protect themselves. Here are some key steps to take before stacking or storing materials:

  • Check the material for nails, jagged edges, slippery surfaces or other protruding objects
  • Make sure a good grip can be obtained on the object before moving
  • Watch for pinch points, where fingers might be squished between two heavy objects
  • Keep hands away from the ends of long objects, such as lumber or pipe, to prevent injuries and pinching
  • Keep hands and gloves free of oil or grease
  • Wipe off objects before handling or storing if the item is wet or oily

Material Handling Guidelines for Lifting, Carrying, & Setting Down

The best way to prevent injuries caused by lifting, carrying, or setting down bulk materials is by creating and enforcing material handling guidelines.

Keep reading to learn more about what to consider when creating material handling standards for lifting, carrying, and setting down bulk materials.

Lifting Material

Back injuries are the most common injury that can occur when lifting materials; it’s often caused when employees overexert themselves or don’t follow proper lifting guidelines. These injuries can lead to severe muscle strains which can result in employees missing weeks, months, or even years of work.

To prevent these injuries, enforce these material handling guidelines:

  • Environment Must Be Free of Debris: Solid footing is critical when lifting boxes or parcels. Your material handling standards should ensure the work area is free of debris, is well-lit, devoid of any water or liquid on the floor, and that the operator’s footing is solid. It’s also good practice to ensure there are no cables, wires, or tools strewn about before initiating a lift.
  • Lift Properly: All employees should be trained on how to properly lift boxes. Tips to include in this training are: a) never lift boxes from a sitting position, b) avoid lifting parcels or packages directly from the floor, c) keep the box close to the chest, d) never lift heavy boxes over structures or around obstructions, and d) always as co-workers for help if needed.

Carrying Material

Next, employees should never be asked to carry boxes long distances. Make sure there are strict guidelines on moving the material from one location to another. If employees must manually carry material, ensure guidelines define a minimum length of transit and minimum weight for the boxes. In addition to these standards, your employees should also follow these guidelines:

  • Use the Proper Tools: Hand-held tuggers, trolleys, and carts are great material handling solutions for transporting heavy loads. Make sure your employees have easy access to these tools.
  • Clearly Defined Paths: Make sure paths to and from various locations across your shop floor and warehouse are clearly outlined. This will ensure minimal traffic jams and a free flow of material to its destination.

Setting Down Material

Lastly, incurring an injury when setting down material is often caused by employees who miscalculate the actual weight of the material they’re handling. Again, having well-defined material handling guidelines should prevent these types of injuries from occurring. Some of the guidelines you could enforce include:

  • Define a Maximum Weight for Manual Loading & Unloading: Ensure your material handling criteria define the maximum weight employees can lift and unload. If needed, modify the unloading process to ensure employee safety.
  • Reduce Load Sizes When Possible: If needed, be willing to reduce the size and weight of the load if it makes it easier for employees.

Have Questions? Contact Roura Today!

At Roura, we understand how important it is to have robust material handling solutions in place. We have been helping businesses in a wide array of industries since our inception in 1915, and take pride in being a name synonymous with quality. If you would like to learn more about our material handling solutions, please contact us today to speak with one of our team members.