Get 4 FREE months of Conformio to implement ISO 27001

OHSAS 18001 case study: Implementing an OH&SMS in a warehousing business

The warehousing and fulfillment business worldwide is flourishing like never before with the increase in e-commerce and internet purchasing. Companies like Amazon and Apple have perfected the fulfillment process on a huge scale given the size of their respective operations and the amount of products passing through their fulfillment businesses on a daily basis. But, whether large or small, the warehouse and fulfillment business has a special set of circumstances, and given the nature of the business, OH&S (operational health and safety) is of key importance to most companies within this sector. It therefore stands to reason that most companies will look to comply with the OHSAS 18001 standard when they seek to establish an OH&SMS (operational health and safety management system). Recently, I worked with a company in this sector that wanted to build OH&S into their culture as well as become certificated to OHSAS 18001, and in this case study we shall look at some of the special challenges faced and how we used elements of the standard itself to overcome them.

Warehouse case study: The challenges

As stated above, establishing a new OH&SMS in a warehouse has special challenges, especially so when the company is new and the workforce all come together with different levels of knowledge, different ideas, and priorities. Therefore, as well as trying to establish a culture of OH&S, we have to assess how compliance, communication, delegation of tasks, identification of individual competencies for OHS&MS involvement, writing an OH&S policy, and all other relevant elements can be measured, actioned, and joined together into a working management system that can not only protect the workforce, but show the necessary continual improvement. So, how did this organization go about this task?

Warehouse case study: Building an OH&SMS step by step

As with any management system implementation, the organization in question approached this in methodical steps:

  • Write an OH&S policy: This is one of the few mandatory documents required by OHSAS 18001, but is of critical importance to establishing the direction of OH&S within the organization. Ensure you make this policy specific to your warehouse in terms of restrictions, areas where hazards may exist, and the “do’s and don’ts” of your warehouse area. For more information, please read How to write an OH&S Policy.
  • Lead by example: The OH&S policy mentioned above can provide guidance, but the organizational leadership must demonstrate by example in terms of how to comply with rules and ensure that health and safety in your warehouse is taken seriously. You can find out more in the article How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO/DIS 45001, which will clarify leadership requirements for the forthcoming changes from OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001.
  • Get on top of legislation: Always a mandatory part of any OH&SMS, all legislation needs to be recorded, actioned, and communicated. You may have specific types of legislation that may apply to your warehouse, such as knowledge of lifting techniques or compliance to COSHH (control of substances hazardous to health), but you must ensure that all legislation changes applicable to your organization are identified and captured on your OH&SMS.
  • Identify hazards and risks: Hazards are many in a warehouse, whether trips and slips, dangers of high shelves, equipment use such as pallet lifters, and so on. In most warehouses you will have areas where you may need to restrict employee entry. Do you want employees in this area using mobile phones or handheld devices, or will this create a hazard? Do you need to write a policy for this and communicate it? Do you have specialist equipment and manual lifting rules that need special training? What is that training; how is it delivered and recorded? Do you have up-to-date first aid kits available in your warehouse area? Do you have an employee trained to deliver first aid in the event of an accident? Like most warehouses, these considerations – and more, had to take place. On the other side of these hazards you will also find opportunities for improvement and prevention. Critically, during this process you can have an excellent opportunity to start to build a culture within your organization. In the article How to perform training and awareness in OHSAS 18001 you can read more about how training, awareness, and employee involvement can help culture and performance in your organization.
  • Use the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle: Ensure this fundamental process is at the center of your OH&SMS. Only by truly executing the process whereby improvements and strategies are planned, undertaken, measured and analyzed, and improved, will your OH&S performance continually improve. Include strategies and projects to improve your OH&S, use employee feedback and suggestions – and you can use the cycle to action, analyze, adjust, and improve. As well as demonstrating continual improvement within this cycle, your employee involvement and overall OH&S performance will improve. You can find out more about how this critical element works in the article The importance of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle in OHSAS 18001.

Ensuring consistency in the OH&SMS

The message in establishing effective OH&S in this warehouse environment was clear: use consistent and focused leadership, foster an environment of openness, and use your OH&SMS to ensure that everyone’s awareness, involvement, and knowledge are as good as they can be. In most organizations outside of manufacturing, the warehouse environment will provide more potential hazards than other areas of the business; it is vital that the leadership team in the organization both recognize this and lead by example with this fact in mind. Build a culture of involvement, ownership, and education. Help employees collectively build knowledge of hazard identification and assessing risk – after all, they will spend more time in the warehouse environment than the leaders or OH&S manager will, and use their input concisely and efficiently. Ensure that machinery is operated safely and maintained correctly. Ensure that legislative needs are met, and good practices are established. You only have one chance to establish a positive culture, and this organization managed to get it right the first time. Ensure you do the same with your organization.

Why not use our free  Gap Analysis Tool to measure your system against the OHSAS 18001 standard?

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.