Warehouse training efforts are concentrating on safety because retailers and wholesalers find such programs to be an effective way to avoid costly accidents and injuries that eat at the bottom line.
Retailers such as Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., and Raley's Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif., told SN these issues have made them much more sensitive to the importance of safety, both in terms of how their employees handle themselves lifting product and in how they use equipment so as not to harm themselves or someone else. Other sources pointed out there has been more activity recently on the part of government regulators, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to enforce safety standards.
Ray Gordon, director of warehousing and transportation for Winn-Dixie, said that warehouse training centered around safe practices -- including stretching before shifts and use of back-support belts -- has played a major role in the chain's having 30% or less turnover in selectors, 10% or less turnover in truck loaders and less than 5% turnover in forklift drivers.
"In the mornings and the evenings before any shift starts, the employees go through a 10-minute warm-up, stretching exercise period. During that time, the supervisors are talking to them about safety-related items."
For example, "if someone just had an accident, the supervisor will remind everyone what that person did to cause that accident," Gordon added, noting that this is particularly important for new employees to hear.
In addition, "supervisors and the foreman superintendents periodically -- once a month, once a quarter -- have meetings, and safety is one of the top subjects they talk about during that time," he said.
A retailer in the Northeast, who requested anonymity, said increased awareness of how body mechanics and the machinery used by employees interacts has helped reduce workers' compensation dollars by 60%. The retailer also credited sensitivity to case-weight issues with helping cut worker's compensation dollars.
These practices also helped the retailer reduce lost time -- the amount of time a worker spends away from the job due to accidents -- by at least 30%.
"Now, before we even put selectors out on the floor to pick, we give them four hours of video training and have them listen to speakers," the retailer said, noting that it didn't have as comprehensive a training program in the past. "Within the last few years, we have also brought in a certified physical therapist who shows employees proper lifting techniques."
Following the classroom training, "the employee is paired with an experienced worker over the next few days. Then, over the course of their six weeks of probationary employment, we expect to see steady improvement in productivity and accuracy," he added.
"But we don't want someone to go flying around the warehouse trying to meet the productivity quota, because what we've seen in those cases is they're working unsafely -- jeopardizing themselves or fellow workers -- or they are not selecting accurately," the retailer said. "So we purposely slow them down a bit and tell them to pay attention to safety and accuracy."
The retailer explained it uses the DuPont Stop program, which is nondisciplinary in nature. If a supervisor sees an employee doing something unsafe, whether it be misuse of equipment or improperly lifting a product, he or she approaches the person acting or working unsafely, explains what is unsafe, and tells them what will happen if they continue on that course of action.
"This has brought more awareness on the floor to unsafe habits and will hopefully make employees avoid repeating those unsafe practices," said the Northeastern retailer.
At Raley's, warehouse employees -- including selectors, forklift operators and truck loaders -- are trained for two weeks with the aid of a trainer. During this period, which begins a six-month probation period, employees learn how to use the computers, build a pallet and use the equipment.
Safety is highlighted throughout the training process, both to protect employees from harm and to keep worker's compensation costs down.
"We teach the guys to get on and off the jack the right way and also proper lifting techniques," said Sherry Valli, warehouse manager. "We are striving to reduce injuries."
She added that Raley's typically comes in lower than the industry numbers on injuries, but it would still like to see that figure reduced further.
Ken Straub, vice president of distribution of the Riverside division of Penn Traffic Co., Syracuse, N.Y., said it offers basic one-week training, with an employee who already does a good job assigned to the new hire to help them through the process.
This, he said, has resulted in better employees who "get up to speed quicker and make standards earlier." Typically, warehouse employees must meet engineered labor standards on performance.
Straub said safety programs are ongoing and diverse. For example, it has a safety program for bloodborne pathogens that's been in place for several years.
This program addresses the concern that a disease could be transmitted from one person to another if they come in contact with blood from an infected individual. This could happen "if someone cuts their finger and there is blood on the case and someone else touches that same case," Straub said.
While the retailer has never had a problem in this area, educating its employees about it is not only applicable at work, but outside the workplace, as well.