Musculoskeletal disorders are twice as common in the warehousing and distribution sector as they are with other private-sector industries. Ergonomically designed distribution centers can not only help bring down incidences of injuries to workers, but also cut down the amount paid in compensation by the business to workers.

While it is possible to stop adding rows of pallets beyond a certain height — and most distribution centers do so floor-level pallets are considered unavoidable due to space utilization. This requires employees to bend at the waist to pick and lift products that can often be heavy. Lower back injuries can result.

One solution is to use pallet positioners and turntables so the pallet load can be broken down into levels that are more easily managed without the worker having to bend or stretch for the loads. The height of the lowest rack in the pallet rack bay can be raised so bending at the waist is eliminated. Vacuum-hoist forklifts can be used for lifting loads off the lowest level of the rack.

On the other hand, reaching up for products placed on shelves above the shoulder level can result in stress to the back and shoulders. Also, there is a risk of cartons and parcels slipping and falling over you. The solution is that shelving should be such that the staff can reach out for material while keeping their hands close to the body. Pick sticks can be provided, and these help securing smaller items with ease.

Ergonomically designed pallets eliminate the scenario in which workers have to reach far into the pallet to pull products. Wider pallets accessible from both sides or ones that can be rotated offer a solution. Installation of rollers and channels can allow easier pulling of heavy material stacked deeper inside the pallet.

Narrow aisles are perhaps of the biggest constraints in implementing an ergonomic design in warehouse and distribution center workspaces. They not only result in workers stressing their backs and legs in trying to maneuver through sometimes-cramped spaces, but also slow down the overall process. Wider aisles are a solution.

Striking the right balance between ergonomics and space utilization can be a challenge. Nevertheless, it can be accomplished by selecting appropriate equipment for storing, packing and retrieving material, optimizing aisle space, and going vertical.

The weight of the item and frequency of handling should determine its location in the warehouse. Rack steps should be installed so the second- and third-level racks can be accessed without having to stand on tiptoes. Employees should be trained in correct body mechanics to avoid injury.

An investment in upgrading a distribution center to enhance ergonomics offers an excellent return on investment. Errors in the process can be minimized; customers receive the ordered goods on time and in the correct quantity; worker efficiency improves; and liability costs come down significantly. Quicker order fulfillment is a common and immediate benefit noticed when ergonomics in a warehouse or distribution center are given proper consideration.