Traffic management can be a crucial part of an organisation's work health and safety (WHS) policy. Not every workplace will face hazards arising from this particular issue, but for those that do there are several strategies that can be put into place to minimise and, if possible, prevent the risks involved.

If your workforce operates within a warehouse environment during its day-to-day tasks and activities, there are specific issues around traffic management which need to be mitigated in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of workers.

As a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) in Australia, you have a legal obligation to protect your workers from health and safety risks in the workplace. Incidents arising from work-related events can take a significant toll, not only financially but on staff morale and satisfaction as well. Accidents and fatalities can have a wide-ranging impact, so it makes sense to ensure your workers are as protected as possible.

The risks of traffic in the workplace

When people think of WHS policies, most jump to issues such as asbestos, working at heights or in a confined space as some of the most dangerous hazards. While these are certainly significant concerns, it's important not to forget about the dangers that can arise from traffic in the workplace as well.

Depending on the type of company, anything from trucks and vans to powered mobile plant and buses could represent a risk for the workers who operate in that environment day in and day out. Traffic management training and awareness plays a key role in protecting the workforce from injuries inflicted by collisions with moving vehicles or equipment, so it's crucial to ensure you have a thorough WHS policy in place. 

There are many ways traffic in the workplace can cause injury or even a death. Employees may be hit by load shifting equipment or other moving vehicles, pinned underneath a piece of machinery or affected by a malfunctioning item of plant.

The cost of these types of incidents can be very high and it affects not only the victim but the employer, surrounding family and the wider community as a whole. The first step to minimising these risks, controlling and even preventing them lies first in identifying who is responsible for undertaking WHS initiatives in the workplace.

Who has responsibility?

There are several levels of responsibility when it comes to safe traffic management in the workplace. First and foremost, the PCBU shoulders the primary duty for ensuring that every worker is protected from risks as much as possible.

This includes PCBUs who have a management or other controlling role within a workplace, and PCBUs who have management or control of powered mobile plant. 

However, a principal contractor also has some WHS duties if the cost of the construction work is $250,000 or more. He or she needs to prepare a written WHS management plan for the specific construction project and manage the risks associated with the traffic in the workplace, if it is likely to be affected by his or her construction work. 

Next, the designers, manufacturers, suppliers and importers of plant or structures have a responsibility to ensure their products aren't creating risks to health and safety, as far as is reasonably practicable. 

Officers in the company have a responsibility to ensure their business or undertaking complies with WHS regulations, to the best of their knowledge. Workers themselves must also follow the WHS policies and procedures in place at their organisation, which is where traffic management training can be particularly useful. 

Last but not least, other people within the workplace (such as visitors for the day) need to care for their own health and safety by following any instructions given to them by the PCBU. Once these levels of responsibility have been identified and established, a suitable WHS policy targeting traffic management can be created.

Focus on warehousing

Traffic in warehouses can pose specific risks to both workers and members of the public who may have cause to be in the area. Everyday activities in warehouse environments include receiving and unloading goods, transferring goods into storage, physically placing items into the correct storage facilities or areas, loading orders onto vehicles and readying them for transport. 

All of these tasks involve a degree of traffic management, to ensure that pedestrians aren't in danger of an injury or fatality. The main issues to consider when creating your traffic management strategy include pedestrian safety, work area layout, signs and warning devices, visibility and the use of powered loadshifting equipment. 

The first step in any WHS policy is to assess where hazards can be eliminated entirely. If this is not possible, the risks need to managed and minimised as much as possible, to lessen the dangers inherent in the flow of traffic around the warehouse.

There are many ways you can get rid of or minimise traffic hazards in warehousing. For example, you can prohibit the use of vehicles in pedestrian spaces or create separate traffic routes where pedestrians will not be present.

You can also plan ahead and control vehicle operations and pedestrian movements within the warehouse, to reduce the amount of interactions that need to take place between humans and vehicles or powered mobile plant. 

Managing traffic hazard risks: creating a strategy

When creating a WHS policy for traffic management, it's important to take into account the input of your workforce. Consultation throughout the process can encourage a more positive reception from your workforce and ensure they understand the principles behind the strategy.

You should also set up a consistent review and evaluation process to make sure the strategy is still effective even after implementing it. Regular reviews can help you identify any areas where improvement is needed and highlight practices that are particularly successful. 

When it comes to managing traffic hazards in the warehouse, you can put several control measures into place. For example, overhead walkways or separate paths can ensure any vehicles and pedestrians are kept away from each other. If this isn't feasible in your workplace, physical separation structures such as barriers and fences can help to lower the risk of interaction on a daily basis.

Separate pedestrian doors are also essential at each vehicle entry and exit point. Signage around these points should be clearly visible so everyone can see and follow the instructions – after all, even the best safety measures won't be effective if they are unable to be understood.

It also helps to know where the 'blind spots' are in your warehouse. Spend time identifying where pedestrians may not be able to see vehicles and concentrate your efforts on improving these sites. Safety railings at a blind spot can ensure any employees are prevented from stepping out into the path of oncoming traffic.

If you have staff members who need to work with vehicles, providing them with sufficient safety training can help them identify, minimise and avoid the risks they face. Warning signs and high-visibility gear can provide additional protection, but it's also useful to ensure non-trained and non-essential staff members aren't able to enter areas where these vehicles operate. Visual warning systems such as flashing lights, sirens or other attention-grabbing cues can help to raise awareness around moving vehicles in the warehouse.

For more information about safe traffic management in warehouses and other workplace environments, contact the AlertForce team today. 

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