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The Secret Weapon Behind Highly Efficient Distribution Centers

The most efficient distribution centres have a secret weapon — and it’s not something you can buy: people make a significant difference in the overall productivity and success of a business. They’re the most valuable resource any company has on their floor, so every decision needs to be made to support and protect them.

Though technology can help workers become more effective, automation will never replace loyal employees. Robots and machines equipped with artificial intelligence can’t make judgement calls, deal with irregular or complex items, or determine the appropriate amount of void fill. Machines need employees to run them.

Meanwhile, employees can be a source of innovation and optimisation too. Some of the best ideas come directly from the warehouse floor, such as better ways to organise inventory or supplies.

But to foster the kind of workplace where employees contribute strategically, employees need to be kept safe, healthy, and happy. Ergonomics and other safety measures must be a priority, helping prevent injuries and ensuring employees can do their jobs without pain. And providing a positive work environment is important too.


How can distribution centres create a safe, rewarding, and productive atmosphere? Here’s where to start:


Keep employees safe


Though mishaps aren’t an everyday occurrence, 5 percent of employees are injured every year in the average distribution centre. The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics notes 76 percent of these occurrences require employees to take time off or perform modified duties, leaving fewer employees on the floor to fulfil orders. In total, workplace injuries result in 95 million days lost per year in the U.S. Additionally, 9 percent of workplace accidents in the EU are in transportation and warehousing. Overall, workplace injuries cost EU companies €476 billion annually.

What might be surprising is one-third of these injuries happen because employees are doing the same task repeatedly. Known as repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), these keep employees out of work — in the EU, over one-fourth of injuries are due to sprains and strains. These injuries are expensive too, and can cost employers between $17 billion and $20 billion per year.

Prevention starts with ergonomic best practises, such as setting up workstations in the power zone. This specific zone is where all movements need to start and finish: from just below the shoulders to just above the knees, and slightly wider than shoulder-width. Using this zone engages an employee’s core muscles to do most of the work, which kerbs the likelihood of injury.

With this zone in mind, on-demand systems need to dispense protective packaging consumables at the appropriate height. The height of a packer can vary significantly, making it important to look at what can be configured or adjusted for individual packers, such as overhead solutions, which can be dropped to the correct height during their shifts.

Minimising twisting movements also helps prevent RSIs. Conveyor integrations can reduce bending and rotating to send off completed packages while also increasing efficiency. For more information on configuring the packing floor with ergonomically friendly solutions, download our ebook, “Essential to Exceptional,” which is packed with tips for protecting employees.

When implementing new safety measures, employees need to be trained. Most importantly, employees should be encouraged to tell their managers if they’re developing an RSI. They need to know management has their back, figuratively. Plus, employers should communicate the policies for medical appointments and rotating into a different duty to aid recovery.


Organising feedback from the floor


The secret to employee satisfaction is making sure they feel heard and empowered to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement. Satisfied employees are more productive, fostering a receptive culture vital to the success of a distribution centre. Workers know the difficulties of their jobs better than anyone, which is why Pregis teams conduct training sessions and verify that new installations are working properly. New hires receive ongoing training, and field service continually cheques in to make sure everything is running smoothly. Companies can also form an internal team to identify potential problems, such as workstations that aren’t ergonomically friendly, to help keep employees safe and boost morale. It’s also important to survey workers about their concerns and encourage them to recommend solutions even if it’s anonymous.


Continuing the cycle


When a repetitive task becomes ingrained in your neural system, the concept of muscle memory makes it easy for employees to fall back on old habits. To reinforce new procedures and good habits, employee safety needs to be a continuous, ongoing effort, with regular training and safety sessions, including videos and placards, to make this a self-repeating pattern.

Once new processes and equipment make it to the floor, companies will want to conduct check-ins to make sure employees are still benefiting. Regularly assessing metrics, such as injury rates, will help determine if setups or processes need tweaking.


Healthy employees optimise the distribution centre floor


Healthy employees contribute ideas that can — and will — help distribution centres innovate to become more efficient. Leveraging both employee ingenuity and technology to promote productivity helps companies get the most out of their operations. It’s equally important to provide setups that help prevent injury, as well as foster a culture of feedback and continuous improvement to achieve higher output.


Curious about how you can create the best environment for your employees?

Contact Pregis for help implementing solutions to keep them safe and productive