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Warehouse should not be ‘poor relation’

09 January 2017

We hear from John Lewis, Asda and Travis Perkins - with experience and advice that can help you maintain safe warehouse systems.

The 2016 SEMA Safety Conference showcased a number of fascinating presenters, offering a great deal of useful safety advice. Andrew Noble, safety co-ordinator, workplace transportation and distribution at John Lewis Partnership talked about the great changes John Lewis has experienced since the online retail boom began and the impact this has had on warehouse safety.

“Rapid changes in people’s shopping habits has led to rapid changes in JLP’s warehouse configurations. We now have 400,000 SKUs with many items in totes, in semi-automated warehouses - and with some larger items that will fit on pallets. We handle toasters to sofas and have some white goods stacked 6/7 metres high. With eCommerce we’ll continue to need more space.”

Andrew illustrated this by explaining the firm built a 700,000 sq ft warehouse in Milton Keynes and ‘by the time we originally thought we would need to add space, we had already trebled space’.

To make the most of space, the firm often stores up to 15m, deploying double deep racking. JLP takes a slightly different approach to health & safety, preferring to ‘look at tasks rather than hazards’.

Andrew says: “We ask: What are you doing? What can you do to prevent it? What could go wrong, and what will you do if something goes wrong? “Risk assessment is a great tool for us. We upskill managers to undertake and enforce risk assessments and we are focusing more on supervision.”

This is not as simple as it sounds - managers and supervisors need to know how to challenge poor behaviour, and they need to ‘know what good looks like’. Andrew says there are many good reasons for getting on top of safety.

“For one, you hurt fewer people, you have a reasonable expectation not to be subject to enforcement, you have a defensible position against claims and of course you maintain your good reputation. We don’t want the warehouse to be the poor relation in terms of health and safety.”

Rack builds

Asda senior SHE construction manager Neil Sheehan gave a presentation on how firms may safely manage construction projects, particularly focusing on racking builds.

“On these projects we are guided by a number of key principles, such as seek to eliminate risk; select the right contractor; ensure correct supervision; and focus on standards. We examine procurement too. Sometimes a decision made in a cosy office creates a problem down the line,” says Neil.

Asda has created a Guidance Document to help standardise projects.

Neil explains: “The client must set the standard, they have the money and award the contract. We have had 20 retailers come together to create a Retailers guide to completing property works.”

The Guide is an attempt at standardisation on a pragmatic, fit for purpose model with risk assessment built in. “The Health & Safety Executive will track back responsibility,” says Neil. “It is not enough for the client to outsource responsibility to contractors. The role of safety manager has changed completely. It is not about asking questions, and saying ‘you’re wrong’.

Safety managers are now more integrated and help to make things better, their key skills are now communication and leadership.”


Just as important as rack builds, is maintaining existing systems. This was covered by Helen Ballard, group racking manager, Travis Perkins. The builder’s merchant deploys a large range of systems from a variety of manufacturers. Some systems are considered high risk (those in DCs because of high use, or retail because of proximity to the public), and these are subject to six month inspections. The rest are inspected annually.

Helen says: “In January last year we opened a hub at racking provider Nene’s Daventry facility holding most common stock. This is bulk ordered from our three main suppliers. This approach saves HGV miles, and more efficiently serves the group.

“If we have an issue, we have a KPI with Nene that they should attend and make racking safe within 24 hours and they generally do it within 6 hours.”

A long term goal for Travis Perkins is to asset tag all racking components.