As a retailer, you have a lot to manage. It’s easy to focus on your customer-facing initiatives (merchandising, experience, sales tactics, store operations). It’s also important to keep an eye on your backend operations. Because your warehouses and distributions centers (literally) hold all the goods, you need to proactively manage warehouses with regular warehouse inspections.
Your warehouses and distribution centers are the heart of your supply chain and a key part in helping you meet your KPIs for growth and customer service. Here are five warehouse inspections you should conduct regularly to keep your employees safe, your customers happy, and your warehouse operations operating smoothly.
Basic health and sanitation inspection
Consistent standards for keeping your warehouse clean and equipment sanitized helps to reduce the spread of viruses and protects the health of all workers. Here are a few things to consider putting on your daily warehouse sanitation checklist:
- All employees should practice basic hygiene and wash their hands before starting work, after breaks and meals, and at the conclusion of each shift.
- Post handwashing guidelines above all sinks.
- Ensure employee bathrooms and warehouse sinks are adequately supplied with soap, clean towels, and sanitizer.
- Post equipment sanitization protocols and ensure employees receive the proper training for using any chemicals. Supply employees with gloves and other protective equipment as required.
- Sanitize shared tools at every shift change.
- For motorized equipment, wipe down seat belts, steering wheels, handles, gear shifts, etc. before and after use.
- Regularly sanitize all flat surfaces, computers, workbenches, door handles, rails, etc.
- Designate a point person to restock sanitization supplies for every shift.
- Assign cleaning responsibilities per shift.
- Ensure bathrooms are cleaned at least once per shift with all surfaces wiped and supplies restocked.
- See that break rooms are regularly cleaned. Sanitize surfaces and food storage areas.
Make high standards for hygiene and sanitation part of your culture. This helps employees stay healthy and warehouses stay safe.
Remember, sanitation standards are not “one and done,” keep up with new protocols and adjust your requirements accordingly. This list is just a start. Check with the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, or government regularly to keep your policies and procedures up to date. Last, always have an expert review your checklist to make sure it is comprehensive.
Hazardous waste storage and disposal
If your business generates any sort of hazardous waste, it’s a good idea to inspect storage and disposal practices on a weekly basis. While the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts its own inspections, you’ll want to stay on top of it yourself to avoid any citations or other potential issues from non-compliance.
The EPA and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Subtitle C requires businesses to handle hazardous waste “in a manner that protects human health and the environment.”
The EPA conducts the following inspections to identify hazardous waste and businesses that generate, transport, treat, store, and dispose of it:
- Compliance Evaluation Inspection: on-site evaluation of how you handle hazardous waste, including reviewing reports and documentation, handling activities, and identifying where and how hazardous waste is produced and managed
- Compliance Sampling Inspection: sample collection for lab analysis
- Comprehensive Groundwater Monitoring Evaluation (CME): evaluate the hydrogeology underlying the hazardous waste management units, as well as placement, depth, spacing, and design
- Case Development Inspection (CDI): when the EPA suspects a violation in waste management, they conduct this inspection to further investigate the case
- Operation and Maintenance Inspection (OMI): checks of the groundwater monitoring system, focusing on the condition of wells and sampling devices
Mainly, retailers fall into the category of hazardous waste generators. As such, the EPA considers the following — as should you, in your own inspections:
- Hazardous waste determination
- EPA identification numbers
- Pre-transport requirements
- Record keeping and reporting
Retailers will also want to add the following to their independent hazardous waste storage and disposal inspections:
- Appropriate storage containers
- Labels on everything
- Date of accumulation
- Condition of containment system
- Number of total closed, and open containers – note: damaged containers must be reported and removed immediately
- Emergency equipment
- Emergency procedures
- Adequate storage space and distance between containers
- Space is free of litter, combustible materials, hazardous materials, batteries, and other potentially harmful waste materials
- Documentation and hazardous waste log (even if not required by your local jurisdiction, it’s a good idea to have this)
- Incidents and associated reports
You’ll also want to periodically check your contingency plan and make sure it’s up to date, as well as ensure all employees have updated hazardous waste management training.
To make your weekly hazardous waste storage and disposal inspections more effective and efficient, use a tool like Compliant IA. One home improvement retailer uses Compliant IA to conduct their weekly hazardous waste inspections. They use Complaint IA to send tasks and action plans with recommendations on how to ensure compliance and properly handle materials should there be a spill.
Warehouse receiving processes
Every month, retailers should also inspect their warehouse receiving and delivery processes. You can do this as part of your larger district manager walkthrough. One furniture retailer uses Compliant IA to streamline this audit and inspection process. They inspect warehouse delivery processes for their franchisees, tracking return rates, returns processing, fleet branding, employees in uniform, and cycle count completion.
But that’s not an exhaustive list when it comes to receiving inspections. You’ll also want to look at the following:
- Inventory accountability
- Order accuracy
- How long it takes to complete a delivery
- Loading dock area
- Product and shipment labeling
- And more
The idea behind warehouse receiving inspections is to find which areas are working best, which areas need the most improvement, and how to optimize your backend operations moving forward.
One retailer, for example, used Compliant IA to relocate and consolidate their distribution centers. They used checklists to monitor progress and make frequent updates, benefiting from photo capture features in particular. The alternative, a manual checklist in a spreadsheet, would have been a nightmare to ensure everyone was operating from the same and most up to date information.
Food safety should be an ever-present consideration for any food-based business. In addition to upholding the standards set by your governing body, you’ll also want to conduct independent food safety inspections on a quarterly basis.
Quarterly food safety inspections help businesses stay ahead of potential problems like claims, lawsuits, and other legal headaches. This also holds staff accountable and keeps them on their toes.
“The audit process itself becomes a driver for people to not only comply, but to actually have the right behaviors and be able to work safely and respond to things correctly,” said Gary Johnson, Senior Consultant at Prevention Advisors. “It supports operational excellence and training, which in turn leads to the right behaviors.”
Note: If your business has unique circumstances, such as hazardous materials, dangerous equipment, high shelves, etc., you may want to do a food safety inspection more frequently.
Familiarize yourself with the requirements in your location jurisdiction, as well as OSHA’s own guidelines:
General Industry (29 CFR 1910)
- 1910 Subpart J, General environmental controls
Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)
- 1926 Subpart D, Occupational health and environmental controls
We’ve also prepared a comprehensive food and safety checklist to reference during your inspections if you are a QSR or restaurant.
Foodservice retailers can also use store sensors across multiple locations to automatically log temperatures of prep areas, fridges, freezers, and other equipment.
With these sensors, you can set temperature thresholds and receive an alert each time a threshold has been hit. This helps protect against foodborne illnesses by ensuring proper holding temperatures. It also helps protect inventory by ensuring food storage areas remain temperature compliant.
You might think of shoplifters when you think of loss prevention, but there are many contributors to shrinkage. Sometimes, you need to look beyond the sales floor to identify the biggest drain on your bottom line. Shrink happens in the warehouse, too.
Let’s first break down a few common causes of shrink, as it relates to back-of-house operations:
- Internal theft: the cause of just over one-third of shrinkage, internal theft is both straightforward stealing of merchandise, as well as fake returns, fake gift cards, leaving items off an order, or even taking cash from the till
- Vendor fraud: almost 6% of inventory loss is from supplier fraud
- Inaccurate records: administrative errors, or paper shrink, contribute to 21% of a retailer’s shrinkage
- Improperly organized warehouse
- Poorly designed workflows
When you regularly inspect your loss prevention practices, you can reduce risk, boost productivity, and identify and fix loss prevention issues before they affect your bottom line.
Some categories to inspect include:
- Security procedures and policies
- Loading dock security
- Barcode scanner
- Receiving documentation
You can also reference our comprehensive loss prevention checklist.
Make your loss prevention inspections easier with a tool like Compliant IA. Compliant IA has checklists, tasks, and secure communication to help you protect your brand, reduce errors and make sites accountable. Teams can conduct inspections on any device, online or offline. See real-time site data to track trends and verify execution. Most important, identify root causes and coach to those weaknesses.
Moving forward with your warehouse inspections
Don’t leave warehouse inspections up to industry regulations. Proactive retailers conduct warehouse inspections to mitigate issues before they threaten the bottom line or, worse, the entire business.
Compliant IA offers the following features to aide in warehouse inspections and audits:
- Customizable forms
- Ability to update and push forms out to the field in real-time
- Mandatory photo capture
- Action plan recommendations
- Easy to use interface for all employees
About the author:
Alexandra Sheehan works with B2B companies in the retail, e-commerce, and travel sectors to create strategies and expert longform, website, and blog content. You can see her work on sites like Shopify, Vend, Stitch Labs, Money Under 30, and more. thealexsheehan.com.