Storing goods and materials safely
Assessing and controlling the risks of storing products and materials, including hazardous materials, food and specific materials like glass, wood and textiles
All businesses must assess the risks of storing goods and materials and take steps to control them. This is particularly important for businesses such as:
- construction businesses
The right approach to storage can help you fulfil your health and safety duties, It can also help you prevent waste and save money.
It also includes a checklist for storing goods and materials safely.
Assess the risks of goods storage
Identifying possible hazards caused by storing goods and materials and analysing the likelihood of them occurring in order to reduce potential risks
You need to assess the risks posed by storing goods and materials and take steps to reduce them.
You should consider the hazards and risks caused by storing goods and materials as part of your overall health, safety and environmental risk assessment.
You also need to look at how storing materials affects the fire risks faced by your business. See fire safety and risk assessment.
Businesses with greater risk
All businesses need to consider the hazards caused by storing goods and materials. But there are some which face greater risks, such as:
- construction businesses
- agricultural businesses
- food businesses
- any business which has to store hazardous materials such as gas cylinders and oil
Storage risk assessment
Your risk assessment must:
- identify hazards caused by your storage of goods
- analyse the likelihood of their occurring
- determine who and what might be at risk
You then need to take any precautions needed to ensure all risks are minimised.
You'll also need to record your findings and remember to review your assessment regularly.
Types of possible hazard you'll need to consider include:
- goods falling from shelving or racking
- someone falling when climbing on shelving
- stock or materials blocking fire exit routes
- accumulations of used packaging
- poor storage causing increased manual-handling risks, eg putting bulky items above head height
- spillages of goods causing environmental damage or increasing the risk of slips and trips occurring
- exposure to badly stored hazardous substances
- contamination or danger caused by storing inappropriate materials together
- the use of mechanical-handling equipment, eg loads falling from forklift trucks
- vandalism, theft and arson causing pollution
- flammable substances
This list shows just some examples, there may be more that apply to your business.
Safe use of shelves, racks and pallets
Installing and using shelving and racking units safely by following appropriate guidelines, including maximum loads, installation instructions and spacing
Most businesses use shelves to store goods and materials. Ware houses and factories often use racking units and pallets for storage.
Shelving and racking safety
Shelving and racking must be suitable for its purpose. You must install and maintain these properly.
- floors are sound and level
- you follow the manufacturer's installation instructions
- where you need to fix shelving or racking to a wall, the wall can support the load
- where appropriate, you provide special safety ladders to avoid people climbing on shelving
- you space units correctly to allow easy access for staff
- workers can use mechanical-handling equipment such as forklift trucks if necesssary
- you align shelves and racks properly and goods don't overhang shelves
- you display correct maximum loads for racking
- workers use personal protective equipment where necessary
- workers stack items correctly - put the heaviest at the bottom where possible
- materials that employees need are readily accessible - for example, not above head height
Check shelving and racking units regularly for any obvious signs of physical or chemical damage.
If you use pallets with racking units, you should avoid:
- using a pallet which can't cope with its load
- poorly designed or constructed pallets
- using damaged pallets
- using the wrong type of pallet for the racking system used or the material or substance stored
- poor handling of pallets
You must use any mechanical-handling equipment, such as forklift trucks, safely. Anyone operating a forklift needs to be fully trained. People in areas where forklifts operate must be aware of the warning alarms, signs and notices and what they mean.
Safe storage of dangerous or hazardous materials
Key steps to reducing the risks of storing dangerous materials, and rules on the storage of oil and risks of fire and explosion
Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) you must store and handle chemicals and dangerous substances in a way that:
- minimises the risks
- limits people's exposure to them.
You need to assess the risks of storing and handling dangerous substances. This includes the possibility of environmental damage caused by leaks and spills.
You should then take any actions needed to control risks, including:
- storing chemicals according to the manufacturer's instructions on the safety data sheet
- keeping the smallest quantity of hazardous substances necessary
- storing incompatible substances separately
- taking steps to prevent release or leakage of dangerous substances
- keeping a spill kit near to storage areas, and training staff in what to do in the event of a spill
- cleaning up any leaks or spills that occur
- using the right safeguards when handling substances - for example, wearing protective clothing or ensuring adequate ventilation
- training employees who store and handle dangerous substances
- properly labelling containers used for short-term storage
Read more on handling dangerous substances.
Fire and explosion risks
If you store chemicals or dangerous substances that could create a fire or explosion, you must also comply with the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations.
Ensure that flammable substances are correctly stored in the right containers. Make sure they are not stored near to a source of ignition such as a heater.
It's also best practice to:
- place stores of liquid above ground where they're unlikely to be damaged, eg away from traffic routes
- avoid overfilling containers
- supervise deliveries
- maintain gauges, valves and pipework
- track oil use - sudden high use is a sign of a leak
- have procedures for dealing with emergency leakages
- use a secondary containment system such as a drip tray or bund (a storage area designed to prevent liquids escaping)
Oil storage risks
Specific laws for businesses with oil storage container apply to England and Scotland. However, businesses in Northern Ireland and Wales are strongly advised to comply with these laws to lessen the risk of causing water pollution. See how to store oil safely and legally.
Safe storage methods for waste, timber, glass and textiles
Storage advice for specific materials - waste, timber, glass and textiles – in order to reduce the risks of potential health and safety hazards
As well as dangerous or hazardous substances, there's a range of other types of material you should store carefully.
All businesses have a duty of care to store and correctly manage the waste they create. You must store waste in suitable containers, making sure it doesn't harm the environment or human health. See duty of care for business waste.
When you dispose of your waste, or send it to be recovered, you must ensure an authorised organisation handles it. Some waste is classified as hazardous because of its dangerous or toxic nature and is subject to further regulation. See dealing with hazardous waste.
Sawn timber and board materials need to be stacked and stored safely. This includes ensuring that stacks of timber:
- are on firm, level ground
- don't exceed set height ratios
- are inspected regularly
- have no loose materials on top
Take prevailing winds into account when building stacks outdoors. You must regularly monitor storage areas. Download information on the storage of sawn timber and board materials (PDF, 123K).
Storage measures you should take include:
- stacking glass at the correct angle
- providing the right personal protective equipment if needed
- securing storage racks and ensuring these aren't overloaded
Storage also requires careful consideration in the textiles industry. For example, you should:
- store frequently used materials at a convenient height
- plan storage areas carefully to allow for maximum possible access to materials
- dispose of obsolete stock
- consider mechanical methods of handling and moving bales and rolls
Storage of some agricultural materials must conform to the Control of Pollution (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) Regulations. These specify standards and durability of new or substantially altered storage facilities.
Off-site storage safety
When considering the risks of goods and materials storage, remember to factor in any materials you store away from your main premises. For example:
- construction businesses typically need to store materials on building sites
- retail businesses may need a storage lock-up or warehouse away from the shop
- office-based businesses may need to archive documents which they don't have room for on site
Many of the same risks and control measures apply to materials stored off site. However, there are likely to be increased security concerns. This is particularly true if you store goods in an isolated location or if you rarely visit the storage facility. Also consider whether there are increased fire risks.
You are also responsible for any incident of pollution that occurs from your site, even if vandalism is the the cause.
Ways to reduce off-site storage risks
Ensure that the storage environment is appropriate for the materials. For example, a damp atmosphere could damage documents and foodstuffs.
Even if you don't need to access the materials regularly, it's worth checking from time to time that the goods and premises are in good condition.
A common method of off-site storage in the construction industry is to use a lockable steel cabin. However, these can still be vulnerable to theft. Some businesses also use 24-hour surveillance and security agencies to guard building sites at night and weekends.
Retailers may want to store surplus stock in a lock up or warehouse away from their premises. You may want to consider using a specialist warehousing company offering:
- security guards
- temperature alarms
- fire and leak detection
There are also specialist businesses which provide document-storage facilities. They may store your papers in airtight containers for added protection. Some offer fire and theft detection systems.
Storing food safely
Ensuring you comply with food-hygiene regulations and minimising the health and safety risks caused by lifting and carrying food
Food and catering businesses must ensure food is correctly stored to comply with food-hygiene requirements - and protect their customers, staff and reputation.
- observe temperature controls in all storage areas, including display cabinets
- store dried food off the floor
- observe use-by dates
- ensure all areas are clean
- avoid overloading refrigerated units - if they become too full, air doesn't circulate properly, causing food to deteriorate
- follow any storage instructions on food packaging
You must supervise or properly train staff handling food. Your local authority's environmental health department can advise you on training courses. Find your local council in Northern Ireland.
Take care not to cross-contaminate food. For example, don't store raw and cooked food next to each other. Wash equipment you have used to handle raw food before using it on cooked food.
You can reduce the risk of storing food by buying from reputable businesses which supply food that has been stored, processed and treated safely before it gets to you.
If you have any concerns about the food when it is delivered, you should refuse delivery.
You should also assess any possible food storage manual-handling risks, such as employees stacking crates of bottles or lifting heavy bags of potatoes. See safe manual handling at work.
You must store all food and drink in a way which minimises the risk of pollution.
Checklist: storing goods and materials safely
Ways of reducing storage risks - from clearing exit routes and checking shelving to clearing up spillages quickly and providing any appropriate equipment
Statutory requirements cover the storage of certain substances, including oil, pesticides and solvents. There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the risks of storing goods. Make sure you:
- mark all exit routes
- keep exit routes clear to reduce fire risks
- organise storage areas and set up procedures to allow people and vehicles - such as forklift trucks - to manoeuvre, load, unload and move goods safely
- store flammable substances far from any source of ignition such as a heater
- store dangerous substances, such as chemicals, appropriately - see safe storage of dangerous or hazardous materials
- install collision barriers in vulnerable areas
- clear up all spills immediately to reduce the risks of slips, trips and pollution
- ensure you have adequate equipment to clean up spills of the types and quantities of materials you store
- store liquids in areas away from drains to avoid leaks or spills reaching watercourses
- check regularly that shelving and racking units are safe, and ensure they're the most appropriate method of storing the materials in question - see safe use of shelves, racks and pallets
- provide any personal protective equipment (PPE) staff need to store or move materials
- train staff in the use of PPE
- keep the minimum amount of materials necessary in processing and production areas
- take unused materials back to storage areas rather than leaving them lying around
- segregate any materials which could contaminate each other or be dangerous if stored close together, eg avoid storing paint or bleach next to food in a shop stock room
- consider how you'll ensure the security of high-value goods
- use appropriate signage