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Proper use of MHE requires not just the equipment, but the infrastructure to surround it. Pallet jacks, carts and some forklifts will only work on flat, hard and smooth surfaces. Some MHE – forklifts in particular – require external power such as diesel, natural gas or electricity. Without the ability to supply this external power to MHE that requires it, the MHE is essentially useless.

MHE is designed to do heavy lifting; it can help warehouse personnel move heavy loads but can also be very dangerous. Forklifts can easily hurt or kill workers, while a pallet jack may enable workers to move pallets far heavier than they realize, compromising the safety of others. While utilizing MHE, warehouse staff should be properly trained and use proper safety equipment.

MHE typically involved in warehousing operations might include:

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Forklifts – A mechanized power loader capable of lifting full pallets and heavy equipment. Forklifts come in a variety of sizes to meet a variety of load needs, but generally come with an enclosed cab and a four wheel base. All forklifts will have a hydraulic or chain powered “mast” capable of extending and lifting cargo vertically. The height and lift capacity of the mast depends on the rating of the forklift, and more information can be found from the manual or manufacture website.

Depending on the make, forklifts can be powered by either battery, compressed gas, or diesel/gasoline. Forklifts are generally designed for either use inside a warehouse with even surfaces, or for all terrain outdoor use.

Before obtaining a forklift, humanitarian agencies should consider:

  • The availability of skilled or licensed operators.
  • The conditions in which the forklift will operate (indoor or outdoor).
  • The available energy source required to operate the forklift.
  • The space required to utilize in or around a warehouse.

Pallet Jacks – Sturdy, low centre push cart with forks capable of lifting a pallet a few centimetres off the ground. Pallet jacks are typically only powered by hand, using a hydraulic piston to gently lift and lower pallets. Pallet jacks generally require flat surfaces and only work indoors, but can assist with moving large loads quickly and with minimal effort.

Dollies – Occasionally referred to as hand trucks, dollies allow for moving of stacked cargo without the aid of a pallet. Dollies can be useful for moving relatively small loads, such as a stack of cartons, or a single large item, such as a large roll. Many dollies are designed with heavy duty inflatable ties to assist with operating outdoors.

Push Carts and Others – There are a variety of other simple tools to facilitate the movement of cargo around a warehouse or between mode of transits. A very common tool is a standard push cart, however there are many variations on sizes and components, and users should select the support tools most useful to them.

Basic Support Items – Part of a properly functioning warehouse is the ability perform simple maintenance, conduct routine product inspection and address small issues without having to source external support. Basic tools and support items that should be available in any warehouse include:

  • Weighing Scales
  • Measuring equipment – tape measure or yard stick
  • Sturdy ladders and step stools
  • Rope, twine, plastic binding, and sturdy wire
  • Packaging tape and duct tape
  • (if required) Plastic pallet wrap
  • Cleaning supplies – broom, bucket, mop
  • Face masks and gloves
  • Ear and eye protection
  • High visibility vests
  • Heavy-duty pens
  • Note pads and writing materials
  • Safety knife and scissors
  • (if required) Industrial fans
  • Chairs and folding table

A warehouse working with large MHE and palletized cargo will have some different needs than a small field level warehouse. Additionally, larger facilities may have contracts with professional cleaning or repair companies, while smaller facilities will be purely self-managed. The basic tools and equipment of a warehouse should reflect the daily needs of the operation, and the prevailing environmental conditions. Planners should think through their basic supply needs when establishing a warehouse; an overabundance of basic tools may cost more, but a lack of tools can stop an operation entirely.

Safety and Security

When establishing any warehouse or storage facility, adequate physical security measures must be enacted. In humanitarian contexts, relief supplies are incredibly attractive to thieves – often humanitarian supplies are in short supply and the chaotic environments and limited infrastructure make theft frequent and hard to trace. Additionally, the overall operating environment may make responding to injuries caused in the workplace difficult. Aid agencies should have solid measures in place ensure a safe and secure workplace for stored items and workers.

Perimeter Security - Storage facilities should have in-tact perimeter walls or fences. The premiers should not have any gaps or holes, and be high enough and sturdy enough to sufficiently prevent casual thefts or easy access. The perimeter areas should be as shaped as regular as possible to avoid potential blind spots where unauthorized access may occur. If possible, sufficient perimeter lights should be installed, and should function throughout the entire night.

Guard Service - The warehouse ideally should have some form of guard service, either privately managed or sub-contracted through a third-party company. Guard services should have sufficient numbers to cover all hours of the day and night with regular 8-10 hour shifts. Having one or a few live-in guards may mean guards reach fatigue and/or won’t be alert at all times, especially throughout the night. Any guard service should also control the flow of visitors and vehicles through use of sign in/out sheets, and possibly even the need to ask for permission before letting outsiders in. Guards should also perform routine perimeter checks, looking to see if doors have been compromised, and responding to any suspicious noise or activities.

Fire Suppression – Warehouse and storage facilities of all sizes should have a fire suppression plan in place. Larger facilities may have professionally installed smoke detector and sprinkler systems in place. Sprinkler systems should be regularly inspected by a licensed company, and in compliance with national laws where required. Smaller or remote warehouses may not have the infrastructure or the available utilities to support an advanced fire suppression system, and should be outfitted with basic fire-fighting tools.