To meet the needs of 110,000 customers the length and breadth of Britain, leading health and safety equipment supplier Arco operates a centralised ordering system that is networked to its national distribution centre (NDC), the most advanced warehouse facility of its kind in the UK. Located on the A63 at the gateway to Hull – the city wherein lie Arco’s roots and head office – the NDC strikes a magnificent pose. Its signature external steel skeleton that was designed to maximise internal space and future proof the business for growth is an architectural triumph, a well-known landmark and an indication of Arco’s innovative ideals. Exemplifying the challenges faced by all storage, handling and distribution businesses, Mike Butterworth Interim Head of Logistics discusses the systems Arco has implemented in the NDC to help address the issues of manual handling.
According to the HSE, more than a third of all over-three-day injuries reported each year are caused by manual handling – the transporting or supporting of loads by hand or by bodily force. Over a million people suffer from multi skeletal disorders (MSDs) in today’s workforce. This can lead to an average loss of 12.3 million working days (20 days per MSD sufferer in a 12 month period). In the storage, handling and distribution business, injuries caused or made worse by past or present occupational duties are one of the industry’s biggest health and safety issues.
Thousands of safety products and workwear items are manoeuvred in and out of Arco’s two-storey, 20,000 sq m NDC on a daily basis. Every day, the NDC receives 100 vehicles and 3 containers from the Far East at Goods Inward. Each week, Arco delivers to customers an average of 70,000 order lines in 36,000 parcels and 1,000 pallets, via carriers DHL.
“The Arco ‘Day 1 order for Day 3 delivery’ promise on our 16,000 stock items (SKUs) means that the NDC needs to be a very tightly run operation,” explains Mike. “Our 16,000 bulk pallet locations stock 22,000 product lines whose sizes range from a pair of earplugs to a large wheelbarrow. Shifting this variety and volume of goods requires the hard work and dedication of over 250 people, who are allocated on a shift basis to goods receiving, stacking, picking, operating machinery or packing jobs.”
World-class systems that reduce manual handling
“As the UK’s no. 1 company for safety, Arco is always looking for new ways to reduce risk and demonstrate best practise in the workplace,” Mike continues. “For instance, when the NDC was designed, Arco was keen to incorporate world-class, mechanical systems that would facilitate the most efficient delivery system possible, whilst simultaneously optimising productivity and easing manual handling requirements.
“Ninety percent of Arco’s 22,000 product lines items will fit into a plastic tote box measuring 600mm x 400mm. Each day, over 10,000 of these boxes are transported around the warehouse on an “intelligent” conveyor system.” Simplifying the system, Mike explains, “When an order is placed, the IT system assigns the product requirements to one or more of the tote boxes. The details, including weight, dimension, cube and exact location of every single item we stock are kept on our warehouse management system. The tote box is programmed with the required codes and will stop only at designated aisle locations so a picker can check the order and place the required product in the box. This not only saves time for the picker, it greatly reduces lifting and carrying. In this business there is no room for error, so although there were a few teething problems with the technology, these have now been overcome and the system is extremely beneficial in terms of speed, accuracy and in the reduction of manual handling injury risk.
“Outsized items – or uglies as we affectionately call them – are added to the order manually before the order is packed and shipped. Items such as traffic cones, wheelbarrows, salt bins and wheelie bins often need the input of two people due to their awkward shape, but where possible these are transported by forklift or other mechanical means. We also try to locate smaller, heavy items on racking at waist height, which promotes holding the item close to the body and helps prevent twisting or excessive lifting.”
Making work a better place through the introduction of strict vendor codes
Arco’s purpose statement is to make work a better place– not just for its own people but for people everywhere. Demonstrating a commitment to this approach right down the supply chain, the fourth generation family business insists that all its vendors sign the Arco Code of Practice before trading is allowed to take place. This agreement requires Arco’s suppliers to ensure that certain standards are met with regard to the health, safety, well-being and fair treatment of employees. Arco has recently become a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative to help further its impact on the performance of suppliers, particularly in developing countries.
To protect storage, handling and distribution staff from point of collection to delivery at the NDC, one of Arco’s regulations is that pallets and packages shipped from vendors should not exceed 25kg. Likening the weight limit to that of suitcases for airport baggage handlers, Mike points out that there are always some people who try to squeeze in a little extra! To combat this problem and also to help Goods Inward staff facilitate the safe removal of tightly packed items from containers and other vehicles, Arco deploys a rolling conveyor system that takes products effectively from container to the warehouse for its onward journey into a pallet.
A new style of training cuts injuries by 50%
The nature of the job does however involve a degree of manual labour, so health and safety training for all Arco’s manual handlers has always been high on the list during new starters’ inductions. “Our manual handling training has consistently followed the traditional approach of classroom style lectures and videos with guidelines to keep knees bent and a straight back when lifting,” says Simon Raywood, Arco’s Health and Safety Manager. “However, we were still experiencing high numbers of back strain injuries and last year, endeavoured to find a new training solution that would have more influence on the way people work. A company called Pristine Condition, which specialises in manual handling training, demonstrated a refreshing approach with much more job-specific and physical training involved. Having seen positive results in other companies they had trained, we took them on board to re-train 140 people at the NDC.
“Although the trainers still educate the trainees in the physiology of the human body and the effects of bad practise in lifting, pushing, pulling and carrying, they arrive on site and actually go through the motions of each and every job where there is a risk of manual handling injury; indicating how to carry out that specific job without damaging the body in the process. They encourage a more natural way of lifting that minimises twisting and maximises use of the best muscle groups for that particular application. Our employees were given hands-on training by people who understood the realities of working in this kind of environment, and they responded very well. We have seen a 50% reduction in over 3-day manual handling injuries in the last 12 months. The company also instructed several of our own induction trainers in a “train the trainer” exercise, which enables us to provide refresher courses to existing employees and induction training to new starters. It’s been extremely worthwhile.”
This course of actions and a goal to achieve an even greater reduction in manual handling injuries demonstrates that Arco continues to break the mould in terms of making the workplace a better place.