Dangerous working conditions in distribution centres

distribution centres

Fulfilling the promise of ‘Ordered today, delivered tomorrow’ relies on the efforts of countless operatives in distribution centres (DCs) – often temporary staff or migrant workers who pick and pack the orders. As the number of orders rises, so too does the time pressure to ensure everything is dispatched on time. According to the Dutch Labour Inspectorate, however, the working conditions in many DCs leave a lot to be desired, meaning that collisions with transport equipment and falls from mezzanine floors are a real risk.

The number of Dutch distribution centres has increased significantly in recent years; there are now over 9,000 DCs in the Netherlands, roughly a third of which have been built in the past 20 years. Approximately 83% of DC employees are temporary workers, many of whom are migrants that don’t speak the Dutch language.

An audit of 200 DCs conducted by the inspectorate last year revealed a lack of effective precautionary measures in many cases. One or more rule violations were found at four out of five companies, with 547 violations in total. In 20 cases, the violations were so serious that the activities  were halted.

Risk of collision

For example, the audit found cases in which walkways for order pickers were insufficiently separated off from driving lanes for forklift trucks and other transport equipment. Because people are working under intense time pressure, there is a heightened risk of collision, according to the inspectorate. In 108 of the 200 DCs inspected, a total of 215 collision risk-related violations were identified.

In addition, the distribution centres often lacked adequate precautions against falls from mezzanine floors, which are commonplace in DCs in order to make optimal use of storage heights. At four companies, for example, these floors were not sectioned off, creating the risk of a fall from a height of up to 9 metres.

A third reason to shut down a DC was lack of compliance with the ban on using a work platform with a forklift truck in order to reach a rack. Although this method of working has been prohibited since 1 July 2020, the inspectorate found that not all distribution centres were aware of this ban.

Distribution centres issued with fines

The inspectorate has not publicly named the companies that were at fault. However, ten violations were so serious that the companies will receive a fine. The amount of the fine depends on various factors, including not only the seriousness of the violation, but also the size of the company and whether a warning or fine has previously been issued.