By Alyssa Quill
As self-storage operators, we’re always focused on growing occupancy and revenue. However, we should also step back a few times each year to make sure we’re providing a safe and secure environment for employees and tenants. The following guide will help you avoid accidents and injuries, prevent property damage, and be prepared to keep people and property safe during emergencies.
Avoiding Accidents and Injuries
There are five likely causes of workplace-related injury: overexertion, falls, body reaction, strikes/blows and repetitive motion. Here’s a look at some common causes of injuries and how you can prevent them.
Overexertion can occur when you hold, lift, pull, push or throw an object excessively. To prevent it, make sure everyone at your property follows these guidelines:
- When lifting objects, including roll-up doors, lift with your legs, not your back.
- If a door is sticking, don’t pull or push too hard on it. Get an expert to fix it.
- Make sure ropes hanging from door handles are in good condition. Use them to pull the door closed.
- Refrain from assisting tenants with moving items into or out of their units.
- If an item that needs to be moved is heavy, get help or use a hand cart.
Falls are usually caused by carelessness or debris in walkways and driveways. To prevent them, check property lighting, including emergency lights, monthly. Also be on the lookout for trip hazards like trash, tree roots and asphalt cracks. Repair as needed.
When using ladders, make sure they’re secure and in good condition. All four touch points of the ladder should be level against the ground or wall. Use clips-on gripping shoes, such as Yaktrax, on icy or snowy days. Don’t climb on chairs or other furniture.
A body-reaction injury can occur when your body doesn’t respond in a situation the way it should. For instance, you may lose your balance when you climb, slip or trip. Again, stay alert and watch where you walk. Make sure floors are dry. If they’re wet from rain, snow or cleaning, use cautionary signage or cones to raise awareness. Never run while at work.
Keep doorways, entrances and walkways free of ice and snow. Have a contract with a reputable snow-removal company.
Never lift anything if your hands are wet or greasy. Use cat litter or something similar to clean up spills.
Injuries caused by being struck by an object are usually preventable. They’re often caused by items not being stored properly and falling on someone. Here are some ways to prevent these types of injuries:
- Use caution with hammers and other tools.
- Use ice clips on sloped metal roofs to prevent falling ice sheets.
- Don’t overpack shelves.
- Keep everything in the office and company storage units neat and well-organized.
Repetitive motion can cause stress or strain on your back, knees, shoulders and wrists. Don’t stay in the same position for too long. Get up and move around frequently. If you type for long periods of time, use a wrist rest near your keypad.
Avoiding Property Damage
Property damage at storage facilities is often caused by fire, flooding (or other water damage), theft, vandalism and vehicle accidents. To prevent fires:
- Explain to every tenant which items are prohibited from their units, including flammable goods like gas heaters and paint cans.
- In the event of an emergency or evacuation, unplug appliances and office equipment. Make sure nothing touches the heat source including draperies and paperwork.
- All fire extinguishers should be inspected annually, and all staff should be trained on how to use them.
- Don’t take torches, lanterns or any flames into any building. If you smell gas, turn off the main gas valve at the meter and open windows, if you can do so safely. Call the gas company immediately.
- Have all electrical work done by a qualified and insured electrician.
- Don’t overload outlets by plugging one extension cord into another.
- Use lightbulbs that are the appropriate wattage for your fixtures.
- Install smoke detectors and check them frequently.
- Store flammable materials in a metal cabinet.
- Never burn candles on the property, and don’t permit smoking at your facility. Post signs and enforce this rule.
Water damage and flooding can destroy your property and tenants’ belongings. Here are some tips to prevent it:
- Understand how your sprinkler system works. Many systems need to be flushed monthly—and before freezing temperatures arrive.
- In the event of an evacuation or emergency, always turn off the main water valve to the property.
- Close all windows when you’re not in the office.
- Make sure any exterior water valves are winterized.
- In extreme cold weather, let faucets drip slowly to keep water flowing through pipes that are vulnerable to freezing.
Unfortunately, self-storage properties can be targets for theft and vandalism. To minimize criminal activity:
- Be alert to strangers loitering around the buildings. Notify police of any suspicious behavior, and take seriously any threats made by disgruntled employees or tenants.
- Ensure all doors and windows are locked after work hours.
- Keep trees and bushes trimmed low near buildings so they can’t be used as cover by intruders.
- Keep cameras high so they’re harder for prowlers to reach to obscure or break.
- Finally, require valid government-issued identification for new tenants.
There are also several things you can do to prevent damage from vehicle accidents. First, protect expensive equipment with concrete bollards. This includes your gauges, glass entrance, heating and air-conditioning units, keypads, water pipes, etc. Place bollards about one to two feet from the corners of all buildings to prevent people from hitting them with moving trucks they’re not used to driving. Make sure any awnings or eaves are visible and at a height that won’t be hit by large vehicles.
Being Prepared for Emergencies
In the event of an emergency, you must be prepared to keep yourself, tenants and the property safe. First, call 911 and make sure everyone evacuates to a safe location. If possible, grab the computer. Next, contact your home office or property owner. He should contact his insurance company if he expects to make a claim.
Use professionals to clean up any hazardous spills or damage. In the case of chemicals on skin or clothing, flush immediately with water for no less than 15 minutes. Use caution when removing clothes, and seek medical attention if chemical inhalation causes dizziness, drowsiness, headaches or nosebleeds. Here are some other scenarios you may face:
- Explosion: Call 911 immediately. Assess the situation if you can do so safely. Watch for falling debris. Find everyone on the premises and evacuate until more information is available. Contact your home office or owner.
- Hurricane: Evacuate the premises. If possible before the storm, remove important items such as your computer and store them in a safe location. Turn off the electricity, gas and water. Keep batteries, flashlights, a radio, water and your rent roll in a waterproof container. Make sure your generators are working.
- Injury: Don’t attempt to move seriously injured people unless their lives are in immediate danger in their present location. After an injury, always fill out a detailed incident report and get full contact information for anyone involved. You’ll forget details that may be important in the future.
- Tornadoes: Have a designated area to which to retreat. Ideally, it should be in an interior room or closet in a fixed building with no windows. If caught outside, lie flat in the nearest ditch or ravine with your hands shielding your head. Be careful when emerging from shelter after the storm.
Every property and situation is unique, but hopefully this list will help you review conditions, procedures and supplies at your self-storage facility. Review your emergency protocols and safety practices regularly to ensure you’re taking all the precautions you can to keep employees, tenants and buildings as safe as possible.
Alyssa Quill is the co-owner of Storage Asset Management, a privately held self-storage management company that oversees more than 45 properties along the East Coast. For more information, visit www.storageassetmanagement.com.