“Safety is job No. 1.”
“Work smart. Work safe.”
“Lift with your legs, not your back.”
It’s hard to talk about safety without hearing these famous sayings. Unfortunately, accidents can and will happen. As self-storage operators, the most effective tools we can use to avoid them are training and preparation. Consider the following advice to keep everyone safe while on your property, including staff, tenants, contactors and other guests—always, no matter what’s happening at the site.
You can’t teach someone common sense, but you can show him where to read about it. Your operations manual is your first line of defense against accidents and injuries. It should address even the most menial daily tasks, such as how to properly mop a floor. This’ll help employees avoid slips and falls, and missed work and wages. It’ll help the employer avoid workers’ compensation claims.
If work is being performed at the property, notify your tenants. Post information about what’s being done, where and when. Give them someone to contact in case of an issue. For example, post a sign on the office door with regular and after-hours phone numbers.
Also, let tenants know the location of emergency exits, fire extinguishers, fire alarms, sprinkler pulls, etc., in relation to their storage unit or the parking spot. Do this during the initial lease signing and via signage posted around the property.
Identify and be mindful of your self-storage property’s hazard zones, both temporary and permanent, as they have the potential to cause injury or lawsuits. These include:
- Anywhere work is being done
- Wet floors
- Electrical areas
- Damaged fences or doors
- Anywhere a light has gone out
Signage can be a great help in reducing liabilities in these areas. A sign reading “Wet floor” or “Watch your step” is one way of saying “Don’t do it!” Safety signs on breaker panels and electrical junctions are critical, especially when work is being done in those areas. Post cones or signage around extension cords, which are huge trip hazards.
It’s critical to ensure things on your property work properly and safely. There are a host of everyday items that can seem like a pain to fix but can cause injuries or lawsuits. These are just a handful that might need regular attention:
- Broken light fixtures
- Broken door latches
- Light-switch covers with sharp edges
- Weather-stripping hanging off a door
Loose roll-up doors need to be attended to immediately. If the spring isn’t adjusted properly, it can close without warning and hurt someone.
Watch out for wet surfaces. Keep a small mop or towels and a “Wet floor” sign close by to mark slick floors in your office and hallways. Using door mats on both sides of the office door will help.
Keep personal-protection equipment handy for maintenance tasks and odd jobs. Most of these items are available at home-improvement stores. They include:
- Non-slip or even steel-toed boots for walking on metal rooftops
- Non-slip shoes for wet floors or walkways
- Knee pads
- Back brace or support belt
- Eye protection
- Face shield
- Hard hat or bump cap
- High-visibility vest
- Hearing protection
Wear long pants and sleeves if you think a job is going to get messy. You’ll be better protected from sparks, sharp corners, metal edges and tools.
Have a first-aid kit available in the office and even other buildings. Maybe store one in the HVAC closet or shop locker so it’s always close by. Keep one on the maintenance cart as well.
There are right and wrong ways to use an extension ladder. The U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration offers excellent guidelines on ladder safety. For example, when using ladders outside, place safety cones around the area, with one on either side, and a bungee cord to secure the ladder to the roof or gutter. When not in use, secure the ladder in your workshop or on the maintenance cart or truck. When using ladders inside, fold and tuck them away when you take a break or go for a tool that’s farther than eye shot.
When families store with you, sometimes the whole gang shows up to unload their goods or collect items from the unit. Kids riding their bicycles, playing with toys or otherwise running around your property creates the potential for accidents. It may seem rude to tell them they can’t skate or bike onsite, but it’s for everyone’s safety. This is a storage facility, not a playground, and a child on a skateboard is no match for a pickup truck.
Avoiding accidents during extreme weather is challenging enough without having to run out for supplies. Just getting to the store can be dangerous, so always keep seasonal materials on hand, before you need them. This might include salt for icy sidewalks, batteries, plywood, gasoline or drinking water, which can become scarce during the threat of a natural disaster.
Communicate with tenants via e-mail, phone or social media to advise them not to come to the site. Record it on your voicemail greeting. This will tell customers you care and the facility may not be safe.
Your tenants may get upset or even angry if you need to lock down because of weather, but they shouldn’t be at your site, particularly in the event of an evacuation. If a tree falls on a building or power lines get blown onto the property, I don’t need to tell you how bad that can be. After an event like a hurricane, tornado, flood, winter storm or even an earthquake, no one should be allowed onto the property until you know for certain it’s safe, secure and stable.
While the motto “Safety is everyone’s first job” still holds true, it’s ultimately up to us as self-storage operators to ensure our teammates, vendors and customers stay safe. If customers understand we’re looking out for them as people and not just tenants, they’ll feel much better about leaving their belongings with us.
Kevin J. Edwards joined Southeast Management Co. in 2016. He and his wife, Donna, are property managers for Plantation Storage and Plantation Wine Cellars in Bluffton, S.C. To reach him, call 843.815.8000; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.southeastmanagementcompany.com.