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By Jen Neville
A forklift hums down an aisle of the large, open warehouse in Loveland, Colorado, where staff transports the latest supply shipment to its proper storage area. The warehouse is the main supply hub for Rocky Mountain.
“It seems big, but we run out of space frequently,” explained Supply Technician Lead Jarrod Birdsall, who works under the Alexton contract. “We are constantly trying to figure out how to make the space more efficient and as effective as possible.”
In October, the Loveland warehouse staff made a simple change to its storage configuration that uses the space efficiently and avoids more than $176,000 in future costs by preventing injury and saving work time. Doing so required innovation to meet the demands that WAPA has of its warehouse services.
Inventory supports maintenance work
The staff is constantly tracking and managing inventory to ensure that WAPA has the equipment, tools and supplies for the jobs at the Loveland complex and in the field. Inventory includes polymer-fiberglass insulators, which can range in size and weight from 50 to 250 pounds each.
Several years back, the team started keeping the insulators inside the facility.
“Although insulators are used outdoors, a climate-controlled environment protects them from harsh weather conditions and rodents until they are ready for use,” said Inventory Management Specialist Ed Fernandez.
However, there was a major question to answer: How could they store more equipment in the already full space?
“We tried hanging the insulators on rubber-coated hooks but, over time, the ceiling hooks straighten out and weaken under the weight,” explained Warehouse Specialist Doug St. Marie, who works under the Alexton contract. “It’s a two-person job. It’s not easy to hang them up and then rehang them when the hooks straighten out.”
The warehouse staff defaulted to simply keeping the insulators in the shipping crates until a crew needed them.
“It just got frustrating,” St. Marie said. “The Maintenance team would have to wait while we unpacked the crate, or we would have to move the crate out of the way to get to other equipment for them.”
The team needed a more sustainable solution.
Storage innovation prevents injury
“Ultimately, it was Doug’s idea,” said Birdsall. “He was talking with one of the mechanics about how a shackle system would support the hanging insulators better.”
St. Marie figured out how to use materials already stocked at the warehouse to create hanging shuttle racks to slide the insulators in and out. In October, he and Birdsall modified the insulator storage area between their regular work tasks.
“Jarrod and Doug applied their construction skills to improve an area inside the Loveland warehouse to safely stock and remove a variety of insulators,” said Fernandez.
Safety was a key driver for this improvement effort. By securely storing the insulators, the warehouse staff is reducing the risk of a potential workplace injury.
“By utilizing Chapter 3 of WAPA’s Power System Safety Manual, we ask that warehouse employees correct unsafe conditions,” said Safety and Occupational Health Manager Tim Duffy. “This is a perfect example of that.”
The improved storage of insulators enhances safety in many ways, making injuries less likely. For example, employees could injure their backs or crush their toes while lifting and positioning one of the heavy insulators. According to the Safety Pays Estimator, hosted by the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, injuries such as these could total more than $160,000 in direct and indirect costs. Avoiding such situations is crucial.
“Safety is so important in the warehouse,” said Lead Inventory Management Specialist Patrick Kearney. “We’re constantly evolving to support the supplies and needs of the organization. Maintaining a safe work environment is critical for all of the folks coming to our warehouse.”
Today, Rocky Mountain is benefitting from the warehouse update. The small change to the insulator storage configuration resulted in significant improvements that better use the space available, save time and, most importantly, create a safer work environment.
“If we all strive for safety, we can achieve it,” said Duffy. “Great work to all the warehouse staff.”
Note: The author is a management analyst.
Photo: Supply Technician Lead Jarrod Birdsall and Warehouse Specialist Doug St. Marie demonstrate a new method of storing insulators, which uses the space more efficiently and avoids more than $176,000 in future costs. (Photo by Patrick Kearney)
Last modified on September 12th, 2023