Storing goods and materials

You must store goods and materials properly in order to protect employee health and safety.


6 min read

1. Overview

All businesses must store goods and materials safely, especially warehouses, factories, shops, food, agricultural and construction businesses.

You must ensure that you carry out the appropriate risk assessments, gain any necessary consents, and that you abide by all current legislation. As well as ensuring you fulfil your legal duty to protect the health and safety of those affected by your business, the right approach to storage can also help you reduce pollution, unnecessary wastage and other costs.

This guide explains how to assess and reduce the key risks of storing goods and materials, including hazardous substances, and points to sources of further information.

2. Using shelves, racks and pallets safely

Shelving and racking must be installed and maintained properly. Ensure that:

  • floors are sound and level
  • you follow the manufacturer's installation instructions
  • where shelving or racking needs to be fixed to a wall, the wall can support the load
  • special safety ladders are provided to avoid people climbing on shelving
  • units are spaced correctly to allow easy access for staff and, if necessary, mechanical-handling equipment such as forklift trucks
  • shelves and racks are properly aligned and goods don't overhang shelves
  • correct maximum loads for racking are displayed
  • personal protective equipment is used where necessary
  • items are stacked correctly - put the heaviest at the bottom where possible
  • materials that employees frequently need are readily accessible - for example, not above head height

If you use pallets with racking units, you should avoid:

  • using a pallet which can't cope with its load
  • poorly designed or constructed pallets
  • using damaged pallets
  • using the wrong type of pallet for the racking system used or the material or substance stored
  • poor handling of pallets

You must use any mechanical-handling equipment, such as forklift trucks, safely. Anyone operating a forklift needs to be fully-trained, and people in areas where forklifts operate must be aware of the warning alarms, signs and notices.

3. Storing dangerous or hazardous materials

You must ensure chemicals and dangerous substances are stored and handled in a way that minimises their risks and limits people's exposure to them.

You can control risks by:

  • storing chemicals according to the manufacturer's instructions
  • keeping the minimum quantity of hazardous substances necessary
  • storing incompatible substances separately
  • taking steps to prevent release or leakage of dangerous substances
  • keeping a spill kit near to storage areas, and ensuring staff are trained in what to do in the event of a spill
  • cleaning up any leaks or spills that occur
  • using appropriate precautions when handling substances - for example, wearing protective clothing or ensuring adequate ventilation
  • ensuring employees who store and handle dangerous substances are properly trained
  • checking containers used for short-term storage are properly labelled

If you store chemicals or dangerous substances that could create a fire or explosion, you must ensure that flammable substances are correctly stored in suitable containers and are not stored near to a source of ignition such as a heater.

You should also:

  • place stores of liquid above ground where they're unlikely to be damaged, eg away from traffic routes
  • avoid overfilling containers
  • supervise deliveries
  • maintain gauges, valves and pipework
  • monitor oil use - unexpectedly high use may indicate a leak
  • have procedures for dealing with emergency leakages
  • use a secondary containment system such as a drip tray or bund (a storage area designed to prevent liquids escaping)

4. Storing waste

Because of the potential dangers that waste poses to the environment and health, there are special requirements for storing waste.

When storing waste you must ensure that it is stored:

  • in suitable secure containers
  • in a secure area
  • with labels clearly detailing contents
  • with waterproof covers or lids to avoid contents blowing away or reacting with rain water.

All businesses must store waste safely and securely. There are additional rules for special (hazardous) waste.

5. Minimise the risks of goods storage

You must assess the risks posed by storing goods and materials, determine how likely they are to occur and take steps to minimise them.

You can reduce your risk of storing goods by:

  • marking all exit routes and keeping them clear
  • organising storage areas and to allow people and vehicles - such as forklift trucks - to move goods safely
  • storing flammable substances far from any source of ignition such as a heater
  • storing dangerous substances, such as chemicals, appropriately
  • installing collision barriers in vulnerable areas
  • clearing up all spills immediately to reduce the risks of slips, trips and pollution
  • storing liquids in areas away from drains to avoid leaks or spills reaching water sources
  • checking that shelving and racking units are safe and appropriate for the materials they hold
  • providing any personal protective equipment staff need to store or move materials and training them on how to use it
  • keeping the minimum amount of materials necessary in processing and production areas
  • taking unused materials back to storage areas rather than leaving them lying around
  • segregating any materials which could contaminate each other or be dangerous if stored close together
  • considering how you'll ensure the security of high-value goods
  • using appropriate safety signage

You can also find information on how to safely handle and transport substances.

6. Storing food safely

Businesses who store food must comply with a number of regulations to do so safely and in line with the law. Food and catering businesses must ensure food is correctly stored and chilled to comply with food hygiene requirements. For example, you must:

  • observe temperature controls in all storage areas, including display cabinets
  • store dried food off the floor
  • observe use-by dates
  • ensure all areas are clean
  • avoid overloading refrigerated units - if they become too full, air doesn't circulate properly, causing food to deteriorate
  • follow any storage instructions on food packaging
  • store individual foods in sealed, clean containers

See Food Standards Scotland for more advice on storing food safely.

Get the support you need right now

You can connect with us through the contact form, call us or contact your local Business Gateway office.

You might also be interested in

Supporting your staff's mental wellbeing during COVID-19 and beyond

We spoke to Catriona Davies of Resolution Mediation Scotland, who has years of supporting companies to provide mental wellbeing within teams, for some top tips and resources to help leaders and managers.

Alcohol awareness in the workplace

Alcohol related sickness is also responsible for 17 million sick days a year with a loss to UK industry of £7.3bn. Find out about what support is available to help with this.

Occupational health and welfare: the basics

The occupational health and welfare issues that can affect your business and how to approach them to ensure employee safety.