Materials Handling

Materials handling fitness

By Gian Schiava

February 2021

Why you must keep your warehouse floors tidy and in shape

In 2014, Gian Schiava wrote a Eureka article* on the importance of a clean, flat floor, emphasising that negligence could have a negative impact on productivity. Having focused back then on how good floors could be created or restored, he now turns to the damage they can suffer and the day-to-day efforts needed to prevent it.

A recent Eureka feature** by Mark Nicholson (January 2020) covered dust hazards and possible countermeasures. Today’s article broadens this subject, takes a look at the cleaning machines available and then considers what to look for when buying them.

The slow process of deterioration

Of course, when we start using a new warehouse the place looks like a showroom. Products are neatly stored, the racking shines and we’re ready for business. But then we get to work. Soon, it becomes clear that a warehouse floor is abused much more than any other type of commercial flooring. Every single day, a warehouse floor is likely to have a lot of forklifts and pallet trucks moving around on it. Sometimes, heavy loads are literally dragged over its surface. Scuffs and scratches quickly become evident.

Here are the first visible signs of floor damage which may start to impact the operation negatively:

Scratches: Initially, we often see scratches and small grooves. These happen when heavy loads are dragged over the floor. They can also be caused by rough or damaged pallets, or other uneven loading surfaces, as well as badly operated forklifts.

Tyre marks: Stains of this kind happen especially when large numbers of forklifts or pallet trucks operate in the warehouse. They come either from worn-out tyres or from vehicles skidding on the smooth concrete surface. Chemical treatment is often needed to remove these nasty marks.

Reduced flatness: This happens when the foundation of the warehouse itself is not strong enough, or where peak pressures (from loads, equipment…) occur. Often, surfaces start to give in where heavier loads are concentrated.

Cracks: Reduced floor flatness is often accompanied by floor cracks. Minor cracks can be filled with cement mixtures, but larger ones need elaborate repair work.

Chemical wear: Corrosive chemicals such as acids may leave permanent marks and surface damage on concrete flooring.

But perhaps human factors may be the most damaging in the long term. In one American study (source: Warehouse Forum), warehousing professionals were asked why they did not fix their floors. The top three outcomes are worrying:

92% – No time for repairs

89% – Inadequate maintenance manpower

84% – Not a corporate priority


Deteriorated floors have a negative impact on several aspects of the warehouse operation:

1. The materials handling equipment

Most indoor lift trucks are rarely used outside; especially purpose-built warehouse models like stackers, pallet trucks and order pickers. When they encounter cracks or holes in the floor, their rubber tyres deteriorate quickly. Maintenance and repair costs rise, and so does downtime.


Sophisticated warehouse equipment like the latest medium and high-level order pickers from Cat® Lift Trucks will give even better results when used on a well-maintained floor.

2. The people

Floor problems also affect the vehicle operators. Increased vibration, due to bouncing and bumping, translates into fatigue, back pain or even mental pressure. Defective flooring can also increase the chances of accidents. Finally, absenteeism may rise, and a company that doesn’t deal properly with the situation may see its best drivers leaving.

3. Productivity

Productivity reduces when floors are neglected. In the circumstance described above, the more sensible lift truck operators will reduce impacts from cracks and holes in the floor by slowing down or by taking detours to avoid the defects altogether. Your output starts to diminish accordingly.

4. Safety and general housekeeping

Bad floors also have an impact on housekeeping and hygiene. Cracks in the concrete become places where dirt and debris start to accumulate. Even if sweeping machines are used, deep cracks may not always be cleaned well.

The many marks that tyres leave on the floor may obscure the indications of pedestrian zones and other floor markings; hence there is a higher risk of accidents. Restoring those markings on a regular basis requires extra investment that would not otherwise be necessary.

The issues above are even more important in food or pharmaceutical environments, where contamination is a serious matter and legislation dictates strict standards.

Fitness is a result of persistence and discipline

Repairing floors is often not too difficult, but it is time-consuming – and the more you wait, the more costs will rise. Prevention is the key word here, and that means simple, regular maintenance. Some things that one should look into are regular cleaning of dust and debris (nails, nuts, bolts…), checking forklifts and other vehicles, especially tyre wear, occasionally rethinking the layout, examining safety risks and finally… investing in professional cleaning!

Whether you outsource the activity completely or use your own employees to clean with professional machines, you will find that cleaning and scrubbing a couple of times every year can be much cheaper than making expensive repairs.

If you are looking for cleaning machines, you will encounter a very large number of suppliers, but the basic decision always boils down to: sweeping, scrubbing or both?

Kärcher, one of the larger brands, recommends always sweeping before scrubbing. It notes that about 80 per cent of soils infiltrating the environment are dry particulate types. To clean properly, floors must be swept first, otherwise dry particles become caught in the scrubber pads, making them less effective and more damaging. The company says that sweeping may be one of the most overlooked parts in a maintenance programme. There are various machines available, depending on the debris size you are tackling.

Another supplier, Nilfisk, points out that clean floors contribute to job satisfaction and employee attitude. Taking care of the facility shows that you care for your staff. Moreover, some warehouses are visited by suppliers or customers and you will want to present a clean, organised image. Nilfisk shares four tips to bear in mind when buying floor cleaning equipment:

1. Aim for high productivity over lowest price. Sometimes a more expensive piece of equipment may yield the best ROI (return on investment). After all, labour costs need to be considered and equipment that gets the job done quicker pays back sooner.

2. Look for flexible equipment. From a cleaning perspective, facilities aren’t evenly dirty. For effective cleaning, giving operators the facility to adjust the machine’s cleaning power can be helpful. It may also save on chemicals and water.

3. Get a machine that can grab nuts, bolts and wood chips (from pallets). Check the feature list of the machine for the size of clutter it can handle. Can it capture large pieces while scrubbing?

4. Always consider operator safety and ease of use. Let your supplier demonstrate the relevant features and ask whether your staff can try out the machine to see how quickly they can familiarise themselves with its operation.