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Stock Keeping Unit (SKU)

A unique code or nomenclature that designates a single line item of a larger consignment. SKUs may be tied to a specific production run or expiration date, and may denote only a product of specific characteristics. A single storage facility with multiple SKUs will require very different handling procedures than a storage facility with few SKUs.

Inventory Unit

The lowest unit at which stored cargo items may be counted at. An inventory unit may be an individual item (example: blanket), storage container (example: bottle of pills) or kit.

Handling Unit

The lowest unit at which a stored cargo item is handled. In the context of a warehouse, the handling unit may be a carton that contains many inventory units. A handling unit may be a single unit, or an entire pallet.

Material Handling Equipment (MHE)

MHE is any form of mechanical equipment used to facilitate the loading and offloading of cargo, or the movement of cargo around an open space such as a port or a warehouse. MHE includes forklifts, cranes, pallet jacks, and more. 

Pick Order

The order generated by a requestor and communicated to a warehouse indicating the quantity and type of SKUs to be pulled from inventory and shipped.  

First In / First Out (FIFO)

An inventory and asset management system in which the oldest received inventory items on hand are the first removed from inventory.  

First Expired / First Out (FEFO)An inventory and asset management system that emphasizes and the movement of items based on their relative expiration dates. 

Non-Food Item (NFI)

Any stored item that is not food in nature. In the humanitarian context, NFI items usually refer to durable, non-perishable items such as household and shelter materials. NFI management in humanitarian settings usually does not require advanced storage solutions, unlike storage of medicines or medical consumables which may require temperature controls.

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There are many things to consider while selecting a location and/or a structure in which to establish a warehouse/storage facility. Rapid assessment templates for identifying storage space can also be found in the Assessments and Planning section of this guide. 

Anticipated Cargo Needs

When planning a new warehouse space, organisations should consider what the anticipated cargo needs will be. Cargo needs will at least include the maximum anticipated volume at any given time, however they should also factor for special handling requirements or special activities, such as kitting. Understanding the full scope of the warehouse may require consultations between program and logistics personnel, and a mapping of programmatic activities over the coming period of time. Even a relatively small volume of cargo may require a large area in which to operate.

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  • Location/Building has access to basic unities - electricity, water, communications.
  • Location has bathroom facilities on site.
  • If required, the storage space has separated compartments for different storage areas/different storage needs – climate controlled, secured areas, etc.
  • A usable office space of appropriate size.
  • The capacity to refuel trucks – does the site have existing refuelling tanks, or do tanks need to be installed.
  • An employee break/rest area.
  • Prayer rooms (if required).

Structures:

  • Proposed warehouse site has an existing physical structure.
  • Existing structure and surrounding grounds are in good condition – if not, consider required upgrades.
  • If required, location has drive-up loading bays for vehicles.
  • Location has adequate walls, doors, and ceilings – if not consider cost and complexity of required repairs.
  • If required, location has existing racking/shelving.
  • Storage space floors smooth and free from cracks, and capable of supporting required activities.
  • Walls are flat and free from pipes, exposed electrical wiring, support beams or other protrusions that might impact storage.
  • Structure is free from any perforations that may lead to water or pests coming into the facility.
  • There is proper drainage around structure – if not, consider cost and complexity of making drainage.

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Example warehouse floor plan of a larger warehouse operation:


Zonal Storage

Irrespective of the structure type or the size, space planners should consider planning the physical location of stored items relative to the amount of effort required to move or load them, including:

  • Their size / weight
  • Their frequency of usage

SKUs that have the highest volume of turn over - meanest the highest numbers of in and outs - should be stored closer to the cargo loading points of the warehouse or storage facility. The time and effort saved when moving these items between storage location and points of loading/unloading will have long term impacts on the overall timeliness of operations. Inversely, less frequently used items should be stored further away from the storage facility points of loading.

An exception to storing infrequently used cargo in the rear of a facility is planning on storing extremely heavy or difficult to move items near the front of a warehouse or storage facility, even if they are used only rarely. Items like machine parts or generators might be cumbersome or even dangerous to move around inside of a storage site, and keeping them closest to the exit is an advisable strategy. This is especially true for storage locations that are entirely managed by hand - planners should think of the physical capabilities and safety of loaders.

Storage Space Zonal Plan

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Image AddedFrequently Requested/Oversized Items


Image AddedItems of Average Request Frequency


Image AddedLeast Requested Items

Storage Solutions

The ways in which cargo is physically stored in a warehouse can dramatically increase usable storage space, increase efficiency, and impact safety. Generally, there a few main categories through which cargo is physically stored and handled.

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  • The number of different items SKU items that might require accounting.
  • The weight of cargo limiting height.
  • The physical nature of the cargo; cartons can be evenly stacked, while irregular kits in sacks might be piled like a pyramid.

Ground storage of loose items is quite common in humanitarian settings. Most remote field warehouses are usually too small to accommodate special equipment installation, lack the sufficient infrastructure to properly support MHE, or are temporary structures in nature. A substantial portion of humanitarian relief supplies don’t necessarily require advanced handling either. There are several tricks to properly managing stacks of cargo, which are covered in the stock management section of this guide. Humanitarian agencies should resist the urge to use ground handling in all contexts despite its prevalent nature; commodities such as medication may benefit from not being stacked in a pile. Space planers should also resist the urge to fill up all available space when utilising ground storage; warehouses and storage facilities using ground storage and stacking should still observe the 70/30 rule, keeping lanes and aisles open for safety while making room for loading and offloading.

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Pallet racks can be built to meet the floor plan and storage needs of a warehouse, and the cross beams upon which pallets sit are adjustable to match changing storage height needs. There are different types of racking system that can be considered in accordance with the storage requirements- Very Narrow Aisle (VNA), Selective racking, Drive-in/Drive through, Candiliver, bins, and more - however any agency considering different options should consult with private companies offering installation and management services to better understand the requirements and needs of each. The vertical space between rack cross beams should be reasonable; too high and space is wasted, too low and pallets may become stuck or cannot be properly inserted. An average height is around 1.5 meters, but adjustments may be required based on context of the pallet or items stored. Racks can be built to hold vertical stacks of pallets up to 20 meters tall, however racks should never exceed the safest lifting height of the available forklift on site, nor should they get closer than 2 meters from the ceiling.  The horizontal frame depth between rack cross beams should not be wider than the expected pallet type to prevent pallets falling through, and irregular shaped objects may not rest neatly or safely without an additional flat surface resting across the two beams.

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Forklifts – A mechanised power loader capable of lifting full pallets and heavy equipment. Forklifts come in a variety of sizes to meet a variety of load needs, but generally come with an enclosed cab and a four wheel base. All forklifts will have a hydraulic or chain powered “mast” capable of extending and lifting cargo vertically. The height and lift capacity of the mast depends on the rating of the forklift, and more information can be found from the manual or manufacture website.

Depending on the make, forklifts can be powered by either battery, compressed gas, or diesel/gasoline. Forklifts are generally designed for either use inside a warehouse with even surfaces, or for all terrain outdoor use.

Before obtaining a forklift, humanitarian agencies should consider:

  • The availability of skilled or licensed operators.
  • The conditions in which the forklift will operate (indoor or outdoor).
  • The available energy source required to operate the forklift.
  • The space required to utilize in or around a warehouse.

Pallet Jacks – Sturdy, low centre push cart with forks capable of lifting a pallet a few centimetres off the ground. Pallet jacks are typically only powered by hand, using a hydraulic piston to gently lift and lower pallets. Pallet jacks generally require flat surfaces and only work indoors, but can assist with moving large loads quickly and with minimal effort.

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Rolling Warehouse Ladder - Heavy duty, reinforced metal ladder that can be repositioned around a warehouse to enable workers to reach higher shelves/racks. These types of rolling ladders tend to have extremely sturdy and wide food holds that enable workers safely and easily carry cartons and other handling units up and down. These types of rolling ladders typically only work on solid, smooth surfaces. 

Dollies – Occasionally referred to as hand trucks, dollies allow for moving of stacked cargo without the aid of a pallet. Dollies can be useful for moving relatively small loads, such as a stack of cartons, or a single large item, such as a large roll. Many dollies are designed with heavy duty inflatable ties to assist with operating outdoors.

Push Carts and Others – There are a variety of other simple tools to facilitate the movement of cargo around a warehouse or between mode of transits. A very common tool is a standard push cart, however there are many variations on sizes and components, and users should select the support tools most useful to them.

Basic Support Items – Part of a properly functioning warehouse is the ability perform simple maintenance, conduct routine product inspection and address small issues without having to source external support. Basic tools and support items that should be available in any warehouse include:

  • Weighing Scalesscales.
  • Measuring equipment – tape measure or yard stick.
  • Sturdy ladders and step stools.
  • Rope, twine, plastic binding, and sturdy wire.
  • Packaging tape and duct tape.
  • (if required) Plastic pallet wrap.
  • Cleaning supplies – broom, bucket, mop.
  • Face masks and gloves.
  • Ear and eye protection.
  • High-visibility vests.
  • Heavy-duty pens.
  • Note pads and writing materials.
  • Safety knife and scissors.
  • (if required) Industrial fans.
  • Chairs and folding table.

A warehouse working with large MHE and palletised cargo will have some different needs than a small field level warehouse. Additionally, larger facilities may have contracts with professional cleaning or repair companies, while smaller facilities will be purely self-managed. The basic tools and equipment of a warehouse should reflect the daily needs of the operation, and the prevailing environmental conditions. Planners should think through their basic supply needs when establishing a warehouse; an overabundance of basic tools may cost more, but a lack of tools can stop an operation entirely.

The Cargo Handling "Human Element" 

In the context of humanitarian field operations, cargo is either heavily or exclusively moved and loaded by hand. Humans are far more versatile than typical MHE, including being able to achieve specialty tasks, however there are also limitations to human labour. Logistics personnel tend to calculate needs of warehouse handling based on the maximum performance of hand loaders and ignore the fact they have limitations like anyone else. When working with or scheduling hand loaded cargo operations, a good practice is to remember:

  • Hand loaders require “recharging” periods such as water breaks or meals.
  • Resource planners may need to factor prayer times into warehouse activities.
  • People get bored with repetition which may increase mistakes. 
  • The overall efficiency and speed of hand driven operations will go down over the period of a day.

Injury and strain are common in warehouse operations, and human managed operations must acknowledge risks and needs of any tasks.  

Safety and Security

When establishing any warehouse or storage facility, adequate physical security measures must be enacted. In humanitarian contexts, relief supplies are incredibly attractive to thieves – often humanitarian supplies are in short supply and the chaotic environments and limited infrastructure make theft frequent and hard to trace. Additionally, the overall operating environment may make responding to injuries caused in the workplace difficult. Aid agencies should have solid measures in place ensure a safe and secure workplace for stored items and workers.

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American

European

UK

Australian/Asian

Fuel/heat sourceHeat Source

Class A

Class A

Class A

Class A

Ordinary combustibles

Class B

Class B

Class B

Class B

Flammable liquids

Class C

Class C

Class C

Flammable gases

Class C

Unclassified

Unclassified

Class E

Electrical equipment

Class D

Class D

Class D

Class D

Combustible metals

Class K

Class F

Class F

Class F

Kitchen Grade (Cooking oil or fat)

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  • High visibility vests worn by warehouse workers and visitors as needed.
  • Warehouse workers have sufficient and adequate breaks.
  • MHE is properly maintained, and support equipment such as ladders is not compromised or damaged.
  • Staff who operate MHE are trained and/or certified for that equipment where required.
  • Stocked first aid kits available on site.
  • Warehouse workers wear proper protective equipment equivalent to the required working conditions, including gloves, hard hats/helmets, close toed safety shoes, ear and eye protection as required.
  • Fire exits are clearly marked.
  • Lanes for movement of MHE are clearly marked on the floor.

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In the event an infestation is identified, records should be taken of the date and type of treatment used. Records can help schedule routine fumigation or product inspection, but also may indicate seasonal problems as well.

Fumigation

The overall need for pest and infestation control depends on the duration, storage conditions and type of commodities stored. Food in particular is sensitive to attracting pests, and agencies specializing in food may have special fumigation schedules. A general best practice is to enact fumigation once every six months, however ideally stock should rotate quickly enough to avoid the need for fumigation. In other instances, fumigation may be required every 3-4 months, or as soon as an infestation is discovered. As a general rule most insect pests under humid tropical conditions can be expected to multiply about 50 every six weeks, meaning an untreated infestation can become a large problem very quickly.

Fumigation can be for an entire warehouse or storage site, or for just one portion of stock, however it is strongly advised to fumigate all perishable SKUs at the same time. Fumigation in storage contexts is usually done using what are called "fumigation sheets" or "gas tight sheets" - large impermeable tarps that cover stored items. When using these fumigation sheets, chemicals specifically used for fumigation are pumped under the edge of the tarp, while the edges of the tarps are weighed down to prevent air movement. Use of these tarps concentrates fumigation efforts into specific areas and maximizes impact. 

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When undergoing fumigation, workers and managers should always consider the following:

  • Fumigation should only be carried out by a trained professional, or a specially licensed company. Agencies requiring fumigation services should enquire with their procurement team about what may be available on the market. At no point should an agency attempt to fumigate themselves without special training!
  • Even if fumigation is done under tarps, workers should vacate the storage space until they can safely return, as indicated by a trained professional.
  • Proper safety equipment should be used by all persons working with or around fumigation.
  • Fumigated items will need to be properly aired out before handling or distribution. 

After fumigation, continual inspection may be required. If infestations persist, there may be a need to alter storage or delivery methods. The use of additional liquid based pesticides may be required to spray around the exterior or floor of storage spaces. 

Goods Flow

Warehousing Documentation

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  • Project or donor earmarks.
  • The SKU code (if available).
  • Relevant product info - Expiration dates, batch numbers, lot numbers, date of manufacture.
  • Reorder threshold.
  • Manufacturer references.
  • Temperature control requirements requirements.

The stock card has inventory control purposes and is normally managed by the store keeper and updated immediately with each stock movement, including losses. The use of stock cards is imperative in all warehouses, even if the number of articles is short or there is limited rotation. In an ideal context, any warehouse worker on the floor should be able to quickly reference a stock card for the most up to date information on the status and flow that specific good in a warehouse. Quantities and dates on stock card should also match the quantities and dates on a inventory Ledger, GRNs and waybills.

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Perishable items with expiration dates must be closely tracked and dispatched in accordance with the practice of FEFO - First Expired / First Out. Items with expiration dates less than three months in the future or expired items should flagged and communicated to program staff to ensure they are properly utilised.  

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As warehouses continue throughout their operations, they will inevitably need to dispose of damaged, expired, recalled, or no longer required goods. Disposition of any item must be done in an ethical, environmentally friendly and legal manner, all in compliance with the internal policies of the organisation managing the facility. Options for disposition:

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Do Not Use on Lowest Layers

Non-Interlocking Stack


There are multiple varieties of alternatives for stacking loose cartons and irregular shapes. The configuration will depend on the commodity itself, the space requirements of the warehouse, and the speed and skill of the warehouse staff. Some possible configurations might include:

Block StackBrick StackPinwheel StackIrregular Stacks with Separators 

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Many ground stacking operations also utilize what is called "pyramid stacking." Pyramid stacks are useful for durable, bulky items and in contexts when high volumes of uniform items need to be stored in a relatively small space. Pyramid stacks - sometimes also called "stair stacking" have interlocking lairs with reduced diameters the further up the stack goes. The pyramid shape prevents dangerous items from falling, and may make accessing the top layer easier for hand loaders. 

Pyramid Stack

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No matter what the stacking configuration looks like, stacks should not be stored above an unsafe height.

  • A safe height may be context specific; for NFI cartons/bales/sacks of any size that are heavy enough injure workers, stacks should never exceed 2.5 meters, while light voluminous items such as empty plastic jerry cans might be stored higher if required.
  • Food bags, blanket bales or sacks of concrete can be stored in pyramid stacks, however pyramid stacks should still only be made as high as is contextually safe. 
  • No matter the height, warehouse workers should be able to safely withdraw cargo from the top layer without risk of falling or causing the stack to collapse.
  • A stack should not surpass a ratio of 3:1 - the height cannot be 3 times the horizontal width of the base.
  • Stacks should never be so high that they come into contact with the ceiling, and at least half a meter space should be left between the top of the stack and the ceiling for accessing items as needed.

Stacks should never exceed 6 meters in length, or a maximum floors pace floor space of 6 x 6 meters. Excessively wide or large stacks can cause multiple problems:

  • Spoiled or damaged items in the middle are difficult to spot or deal with.
  • Practising FIFO/FEFO may be difficult of if cargo in the middle of a large stack is inaccessible.
  • Visual counting may be difficult or impossible.
  • Excessive weight in a single area of the warehouse may lead to structural risks.

Stacked items should not be slumping or falling over. Crushed or damaged units at the bottom of stacks should be addressed immediately; crushed items should be moved to the top of the stack, and if possible/necessary, reduce the height of the stack to prevent further damage.

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When managing cargo using pallet racking, pallets should be properly stacked and loaded. Ideally, only like items and/or items with the same SKU will be stored on the same pallet, and pallets containing the same SKUs will be stored next to each other on the same racks. Cartons and cargo on pallets should be uniform and even, with weight evenly distributed across the pallet to avoid accidents while moving using a forklift. Cartons or items on a pallet should also not stick out over the edge of the pallets to maximise the use of space on the rack.

Improper Palletisation

Proper Palletisation

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Ideally, pallets should also be well wrapped to prevent slumping or falling during movement and long-term storage. Pallet wrapping is cheap and widely used, and can be done by hand without the need for special equipment. Some products and warehouses also choose to utilised binding – synthetic or organic ropes or straps - that keep palletised cargo together. Properly wrapped or bound pallets will dramatically increase the longevity of the pallet.

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The need for temperature-controlled storage has been increasing in the humanitarian operations over the past few decades, and agencies are becoming more aware of the challenges surrounding temperature sensitive cargo. Temperature control ranges are generally defined in the following ranges:

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Temperature RangeCommon Name 
Below -15°C

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Frozen Storage

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2° to 8°C

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Refrigerated Storage

8° to 15°CCool
15° to 25°CClimate Controlled or “Room Temperature”

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30° to 40°C

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Warm

Above 40°

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Excessive Heat

Surrounding naturally occurring temperature - Usually considered 25°C +

Ambient Temperature


Field level humanitarian working conditions also frequently preclude any type of temperature-controlled storage capacity, so the need for temperature-controlled conditions must be factored into operational plans when selecting and establishing storage. Any form of temperature-controlled space will require basic equipment – air-conditioners, refrigerators, freezers – and some form of power, most commonly electricity.

NFIs - Fortunately, the vast majority of non-medical related NFI items can be stored in the ambient range, and many durable goods can be stored in high temperature conditions for long periods of time with minimal effect.

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Fuel should be stored in a separate storage area outside the main facility, and at least 5 five meters (preferably more) away from the main structure. Any fuel storage area should be well ventilated, and be accessible only by designated persons. Fuel storage areas should have the appropriate fire suppression equipment nearby, and staff should be instructed not to smoke or perform external work in the immediate vicinity of the storage area. Never store fuel in a completely enclosed storage facility such as a shipping container, or a facility that can reach excessive heats.

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The longer equipment is stored for, the more likely it is to not be usable when the time comes. This is especially problematic in pre-positioning facilities, but should be observed in field warehouses as well. Where required, storage of special mechanical equipment should be kept for as short a time as possible.

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Templates and Tools

TEMPLATE - Goods Received

TEMPLATE - Goods ReleasedStock Card

TEMPLATE - Stock ID Label

TEMPLATE - Release Order

TEMPLATE - Physical Inventory Form

TEMPLATE - Temperature And Humidity Monitoring Card

TEMPLATE - Stock Report

TEMPLATE - Warehouse Inspection Checklist

TEMPLATE - Loss Report

TEMPLATE - Binder Labels

TEMPLATE - Box Label

TEMPLATE - Donation-Loan Acknowledgment Letter

TEMPLATE - Material Loan Certificate

TEMPLATE - Temporary Allocation

Guide - Pallet Specifications

Full Template Package