With the flow of goods and equipment around warehouses, accidents can happen at any time. Pallet racking, in particular, can be a source of accidents, especially if it is overloaded. Other warehouse equipment, such as forklifts and pallet jacks, can also cause accidents if employees are not careful.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with ensuring worker safety, including in the warehousing industry. However, their guidelines for warehouse safety can be somewhat vague, and often rely on the General Duty Clause that applies to all employers. In many cases, OSHA only reacts to the aftermath of an accident, instead of providing proactive guidance.
There are some hard rules and best practices for ensuring racking safety. Here’s what you should know about materials handling and rack systems safety guidelines.
Training for All Employees
One of the areas that OSHA is clearest on is training. All warehouse employees should be trained in safe lifting and pushing methods to prevent injuries. Any employee who uses a forklift must be thoroughly trained on its safe use as well. Employees should also be trained on rack load limits, damage reporting, and chemical storage if applicable.
Employees should be re-trained annually, or more frequently if there has been an uptick in accidents. Instead of singling out individual employees for re-training, try to train multiple people at once. Chances are that if one employee has forgotten their training, others have as well.
Rack and Pallet Load Limits
Pallet racking systems’ load limits must be strictly enforced. Supervisors should routinely audit racks to ensure front-line employees haven’t made any errors. Even if technology is used to track pallet locations and weight, supervisors should periodically spot-check racks.
Keep in mind that any damage done to a beam or upright can significantly reduce the rack’s load limit. As soon as any damage occurs, the racking must be fully unloaded until a racking expert can come in and inspect the damage.
Straight and Plumb Racking
Racking that leans too much to one side can have serious stability issues. ANSI MH16.1-2012, which is the guideline that OSHA uses for determining plumb, states that the maximum out of plumb ratio for racking is the height of the racking divided by 240. For example, a rack that is 10 feet tall would not be allowed to be more than half an inch out of plumb.
A rack that is structurally sound should not easily become out of plumb. Typically, a leaning rack will have been caused by a forklift accident or other collision. In some cases, a rack that is overloaded or loaded unevenly may start to lean as well.
Forklifts are one of the most common causes of accidents around racking. To prevent damage from forklifts, racking should be surrounded by bright yellow barriers as much as possible. Aisles should be wide enough to allow forklifts to enter and turn around without coming too close to uprights.
Also, watch out for off-balance or overloaded forklifts, as these can cause collisions with racking as well. Forklift loads should always be centered and kept as close to the masts as possible, and must be kept within the forklift’s posted weight limit. The load should be lowered as much as possible while the forklift is in transit.
Ideally, a warehouse should inspect its racking for overloading, damage, and out-of-plumb uprights at least once per month. Supervisors should perform quick walkthroughs much more frequently, but an in-depth inspection can be done every few weeks or as concerns arise. Inspections should also be done after earthquakes or other events that may have caused structural damage.
If a rack is missing a bolt or other structural part, it must be unloaded until it can be repaired. The same goes for racks that are out of plumb; even if an employee fixes the rack, a racking expert should be consulted to make sure the racking does not have structural issues that will make it fall out of plumb again.
Used Pallet Racks
Used pallet racks can be perfectly safe, if purchased from a reputable dealer. Steel racks are designed to last for decades, and sometimes, warehouses may simply outgrow their old racking. This is especially true as some larger companies move to high-tech automated systems.
Used pallet racks do not inherently have any safety issues, but a dealer must do their due diligence to inspect and repair used racking. Once it is fully cleared for use, used pallet racks can be a great deal for new and established businesses. They are an especially good investment for warehouses that are still growing and will likely need to move or upgrade their racking in the future.
Avoid Unsafe Racking
Rust can be a major issue for older pallet racks, as can dents and other damage. Both beams and uprights must be carefully inspected before purchase. Racking should generally be bolted to the floor of a warehouse, so make sure to check the bottom of each upright for any damage. If there are any doubts about the condition of the racking, find another seller.
Avoid buying directly from warehouses or individuals, as they may be more interested in getting rid of the racking than in assuring its safety. Even if it seems like a great deal, it’s not worth it if it compromises worker safety.
Bolted vs. Teardrop Racking
While some pallet racking uses bolts to stay together, the most popular racking uses teardrop-shaped holes that securely hold pegs in place. Teardrop pallet racking has been around for decades, and improvements in manufacturing have made it stronger than ever.
Bolted racking can also be a safe option, as long as the bolts are securely attached according to directions. Never mix and match pieces from different racking systems unless specifically cleared by the manufacturer.
Choosing the Safest System
In addition to using different types of fasteners and decking, racking is structured in a number of different ways. The best racking option for warehouse storage varies for different types of warehouses and distribution centers. The type of product being stored matters even more than the size of the warehouse.
Pushback racks, pallet flow racks, and other common types of racking all have pros and cons. Their safety depends largely on proper installation and maintenance, as well as the proper usage of forklifts and other equipment nearby.
Drive-in racks are designed for forklifts to drive into them, instead of loading pallets from the outside. In order for drive-in racks to be safe, forklift operators must be carefully trained and held to high safety standards. Supervisors or managers must inspect drive-in racks even more carefully, and do surprise walk-throughs frequently.
Cantilever racking is a very safe option for long and awkwardly-shaped goods. It doesn’t use upright supports in the front of the racking, so it can potentially reduce forklift accidents. When used with wire decking on each level, it can safely store furniture and other items of varying size.
Despite not having upright supports in front, cantilever racking can hold significant amounts of weight. However, the rear uprights must be inspected very carefully, as they are the only support the racking has. Like with all racking, even the tiniest damage can cause catastrophic accidents.
The safest racking options will generally be ones that eliminate human error. Automated pallet racking and picking systems can keep labor costs to a minimum while preventing workplace accidents. While these systems still have load limits and must be kept plumb, they are generally less prone to structural problems, which are typically caused by damage over time.
Investing in Racking
No matter what floor space constraints you have or how many different products you store, you can get high-quality used and new racking from the same source. At Shelving + Rack Systems, Inc., we carefully inspect used pallet racking for signs of wear and tear, make repairs as needed, and pass the product on to you at a significant discount over new racking. We also have the latest in automated picking systems and other storage systems.