Storage Rack Safety: How to Avoid a Warehouse Catastrophe

Among the potential hazards in a busy warehouse environment — with quiet electric forklifts maneuvering back and forth, constantly lifting and lowering heavy loads — one that often gets overlooked is storage rack safety.

Though not always the case, it’s not uncommon for a pallet rack failure to result from a combination of at-risk racking AND forklift operator error. Forklift operators are constantly negotiating tight turns into and out of aisles, and occasional accidental contact with storage rack uprights could be considered inevitable. That’s why the first point to emphasize is that forklift operator training (mandated by OSHA) is essential for warehouse safety.

It’s also vitally important to make sure that your aisles are wide enough to safely accommodate the lift trucks you are using, and to identify any visibility or workflow issues that could pose a safety hazard.

The stakes are incredibly high. When your storage racking is unstable or structurally unsound, getting bumped by a forklift can trigger a warehouse disaster (as seen in this pallet rack collapse video at a warehouse in Russia).

Of course, that is a worst-case scenario. But it certainly illustrates why taking every precaution is essential. Fortunately, there are several important steps you can take to minimize the risk of pallet rack failure.

Here are some helpful storage rack safety tips to keep in mind — whether you are inspecting your current system to make sure it is safe, reorganizing or expanding your existing storage system or perhaps moving into a warehouse with racking already in place.

Utilize steel guardrails and protective bollards (posts)

With the ever-present risk of even well-trained forklift operators bumping into a corner post, many warehouses reduce the risk by strategic placement of reinforced steel guardrails and high-visibility yellow bollard posts. Reinforcing or doubling the size of worksite-facing rack supports is also an option.

Anchor your storage racking to the warehouse floor

Though it is not unusual to see freestanding storage racking, common sense suggests that your racks will be far more stable and safe if they are anchored to the floor (often accomplished using 3½” long, ½” diameter concrete rack bolts).

Conduct regular storage racks inspections

It’s a good idea to be in the habit of regularly inspecting your warehouse storage rack system. Stand at the end of each aisle and look for any evidence of racks that are leaning, sagging or experiencing any sign of strain. Walk down each aisle and keep an eye peeled for any signs of damage (dents, twisted supports, loose footings, etc.). Many industry analysts also recommend having third-party racking inspection specialist conduct a more comprehensive examination.

Don’t exceed storage rack capacity

Loading a storage rack with more product that it is designed to handle can compromise the structure and eventually lead to failure. OSHA and ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) recommend that all storage racks display a plaque, data plate or label with clear and detailed information about load capacity. However, this recommended best practice is not always followed in real-world warehouse environments.

Place loads squarely on the racking system

Drivers should be trained to position pallets properly on the storage rack beams. For example, if your forklift operator is placing a 48’’ pallet on a 42” frame, you’ll want 3” of overhang on each side. Caution: Placing loads only onto the wire decking, where the pallets aren’t supported by the support beams, can significantly reduce capacity.

Protect trafficked areas with netting or rack guards

If the back or sides of a storage rack system face areas where people may be walking or working, it’s a good idea to install protective safety netting or wire rack guards. This is to reduce the risk that something will fall from the loaded pallet racks, potentially causing injury to a worker or passer-by.

Choose your storage racking with care

If you have ever set up a warehouse or are currently in the process of figuring out the best racking solution for your work environment, you already know that there many different types of warehouse storage rack systems to choose from.

Some are ideal for food industry cold storage; others are well-suited for lumber yards or for handling long, bulky or oversized loads. There is a racking solution for every industry and application, and many have design features that save valuable space in your warehouse.

Key factors when selecting a warehouse racking system include: weights, shapes and sizes of product being moved/stored; accessibility needs; type of lift equipment being used; and any unique warehouse conditions that must be considered.

Some of the most common types of storage rack systems include:

  • Pallet selective racking
  • Drive-in/Drive-thru
  • Pushback racking
  • Cantilever racks

The best way to determine what type of racking solution will work best for you is to work with an experienced warehouse racking expert who can guide you through the full range of options, carefully considering the unique characteristics of your workflow and your worksite.

At NITCO, we specialize in warehouse safety and storage rack solutions. A materials handling industry leader serving New England since 1969, we’re always here to help. So please don’t hesitate to contact us if you ever need a warehouse safety assessment or some expert advice.

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