Inside Logistics

Pallet rack safety myths

Ensuring the safety of storage systems and warehouse workers

An engineer is required to sign off on any modifications made to the racking. (Photo: Thinkstock)

April 8, 2013
by Chuck Leon

Chuck Leon

Racking and storage systems loom large and carry a heavy load. Your employees move around them all day long, loading and unloading them (and in some retail environments, the customers do the same too)—and yet, too often, racking systems are overlooked when it comes to health and safety.

Pallet racks are common in DCs, warehouses, retail operations, and manufacturing plants. Whether you installed them yourself or you inherited them when you purchased the space, you are required to adhere to standards, and to protect employees and customers from harm when they are working around them.

In November 2011, the Ontario Ministry of Labour conducted a racking blitz and inspected over 977 workplaces. The blitz resulted in over 3,063 orders being issued, including 118 stop work orders.

Here are five common myths about racking safety that should be addressed.

MYTH 1: There are no standards for the safe use of pallet racks.

This isn’t true at all. In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) says companies must maintain equipment in good condition (OHSA, section 25(1)(b)) and provide safety information and instruction to workers as appropriate (OHSA, section 25(2)(a)). Sections 7 (pre-start health and safety review), 45 (manual material handling) and 51 (lift truck safety) of the Industrial Establishments Regulation are also important.

The first step to ensuring the safe use of pallet racks is to access a recognized source for proper procedures. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has two standards that provide the information you need:

  • CSA A344.1-05 User Guide for Steel Storage Racks;
  • CSA A344.2-05 Standard for the Design and Construction of Steel Storage Racks.

MYTH 2: Pallet racks collapse solely due to errors in installation.

Racks collapse due to poor design, incorrect installation, improper use, or flawed maintenance and repairs.

You should work with a reputable rack installation company to assess your storage needs and ensure you obtain the correct product. The same company should do the installation. You should conduct regular and thorough inspections using a checklist to help you focus on priorities and look for signs of damage such as cracked paint, dents and damaged components. Any damage discovered should be repaired.

MYTH 3: Inspection frequency depends upon damage and accident rates.

According to the CSA User Guide for Steel Storage Racks, the frequency of racking inspections should be governed by a number of factors, including the nature of the environment where the pallet rack is located, frequency of damage and local safety regulations.

You should always know what your local regulations for inspections are, and conduct inspections more frequency if you have a high incidence of racking damage and/or move product to and from storage racks on a frequent basis.

MYTH 4: If modifications to existing racking are made, the manufacturer assumes liability.

If racking modifications are made and not engineer-approved, the liability of a collapse will rest with the owner of the racking. If the racking was there when you moved in, you’re still obligated to have the appropriate drawings and paperwork to show that standards were met. If you don’t, you’ll need to conduct a pre-start inspection. Do not attempt modifications or repairs without approval from a certified engineer or a rack maintenance repair company.

MYTH 5: Keeping employees safe around racking requires little training or supervision.

Supervisors need to take a “hands on” approach. That means walking the floor of the warehouse on a regular basis and observing the work habits of employees. You also need to be involved in the inspection process. It’s critical that you are properly trained so you understand what you’re looking for and can spot potential hazards or unsafe behaviour before an incident occurs.

Storing items on multi-level racking systems is a learned skill. Employees need to be provided with the appropriate training to ensure they are using the equipment properly, they know how to do their jobs safely and they have the ability to spot potential issues and problems before they arise.

A successful racking safety program is a shared responsibility. It requires a commitment from all levels of the organization and the investment of time and resources.

Chuck Leon is a warehouse/material handling specialist with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, part of Health and Safety Ontario. He is a Certified Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) with a Professional Materials Management (PMM) designation.

From the January-February 2013 print edition