Picking up the pieces

by Tony Mulholland


“What was that?” someone asks. “It sounded like it came from the warehouse!” cries another.

When you hear something like that, myriad chilling thoughts swirl through your brain as you race toward the source of the crash site. Bursting through the door, your worst fears are confirmed: a rack has collapsed. What next?

Perhaps contrary to what some may think, rack collapses are not usually a result of overloading or under-designed racking. Typically, they occur under circumstances where damaged and/or modified racking is subjected to a trigger or impact force from a lift truck driving error. The cause is important—and must be dealt with later—but in the immediate aftermath, your team should have other priorities.

First, you should trigger your company’s emergency response procedures, with firm adherence to the corporate health and safety policies. Take stock of the situation. Call emergency response teams immediately if an employee has been hurt.

If everyone is fine, it’s time to begin recovery. Take some time to properly assess the damages so that you can develop and initiate a safe cleanup plan.

Where justified, you should notify insurance companies of the incident, as they will want to assign a person to the claim. They may direct you to certain forensic investigation, emergency response and demolition services. But it’s worth noting that not every collapse involves injury or losses that justify an insurance claim. You may want to assemble your own team to or hire a rack installation company to clean up the debris, unload pallets and dismantle the damaged rack. Depending on the commodity, you may need to call in specialists to remove hazardous materials.

If there has not been an injury, most companies handle the matter internally without involving labour inspectors. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do anything; you must make sure the remaining racks are compliant with structural design standards (CSA standard A344) and, importantly, that the cause of the collapse is fully understood. A lingering or inadequate response to a rack collapse will inevitably conjure concern from employees about safety.

So how do you identify the direct cause of a collapse? Interviewing those working in the area of the collapse does not always tell the full story, as a fear of repercussions might cause people to present a modified version of the truth. This is when an engineer’s eye can help. An engineer can also identify potential problems in racking adjacent to the collapse and to the overall structure as well.

Prevention, prevention, prevention

Once the crash has been cleaned up, it’s important to put measures in place to prevent another from happening.

Start by making sure you are using good design practices and are compliant with all labour regulations.

Most provinces require rack structures to have documentation that formally establishes their capacity. Make sure that documentation is available to site personnel and put procedures in place to ensure the racks cannot be overloaded. You can accomplish this by posting the load limits on plaques, but only if the person loading the racks knows the weight of the pallet.

It’s a good practice to make sure the capacity of the rack exceeds the heaviest pallet that could possibly go into it; an audit of your products is a good way to help you determine how much your heaviest pallet weighs.

Employees should be encouraged to report damage to racking so that corrective measures can be taken immediately. Workers must know what to look for. CSA offers a full-day training program that teaches how to conduct proper rack inspections; various other companies offer shorter inspection courses as well.

You may want to schedule annual rack inspections too, to make sure your staff isn’t missing anything.

When you have rack repairs, make sure they are fully certified by the proper authorities.

Remember, most rack collapses occur as a result of lift truck driver error. Make sure all drivers are fully licensed and properly supervised.

High-traffic areas in the warehouse may be especially vulnerable to damage; you might want to consider adding reinforced uprights or post guards in these spaces.

If you follow these guidelines you can greatly reduce the likelihood of a crash occurring. You can never eliminate the risk outright, but if a collapse does happen, it is more likely to be caused by an isolated incident directly attributable to an operational error than by a systematic problem with your facility. Moreover, you’ll be able to respond in a procedural manner because you’ll have done your due diligence.

Tony Mulholland, PEng, PMM (tony@rnw.ca) is the head of Mississauga, Ontario-based consultancy Rack Net-Works.