Eight racking best practices to protect warehouse workers from crush injuries

by Norm Kramer

Warehouses and storage facilities may not immediately seem like hazardous workplaces, but if safe storage practices are not implemented, they can be.

Norm Kramer provides expert, in-depth health and safety consulting services for Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) as a Warehouse Specialist in the GTA region.

Consider these incidents:

  • A warehouse employee is picking a product from a shelf when a pallet falls unexpectedly from the top level of the rack.
  • An employee is walking past boxes stacked in tiers when the boxes suddenly topple over.
  • An employee is found unresponsive on the ground surrounded by product.

These real incidents resulted in serious injuries to workers and, in one case, a fatality. This is why provincial and territorial governments carry out inspections of warehouse and storage facilities each year to ensure employers have the proper prevention procedures in place.

Crush injuries relating to falling objects can be catastrophic to workers and to workplaces. While many workplaces carry out regular inspections of their racking systems to ensure they are not damaged, that’s not enough to prevent these types of injuries. They are related to how and where items are placed on the rack, the capacity of the racks and loads, training, and much more.

Here are eight best practices when it comes to preventing these types of injuries:

1. Start with an internal audit. Review your procedures, training, and how tasks are completed to determine if your workers are at risk of injury. Pay particular attention to areas where others are working.

For example, when a load is being placed on a rack, is there someone working on the other side? If so, that person could be at risk of having material pushed down on them by the load on the other side of the rack.

2. Use equipment that is suitable for the size, shape, and weight of the product you are working with. This includes both your lift truck and steel storage racks. The weight of the load should be distributed evenly on both beams to ensure there is no excessive product or pallet overhang. Items should be stored on flat, even surfaces. Understand the weight of the load and the racking capacity to prevent overloading. Remember, changing the level of the beam also affects capacity and may require a review by a professional engineer.

3. Consider installing accessories, such as wire mesh decking or safety bars across beams to temporarily stop a misplaced load from falling. It’s a small investment that could prevent a critical injury or fatality. This may be especially important when storing odd-shaped loads or pallets at high elevations with poor visibility. But be aware that the capacity of safety bars and mesh decking is typically less than beams.

4. Ensure there is a comfortable space between the load and the racking frame or adjacent items. When pallets are packed too tightly, lift truck operators are more likely to make unwanted contact with rack components, causing damage, or bumping loads and destabilizing them.

5. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for weight limits. If you exceed these limits on racking systems or lift trucks, you increase the risk of someone getting injured. Be sure to train lift truck operators on how to determine the weight of the load and the capacity of the lift truck and racking.

Ensure racking capacity signage is attached to the structure, and readily visible to lift truck operators – including how much weight can be safely supported on one beam level, and on the entire bay section of racking. An operator who doesn’t know this basic information has not been trained properly.

6. Review visibility hazards, such as pallet obstructions, at the ends of rows and near pedestrian walkways to determine if there’s a risk of people getting hit or crushed by mobile equipment. Keep pallet stacks lower at intersections to reduce blind spots where people or mobile equipment are moving. Reorganize workflow or layout to minimize or eliminate these risks. Consider marking the floor area where pallets must be placed, such as pallet staging areas.

7. Use pallets that are in good condition to prevent loads from becoming unstable due to pallet damage, such as broken, split, cracked or missing stringers or deckboards. Expendable pallets, which are weaker in design, should be exchanged with, or placed on, a sturdier pallet before storing on racks. Further support load stability by securing pallet loads to pallets with straps, shrink wrapping or other means.

8. Train your operators and warehouse workers on these procedures and enforce them in the workplace. General lift truck training alone is not sufficient. Also train on safe storage practices — proper pallet placement, capacities, stacking heights, and consequences. It’s important for everyone to understand what can happen if safe storage practices are not followed.