Design and Maintenance for Pallet Rack Safety
Updated June 2019
Purchasing and installing the right pallet racking system means ensuring it delivers on employee safety. Pallet rack safety can be optimized during all stages of design, installation and maintenance.
The best pallet racking solution for your business is the one that safely delivers on its operational purpose. When we talk about pallet racking hazards, most people immediately imagine scenarios where a system has suffered a complete or partial collapse. While a total collapse is usually the biggest concern; there are a lot of other common hazards like falling materials, pallet dislodgement, emergency response and egress, material handling equipment traffic, and ergonomics.
Most pallet rack safety hazards can easily be avoided by 1) paying attention to detail when designing the system, 2) ensuring it’s installed to manufacturer specifications and local Fire and Building Codes, and 3) providing adequate training on the proper use and maintenance and the material handling equipment that interfaces with it.
Accurate Capacity Information
Accurate load dimensions and weights are a must-have when selecting racking beams and end frames. This helps determine adequate load bearing capacity and elevation designs. It’s also important to know how the load will be supported on the beams, as capacities are based on Uniformly Distributed Loads (UDL). If loads are not stored in a UDL manner, then the capacity requirements will change.
Adequate Aisle Space
The type, brand, and specific model of forklift used to access the racking will determine the minimal aisle width required. Compromising on these minimums will hurt productivity and greatly increase the likelihood of damage to the system. Remember the actual aisle width is determined by the distance from pallet to pallet, not by the distance from end frame to end frame. In most applications the system is designed for pallets to overhang the beams and extend into the aisle.
There are many different accessories available to improve the stability of loads, protect the system from damage, and improve access to stored material.
Mesh Decking and Safety Bars
A common, major hazard occurs when one side of a pallet becomes dislodged and falls below the beams. It often happens as a result of operator error while loading or unloading the pallet, although faulty or undersized pallets can also be to blame.
When this happens, it presents a serious safety issue for several reasons.
- The pallet must be manually unloaded, often at heights above ten feet, which means a safe work procedure and proper fall protection must be used to unload the material.
- There is potential for product to fall from the pallet when it slips.
- Forklift operators sometimes panic and make matters worse, bending beams or even pulling racking bays over.
The installation of mesh decking and safety bars can help prevent dangerous scenarios like this. Mesh decking is the more expensive option, but it provides superior protection, covering the entire area between the beams. Safety bars, if not fastened to the beam, tend to shift over time and may need to be realigned.
Other accessories such as rub rails, post protectors, row end barriers, and tunnel barriers can protect a racking system against damage from forklift impact. Even seemingly small bumps and scrapes can add up over time to jeopardize the integrity of the entire system. Preventative measures, regular inspections, and a good maintenance plan will help ensure the safety of your employees against systems weakened by accumulated damages.
Appropriate Beam Spacing
Ensure there is sufficient spacing between beam elevations, so you have plenty of room to tilt and lift the pallet off the beams. At higher elevations you’ll want additional room to make it easier for the forklift operator on the ground and to accommodate sway in the forklift mast.
Suitable Beam and Frame Sizing
Make sure your beam widths and frame depths suit your pallet dimensions. Pallets that are too deep for the end frames will stick out too far into the aisles, become an obstacle for forklifts, and cause collisions. Insufficient room between pallets on beams can cause loads to stick together and result in falling items.
Safe Pedestrian Zones
Barricades should be considered where foot traffic is involved. Collisions between forklifts and people can be serious and can be avoided through good design. Give thought to where people will enter the area and guard entries with barricades. Direct foot traffic routes with floor markings wherever possible.
Cam Industrial has introduced a Beam Seal that instructs employees not to adjust beam levels without authorization. These Beam Seals are placed on all beam levels and are easily visible by supervisors or managers from the floor. Missing Beam Seals are a sure sign that the system has been altered from its original engineered design.
The Right Depth to Height Ratio
Typically, the height of the racking system should not exceed six times its depth for stability purposes. Therefore, a single row of racking with 36-inch deep end frames should not exceed 18 feet in height. For back-to-back sections properly fastened with connectors, the entire depth should be considered.
Load-Bearing Concrete Slab
Your concrete floor slab must be able to bear the point loads of fully loaded end frames. Don’t assume it will, as it can be extremely expensive to remedy the situation if you find out otherwise. Make this a priority in the design of your building or prior to signing a lease.
Fire Suppression System
Like the floor slab, fire protection and the building’s sprinkler system should be addressed during the design of the building or prior to signing a lease. Make sure it’s adequate for the system design and materials being stored. Upgrading a sprinkler system is a substantial capital expense.
Code Compliant Emergency Exits
Emergency egress is another important consideration in designing the layout of your warehouse racking system. In fact, Fire Code demands specific maximum travel distances to outside exits and minimum widths for aisles. The racking system must not interfere with the visibility of exit signs.
Poor lighting increases the potential for accidents and damage and can negatively impact employee morale. There have been dramatic improvements to the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of warehouse lighting in recent years. Consider upgrading the lighting and aligning it with your racking layout prior to installing the rack.
Install According to Specifications
Stick with the Plan
Install your racking according to the engineer and manufacturer’s specifications. These specifications will detail system design requirements and tolerances and are vital to pallet rack safety.
Anchoring frames to the floor is absolutely necessary. The engineer’s design will specify the number and size (thickness and depth) of anchors to be used on each frame. The number required per frame will depend on the height and width of the system and its load rating. All anchors must be installed to their full depth and should not be installed in close proximity to a seam in the concrete slab. Chemical anchors can be used where mechanical anchors are not suitable.
Your system capacities are based on the beam elevations provided by the engineer. Make sure you install according to the drawings. Any changes to elevations must be approved by an engineer and new drawings should be issued.
Square, Straight, Plumb, and Level
There are various installation methods, but it’s important to ensure rows are square to the building construction and to each other. Once the rows have been put properly in place, they must be shimmed to make the end frames plumb and level. For very uneven floors, use thicker shims rather than stacking several thin ones together. The manufacturer or engineer will specify allowable tolerances based on the height of the system.
Manufacturers provide safety pins with all new racking systems. Once positioned, safety pins prevent beams from being accidentally dislodged by forklifts and material handling equipment. They’re a small but very important part of your system, so make sure they’ve been installed and account for them during regular inspections and maintenance.
Employees must be well-trained in the use of the system and the material handling equipment that interacts with it. Document your Safe Work Procedures, train your employees on them, and hold regular meetings to review and reinforce your procedures. Ensure your employees have valid certification for all equipment they’re using.
Racking is built with safety factors to support loads in excess of its rated capacity, however that does not mean it is safe to load beyond the rated capacity. The safety factor allows for the dynamics involved as the system is being used. Furthermore, any overloading of a single beam level or bay, while seemingly having no impact at first, gradually becomes more significant and eventually exposes the system to the danger of collapse, particularly in the event of impact.
Signs and symptoms of beam overloading are usually quickly evident. Look for deflection of the beam itself or twisting of the beams at the frame connection. Beams are intended to deflect temporarily when loaded, but when the load is removed, they should recover. The amount of deflection when loaded should be no more than the length of the beam divided by 180, (L/180).
For example, a 96” beam should deflect no more than 96/180 = .53”
The manufacturer’s rated capacity for your beam levels is based on a Uniformly Distributed Load (UDL). Within reason, loads should be equally distributed over a pallet and pallets should be evenly distributed over beams.
Do Not Adjust Your Set
It is common to find racking systems that have been tampered with by employees as a warehouse matures and pallet dimensions change for incoming product. Often employees will remove a lower beam level to accommodate taller incoming pallets. This is one of the biggest dangers because the load bearing capacity of a system is directly related to the distance between beam levels. Removing a beam level anywhere in the system can seriously compromise the capacity of the connecting frames.
Signage and floor markings also make systems safer. At a minimum, signage detailing beam elevations and the capacity of each level should be positioned at the end of the aisles. These capacities are calculated using beam elevations. Changing the elevations – or adding and removing beam levels – can change the capacity of the bay. Proper signage promotes pallet rack safety by helping ensure official elevations are well understood.
Perform Regular Inspections
Most rack failures are a result of collisions between material handling equipment and the racking structure, but it is rarely the first impact that causes the failure. Racking systems are designed to withstand some impact, because it’s inevitable. Every minor dent and ding has an impact on the system. Just because the racking did not collapse when impacted, doesn’t mean it continues to have the same load bearing capacity it originally had. Inspect your pallet racking system frequently, including annual inspections by an outside professional.
Replace or Repair Damaged Components Immediately
Compromised components should be replaced or repaired, but often aren’t. The damage is evident, but nothing is done because it may not look significant and the system continues to hold. As the system accumulates damage, its load bearing capacity becomes dangerously reduced. Eventually, a seemingly innocuous impact – one that looks like something the system has withstood many times before – suddenly becomes the final straw and the system crashes to the ground. Many pallet racking repairs can be done quickly with minimal disruption to your operations.
Unload Damaged Sections
Significantly damaged sections should be unloaded immediately. If you are uncertain about the severity of the damage, err on the side of caution and unload the section(s) until you have had it inspected by a qualified person.
Document the inspections, damages, and repairs you make. You will want this documentation to demonstrate your due diligence in providing a safe work environment for your employees. Locations with repeat damages should be investigated to uncover the cause and to find a possible preventive measure.
Good House Keeping
Keep your aisles clean and clear of clutter and debris. Debris can interfere with material handling equipment and cause accidents. Pallets, cases, and other clutter in the aisles are obstacles that drivers must navigate around and add to the complexity of the work. Where forklifts are involved, keeping the tasks as simple as possible will improve safety.
How can we help?
Cam Industrial provides complete turnkey solutions that always keep pallet rack safety at the forefront. Whether you’re just starting your project or are in the finishing stages, we provide design, engineering, racking permits, material supply, project management, installation, preventative maintenance, pallet racking inspections, and racking repairs.
if you have any questions or need more information.