Buying and setting up the right pallet racking system as part of your storage solution means ensuring it delivers on employee safety. Let’s take a look at how safety can be optimized during design, installation and maintenance.
Make employee safety your goal
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 like the one in the photo, where the system has suffered a complete or partial collapse. While total collapse is the biggest concern, and we’ll address it, there are also a lot of other common hazards to consider. These include falling materials, pallet dislodgement, emergency response and egress, material handling equipment traffic and ergonomic issues.
These 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 of the system as well as 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 to ensure adequate load bearing capacity and to design the elevations. It’s also important to know how the load will be supported on the beams, as the 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. This is because pallets overhang beams, extending into aisles by design.
Many accessories are available to improve the stability of loads, protect the system from damage and improve access to stored material.
Mesh Decking and Safety Bars
A major hazard is commonly created when one side of a pallet becomes dislodged and falls below the beams. It can usually happen as a result of operator error while loading or unloading the pallet, and although faulty or undersized pallets can also be to blame.
When this happens it presents a serious safety issue for several reasons.
- The pallet will need to 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.
- When the pallet slips, there’s potential for product to fall from it
- 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 by covering the entire area between the beams. Safety bars, if not fastened to the beam, have a tendency 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 resulting 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 and can become an obstacle for forklifts, causing collisions. Insufficient room between pallets on beams can cause loads to stick together and trigger falls.
Safe Pedestrian Zones
Barricades should be considered where foot traffic is involved. Collisions between forklifts and people can be serious and must be avoided by good design. Give thought in particular 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 also must not interfere with the visibility of exit signs.
Poor lighting increases the potential for accidents and damages, 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.
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 the 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 accidently 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.
Train your People
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, but 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 evenly distributed over beams.
Do Not Adjust Your Set
It is fairly common in the field 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 since 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 safety by ensuring 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. However every dent and ding has an impact on the system and, just because the racking did not collapse, doesn’t mean it continues to have the same load bearing capacity it originally had.
Replace Damaged Components Immediately
A compromised component should be replaced, but often it isn’t. Although the damage is evident, it may not look significant and the system continues to hold, so nothing is done. As the system accumulates these kinds of damages, 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.
Unload Damaged Sections
Significantly damaged sections should be unloaded immediately. If you are uncertain about the severity of the damage, error 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 the repairs you have made. 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 learn 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.
Cam Industrial provides turnkey racking solutions. Our services include everything including:
- Customer needs assessment
- Data analysis
- Racking design, layout, and engineering
- Material Supply
- Preventative Maintenance and Repair
- 3rd Party Inspections