As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, warehouse racking will take a beating. Forklift impacts, environmental corrosion, pallet wear – all of these normal bumps and bruises present supply chain companies with risk factors inherent with the industry. Despite such inevitable risks, managers can take steps towards reducing their risk exposure by implementing a battery of proactive care measures around their racking infrastructure. In this article, we’d like to outline the most common safety risks present in warehousing racking systems, and list out suggestions that businesses can employ to combat these risks for a safer, more resilient operation.
Warehouse and Racking Safety
Risks facing your typical warehouse’s racking system can be categorized as active and passive, each with its own distinct challenges and avenues to abate.
Active risks are those that disrupt pallet rack structures as the result of some intentional or unintentional human, machine, or vehicle activity. While it might sound like wishful thinking, by definition, active risks can be avoided if employees adopt, embody, and share a sense of responsibility for safe work practices. In other words, active risks are addressed by changing human behavior. Common active risks faced by warehouse racking include:
- Racking strikes by forklifts
- Racking impacts by materials during loaded or unloaded
- Overloaded racking
- Damage caused by incorrect container / pallet sizes
Compared to active risks, passive risks are generally not solvable by changing human behavior. Passive risks are general hazards that exist in any given warehouse, present due to the nature of the facility, its use, and external influences. These risks are generally only preventable through proactive inspection and maintenance, which serve to reduce or resolve the factors within the racking system which present probable points of failure. Passive risks include:
- Aging and deterioration
- Neglect of maintenance and repairs
- Material load shifting and settling
- Natural disasters such as an earthquake
- Material fire
- Warehouse storage equipment becomes outdated due to change in pallet sizes or weights
Racking Safety Solutions
With all of the potential risks facing warehouse racking systems, what steps might we take to ensure a safe and reliable warehouse operation? Let’s walk through a series of options below.
Preventing racking issues and failures can be as simple as proactively inspecting for indications of looming problems, catching issues well before they manifest. Warehouse managers should develop a racking inspection program, and assign responsibility for the program to a key team member to carry the program forward. A robust inspection program should include two key elements:
- Thorough evaluation and identification of hazard signs within the racking system, any and all of its components, and its surroundings
- Active and diligent response processes for all potential issues identified, through complete repair, testing, re-evaluation, and return to service
In some facilities, daily safety and integrity inspections are deemed necessary, whereas monthly inspections are sufficient in others. Each business must assess and determine their inspection needs as a function of use, environment, volumes, and any other unique conditions.
In conjunction with the above inspection process, preventative maintenance should be the next practice to implement towards warding off racking safety hazards. Maintenance can even be conducted at the same time, and by the same employees, completing a reoccurring inspection pass. Racking maintenance typically includes tasks broken out by weekly, monthly, and annual services, rotating through the warehouse a few bays at a time, such as:
- Weekly: physically check and tighten load-bearing supports, cross members, pallet rails, and safety clips
- Monthly: physically check floor and column anchors, and touch-up any member paint or coating that may be wearing off. For automated, flow, or other advanced systems, perform electrical, mechanical, lubrication, and safety maintenance as well.
- Annual: physically check rack square, level, clearances, and plumb, adjusting members as needed to maintain proper installation. If load ratings, pallet sizes, or other details have changed from original design specifications, be sure to make the appropriate changes in the racking system to adapt as needed.
Following a detailed inspection process complete with logging potential issues is the first half of the battle, and actually committing to performing necessary repairs is the other half (one which some warehouse operators struggle to execute). In too many cases, discovered problems are downplayed and scheduled for a distant annual maintenance window, driven off the priority list by business needs focusing on schedule, production uptime, shipping throughput, and profitability. Many times, these issues worsen, accidents happen, and the gamble does not pay off.
In the presence of any identified failure risk in a racking system, business managers must commit to the necessity of performing repairs, whether temporary or permanent, and regardless of operational impact. That said, there are several strategies that can be employed to minimize disruption, such as:
- Outsource repairs to a third-party service such as Fairchild Equipment to evaluate, plan, schedule, and complete repairs without burdening internal maintenance staff
- Perform temporary reinforcement and remediation work to buy time until a larger shutdown window can be scheduled
- Utilize situational storage re-routing with your Warehouse Management System to unload the effected pallet positions so that repairs can be conducted just before restock fills, taking advantage of the natural open window occurring in inventory swings
Especially after a major forklift strike or discovery of significant deterioration, at times replacement of racking segments is the preferred solution over repairs.
Additionally, sometimes racking is acquired that is not properly designed for current application. In many cases this can be because of economic factors or the purchase of previously owned equipment that is not properly applied. This can also lead to unsafe rack conditions.
To fully evaluate major concerns to determine if replacement is the right choice (using a third-party consultant if needed), and commit to completing the replacement as soon as possible. If major damage is the result of multiple repeat impacts, consider designing in additional protection or workflow changes with the replacement project, so as to protect against having to perform such replacement efforts again in the future.
Feedback and Documentation
As your workplace evolves its racking inspection and maintenance processes, employees will adapt to the program and react according to how they are impacted. To keep their response pointed in a positive direction, continually provide your employees with feedback that reinforces the need for intentional, proactive racking safety. In addition, seek their feedback and input back to management on potential suggestions, unforeseen consequences, and ways to further drive the program forward. Employees with a vested, approachable interest in their own safety – and that of their colleagues – can adopt safer practices in tangential workflows outside of racking elements, such as more consciously stacking pallets so that they have a lesser chance of overhangs that get caught on pallet rack rails when loading.
Treating such employee engagement as a major contributor towards continuous improvement, managers should document progress and results so that they can be both captured for future reference, as well as shared to communicate positive momentum to the entire staff. It goes without saying that documentation is also expected from a regulatory standpoint, especially for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and insurance carriers should an accident occur.
Keeping the racking safety ball in motion, warehouse managers should parallel their racking inspection and repair processes with employee training that spreads awareness throughout the organization. General warehouse staff, line workers, and any others who work in the warehouse can receive training that puts safety on their radar, allowing them to participate in passive inspections by keeping an eye out for any potential problems themselves. Also, training that improves forklift driving, pallet rack loading, traffic lane procedures, and general safe conduct around racking can drive down the need for repairs and replacements by reducing the causal little bumps, hits, and mistakes in the first place. An informed workforce is a more contentious workforce, and at the end of the day, employees will respect management’s multi-front efforts discussed here that provide for a safer workplace overall.
We hope that this discussion of Racking Safety has been helpful to your commercial material handling needs. Fairchild Equipment is the Upper Midwest’s premier Material Handling Equipment and Service resource, with headquarters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and 11 locations in 5 states ready 24/7 to serve your needs. For more information or to discuss which Warehouse Optimization solution might be best for you, please send our consultants a message or call us at (844) 432-4724.