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February 24, 2010

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Safety in warehousing and storage

With thousands of work-related injuries recorded in the warehousing, storage and road-haulage sectors every year, regular inspection of storage equipment is essential to ensure employees’ safety, says Alex Ashcroft.

Storage equipment generally comes in two categories: shelving and racking. Shelving is for pedestrian picking, hand-loaded applications and, as such, under normal use, sustains little damage. Racking, however, is constantly being loaded and unloaded with mechanical handling equipment and is therefore much more susceptible to damage.

The HSE requires that racking and shelving storage systems must be installed, used and maintained correctly to protect against injuries.1 It is also essential that warehouse staff work in a safe environment where equipment is regularly checked for damage and defects.

If a racking system collapses it can lead to major injury, or even death. Racking is manufactured from relatively light components and, consequently, is susceptible to damage. Any damage to racking will reduce its loading capacity and, eventually, the racking will collapse, even when it is within specified safe load limits. Prevention is always better than cure — and is less expensive — so periodic rack-safety audits make good business sense and are a critical component of every warehouse’s successful planning and operation.

The HSE and The Storage Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (SEMA) advise looking at the following areas to uncover potential problems.
1.    Beams:

  • a)    Missing beam locks/pins
  • b)    Bent/deformed beams when unloaded;
  • c)    Dislodged beam connectors;
  • d)    Damaged beam profiles.

2.    Uprights:

  • a)    Front impact damage (limit 5mm);
  • b)    Side impact damage (limit 3mm);
  • c)    Damaged/missing braces;
  • d)    Damaged/missing floor fixings

The limits quoted are measured by using a simple 1m-long straight edge held upright against the racking. The damage/deflection is then measured in the centre of the straight edge.

Potential causes of damage
It is essential that companies use qualified and competent forklift truck drivers. Of course, the right type of truck must be used for a particular installation, and it is important to ensure that the layout of the racking system provides good access for that vehicle, with adequate aisle widths free from obstruction.

Pallets and decking can also be a potential cause of damage. Broken, or poor-quality pallets can cause premature beam failure by putting outward pressure on the inside faces of the beams. Dropping heavy goods on to decking, overloading, or forcing items into place can cause them to weaken and become unstable. Decking that is struck by access equipment, fork trucks, and other heavy lifting equipment can create further hazards.

Other rack accidents occur when the structures are not properly secured to the floor slab, or when unsecured beams are dislodged. Improper loading, either by exceeding capacity constraints, or not placing the pallets squarely on the decking, can cause the racking either to tip off the front or back of the rack, or push another pallet off an adjacent rack in a double-deep situation.  In addition, post pallets provide a series of pointloads for which beams may not be designed.

Protecting racking
Collisions between forklifts and racking are relatively common in a busy warehouse. Where racking is likely to be struck by vehicles it should be protected with column guards, or rail systems.

Semi-flexible, moulded plastic guards, are quickly and easily attached to racking or building columns to form a protective bumper that minimises the force of fork-truck collision, which can damage racking frames, structural columns, vehicles and operators. The guards are designed to fit all standard European racking uprights and are easily fitted around the feet of racking systems and secured by straps.

In addition to upright protection, rack-end protection, guide rails and tunnel guards there is netting and wire-mesh backing. Good safety signage, including safe working load markings and maintenance indicators, are also crucial.

When there is a high degree of activity in the warehouse, it is especially important that trained and competent rack-safety personnel regularly inspect the racking system. When a forklift has struck a rack, one of the first priorities is to identify any unsafe components in order to reduce the danger of collapse. Specific precautions, and taking damaged racking out of service immediately, may be the only prudent response to prevent possible risk of injury to personnel caused by continued use of damaged racking.

An audit will examine the set-up of the warehouse and help identify a pattern of operation that may be contributing to rack damage. It will also determine whether or not additional training, signage, or upgraded rack-protection systems are required. A racking maintenance contract with a respected company will help ensure compliance with health and safety regulations.2,3 The contracted company will arrange for trained technicians to carry out an initial site visit and inspection to draw up a detailed assessment of the storage system and layout. A report will then be sent to the customer highlighting any damaged, missing, or badly-fitted components and detailing any replacements and repairs that need to be carried out.

Such contracts not only give peace of mind to the employer — by ensuring that storage systems are maintained in a safe and workable condition — but also provide a written history for regulatory inspections and insurers.


  1. HSE (2007): Warehousing and storage — a guide to health and safety (HSG76), ISBN 978 0 7176 6225 8, HSE Books — or download free from
  2. The Workplace (Heath, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992 state: “The workplace and the equipment, devices and systems to which the regulation applies shall be maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order, and in good repair.”
  3. The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 state that the audit period should not exceed 12 months. Section 5 says: “€ᆭequipment to be maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order, and in good repair” and that repairs, modifications, maintenance and servicing must only be carried out by competent personnel.

Alex Ashcroft is installation & projects manager for Constructor Group UK, a pan-European manufacturer and provider of industrial and commercial storage solutions. To find out more, visit

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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