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July 31, 2013

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Transport and logistics – Warehouses – All that you can’t leave behind

When it comes to protecting employees, safety in the warehouse — especially in relation to storage facilities — can’t be left to chance. But adopting health and safety best practices in these types of workplace will also help with the running of the business, says Scott Brown.

It is estimated that two million working days were lost last year on account of handling injuries and slip and trip incidents.

Palletised goods can sometimes be stacked higher than two storeys and often weigh several tonnes, so warehouses and storage facilities can present unwanted potential for injuries of the nature mentioned above. Implementing tried and tested methods on safe racking and storage is therefore essential to mitigate the risks of an incident arising.

Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998, companies are legally bound to inspect their work equipment, including pallet racking.

Further statutory provisions relating to racking equipment can be found in the MHSWR 1999 and the Manual Handling Regulations 1992. Generally, storage racks should be examined by a qualified inspector approved by the Storage Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (SEMA) at least once or twice a year.


During an inspection, particular attention will be paid to beams, uprights, frame bracing, floor fixings and lock-in clips, as indicated in the SEMA Code of Practice, guideline no.6. The following will also be subject to general observations:

  • pallet locations on beams;
  • conditions and types of pallets;
  • positioning of loads and types of loads stored on pallets;
  • general forklift operatives’ use of the racking;
  • the condition and type of floor on which the racking is fixed;
  • general housekeeping of the installation; and
  • possible changes from the original design requirements.

Inspections are carried out from ground level with the visual examination of exterior and other reasonably accessible racking components. If any damaged racking is identified that requires immediate attention, the site contact will be informed of the racking component and its position in the installation.

Following an inspection, racking will be categorised into three levels of risk, according to a traffic-light system: green, amber and red.

  • Green —areas where damage is sufficiently low to allow the continued use of the racking, with no further action.
  • Amber — areas where the damage is sufficiently severe and warrants remedial work, but not enough to warrant the immediate unloading of the rack. However, once the rack is unloaded it should not be reloaded until repairs have been carried out. In the event that the storage position is full for four weeks after the initial identification of the problem, the rack should be off-loaded for repair without delay.
  • Red — areas where a high level of damage is identified, exceeding the indicated industry standard, which warrants an area of racking being immediately offloaded and isolated from future use until repair work is carried out.

Any racking in the red category should be treated as soon as possible, with processes for repair being adopted and built into daily routines. It is essential to remember that any damage will result in the safety factor of the structure being reduced. Employees must pay particular attention to damaged uprights, bracing beams and beam safety pins.

Training and awareness
Safety can be integrated easily into employees’ day-to-day routines. Processes can be built into the operation of a warehouse in a number of ways — for example, by replacing defective pallets before they enter the warehouse, problems can be eliminated at source.

With warehouse managers relying increasingly on temporary and agency workers, who sometimes have little, or no prior experience of working in warehouse environments, it is vital that safety training becomes part of the induction process.

Management and employees should familiarise themselves with the racking systems used and ensure they understand the difference between general wear and tear and real damage, in order to help them identify potentially dangerous situations as early as possible. Questions to consider include:

  • Is the racking erected on a sound, level floor?
  • Is the system installed in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions?
  • If the racking is secured to a building, has this been proved by structural calculations?
  • Are double-sided runs connected and spaced by using appropriate run spacers?
  • Is the racking fixed securely to the floor?
  • Are beam-connector locks fixed at both ends of the beam?
  • Are the correct maximum-load notices on display?
  • Are all racks in alignment?
  • Are the correct pallets being used?
  • Is there is any obvious physical signs of rack damage? If so, identified damage must be assessed and reported in accordance with the SEMA Code of Practice.
  • Is there sufficient protective equipment in use — e.g. column guards and rack-end protectors?
  • Has the handling equipment changed since the original specification?

It is important to share reoccurring safety and damage issues with staff to help find solutions. For example, damage that often occurs with the storage of small parts can include overloaded shelves and warehouse operatives standing on lower shelves to reach the top shelves, rather than using the correct access equipment. There are no circumstances under which workers should be allowed to stand on, or climb up any type of shelving, or racking.

Regular visual inspections should also be carried out and documented, so that any damage can be quickly resolved. In particular, staff should be trained to act if damage occurs to and affects:

  • the cross-sectional profile of a main load beam;
  • the straightness of beams, bracing, or uprights; and
  • the welds and joints, or bolts and clips.

On initially finding damaged racking, a written report must be submitted to the person with responsibility for rack safety in the warehouse.
Inspecting damage

Different levels of inspection are required for different circumstances. The racking installation in figure 1 consists of two main elements: the beams, comprising the beam section, end connectors and safety locks; and the frames, comprising uprights, bracing and baseplates. The elements of racking that will be reviewed during an inspection are outlined below (see figure 2).

It is not recommended to repair damaged rack components; rather, any component identified as no longer fit for use should be replaced on a like-for-like basis. If the bottom portion of an upright is damaged, replace the whole upright up to the original (splice) level of the joint. Do not cut and connect a small piece of upright and never apply heat in an attempt to straighten bent components.

SEMA’s traffic-light system for damage assessment only applies to damage that produces an overall bend in a component; it does not apply to highly localised damage, such as dents, buckles, tears and splits. Bends are judged against a 1000mm straight edge; localised bends over a shorter length should be judged pro-rata — i.e. over a half-metre length, half the limit applies. Racks with tears and splits should be replaced.

It is worthwhile training staff on the following methods of measuring damage (see also figure 3).
Place a 1000mm steel straight edge against the flat surface on the concave side of the damaged component, such that the damaged area lies equidistant from both ends:

  • For an upright bent in the direction of the rack beams, the maximum gap should not exceed 5mm.
  • For an upright bent in the direction of the frame bracing, the maximum gap should not exceed 3mm.
  • For an upright damaged in both directions, the damage shall be measured and treated separately and the appropriate limits observed.
  • For bracing members bent in either plane, the maximum gap should not exceed 10mm. This should be judged pro-rata for bracing members less than 1000mm long.

Damage to other elements
More advice on damage to pieces of racking includes:

Safety locks

  • if missing, these must be replaced immediately;
  • if positioned wrongly, these should be repositioned immediately. When correctly positioned the pin should pass through the lock hole in the connector and through the top of an upright slot;
  • damaged locks should be replaced; and
  • the top of an upright slot may become damaged by the safety lock pin, if the beam has been raised. If damage has occurred the beam should be repositioned (up or down) on the upright so that the pin fits through an undamaged slot.

Beam-end connectors

  • any damage to a connector should result in the beam’s immediate replacement. If the upright slots are also damaged, these slots should not be reused for beam location; and
  • damage, such as cracking or lifting of the weld, should result in the beam’s immediate replacement.

Beam sections

  • if damage affects the section shape, the beam should be replaced immediately;
  • if the vertical beam deflection is more than SPAN/200 the beam is overloaded. Remove the load and check against permissible load data;1
  • if the beam is permanently bowed when unloaded it has been overloaded. A straightness tolerance of 1 in 1000 is permitted. If the unloaded beam bow is more than SPAN/1000, vertically or horizontally, it must be replaced.2

Further considerations
In places of repetitive damage, rack protection should be considered. Guidelines for forklift traffic, good housekeeping and lighting arrangements can also help prevent damage to racking and should be considered as part of warehouse best practice.

To guard against back strains and other injuries, shelving and storage solutions can be installed that allow access and retrieval of stock at a comfortable, ergonomic height. Products such as vertical storage machines, or pallet pull-out units are possible solutions, as they are designed so that stock can be reached without unnecessary straining.

Integrating best practice and partaking in regular inspections keep staff safe in the workplace, reduce downtime lost to accidents and faulty equipment, and eliminate the risk of fines for non-compliance, as well as improving business operations, growing profitability and increasing competitive edge.

1     Deflection greater than SPAN/200 when loaded: Overall beam length divided by 200 (SPAN/200) is the maximum allowed deflection when the beam is loaded. For example, in the case of a 2700mm beam, the beam can deflect 13.5mm (2700/200) when loaded to comply with the SEMA guidelines
2    Deflection greater than SPAN/1000 when unloaded: Overall beam length divided by 1000 is the maximum allowed deflection after the beam is unloaded. For example, in the case of a 2700mm beam, the beam can deflect 2.7mm (2700/1000) when the load has been removed to comply with the SEMA guidelines    

Scott Brown works for CSI and is approved by the Storage Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (SEMA) to carry out storage-rack inspections.

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