Managing Racking Safety in Warehouses
Warehouse racking is a small but critical part of overall warehouse ecosystem that allows companies to satisfy the product demands of customers anytime, anywhere with little to no downtime. However, when warehouse racking fails, it can become a double-edged sword that can damage the health and safety of employees, leave the company wide-open for a litigation and can result in critical delays for customers.
On any workday, warehouses are filled with people, plant and equipment, and product moving between places. In a bustling atmosphere like this, work safety is often taken for granted as workers and managers alike obsess about productivity pick rates and satisfying customer demands. Sometimes it isn’t until a negligent forklift operator crashes into a rack or an overloaded rack collapses on its own that a warehouse’s work safety issues become visible for everybody.
Warehouses can be dangerous work environments. But by familiarizing themselves with the risks and implementing safe systems of work, managers can reduce the risks to the company and its employees.
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Warehouses are filled with unseen dangers
Neatly stacked and ordered, warehouses can sometimes obscure reality and create a false sense of security for people working in the environment. But make no mistake, though, because no environment where people walk and work through narrow corridors while flanked by thousands of kilograms stacked on top of each other can be considered totally safe unless systems exist to identify and prevent failures. Transport, postal and warehouse industry groups are one of the most dangerous work environments in Australia and that’s why every worker should take his job very seriously.
Third party warehouse racking system inspections can help managers identify and address obvious problems on an annual or more frequent basis, but they won’t necessarily avoid failure between the inspection, therefore systems for detection of failure must be a component of warehouse safety. Racking systems must be safely managed in real time.
Racking systems are designed to resist tremendous amounts of pressure on a 24/7 basis. But no matter how sturdy they are, warehouse racks can only take so much abuse before they fail under the loads. Poor quality racking, improper installation, inadequate weight distribution, and lack of maintenance can all downgrade a rack’s structural integrity and open a window for an accident.
To make matters more complex, it’s difficult to determine the chances of a rack collapse, as every warehouse is different, and conditions vary widely based on the type of merchandise they hold. That’s why warehouse managers should develop effective safety systems for storing and managing stock for both warehouses and the type of merchandise they’re handling.
Forklift mishandling represents a huge risk for racking systems
There are many reasons why a racking system might collapses – poor installation, inadequate maintenance, overloading, etc. – but when it comes to numbers careless forklift operators take the prize.
Warehouse racks are engineered to resist forklift impacts. However, suffering repeated damage on the same spot day in and day out can downgrade a rack’s structural integrity to the point of collapse. A collapsing rack can easily bring down an entire aisle; but even when the damage is limited to a single bay or a beam, the height and weight of the falling merchandise can be enough to cause serious injury or even death to any nearby worker – as one Sydney warehouse worker found in 2019.
Forklift rack damage accidents aren’t going anywhere, unfortunately. No matter how careful a forklift driver is, even the most skilled driver will periodically strike a beam from time to time. In some circumstances, a limited amount of space can make it difficult to maneuver around an aisle without having some type of contact with the rack – and that’s why guards were created to protect the most vulnerable areas of a rack.
Even though every forklift accident is unavoidable, managers and workers can make them much less common by complying with warehouse racking system safety standards.
Complying with safety standards is critical to avoiding workplace accidents
Any Australian business that uses a pallet racking warehouse must comply with Australian Standard AS 4084:2012. This guideline specifies how steel storage racking must be used and requires that businesses undergo an annual audit and certification of their pallet racking system.
AS 4084-2012 specifies details like what are the correct beam heights, load distribution, and spaces between rows in a pallet racking system. It also defines the requirements that an inspection should identify including:
- Ensuring appropriate Load signs are installed;
- That the Beams, Base Plates, Levelling plates, Frames and Splices are intact and suitable for the task;
- That any loose, missing or dislodged racking components are replaced;
- Pallets are appropriate for the environment they are used’
- Any modifications made have been done so not as to affect the structural integrity of the racking system.
Furthermore, the standard also requires that warehouse workers have the training they need to safely use the pallets without damaging them or creating an unnecessary safety risk.
Complying with Australian pallet racking regulations is the best way to increase warehouse workers’ safety and productivity. Not only because it will reduce workers’ injury and turnover but also the bad reputation and legal penalties that go with it. So, make sure you get a certified inspector to inspect your warehouse regularly to ensure it complies with the AS 4084:2012 standard.
Make racking safety part of your corporate culture
Warehouses are high-paced work environments where missing a delivery can have effect on organizational reputation and performance. And, unfortunately, pressure environments can create the perfect conditions for an accident.
Workers hurrying to finish a delivery can often dismiss incidents like a pallet or machine striking a rack without understanding its long-term consequences. That’s why changing a warehouse’s culture through training people in safe systems of work and rewarding employees who prioritize safety can be one of the best way to get long-term results.
Likewise, every ongoing improvement you can make to within your warehouse– from checking the anchoring of the racking to installing protective bollards, rack guards, and netting – counts. Although forklift drivers typically take most of the blame for racking related accidents, often they do the best they can with the very limited space available. And that’s why planning warehouse aisle widths is one of the first steps to reducing forklift accidents and improve efficiency.
Furthermore, it’s impossible to talk about warehouse racking safety without stressing the importance of training on safe systems of work. Many warehouses have high employee turnover rates which means new workers don’t always understand what they’re doing. Training in warehouse safety systems will ensure that all the workers are on the same page when it comes to safely handle loads and heavy machinery in the workplace.
Managing a warehouse is a hectic job regardless of how you look at it. Whether it’s receiving stock, picking and preparing stock for dispatch, managing the inventory, or training employees it seems like there’s never enough time to get the job done. However, if there’s one lesson that every warehouse manager and worker should take is that warehouse safety is never an either-or choice.
Warehouse safety systems can reduce accidents while also increasing productivity at the same time. So, make sure you take this advice to heart…at least so that you can keep your product racked safely and your warehouse accident-free!
If you’d like some help on improving safety in your warehouse, why not have a free no-obligation chat with the Safetysure team on 1300 087 888 or chat live below!