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When racks collide: ways to minimize forklift impacts on pallet rack

pallet rack with end of row guard railsPallet racks take a beating over time. They get loaded with exceptionally heavy pallets, by exceptionally powerful lift trucks over and over throughout the course of years. Chances are that if you have pallet rack in your warehouse, it’ll get hit at some point. When it does, inspecting (and generally replacing) it is your best course of action. But what about avoiding that hit, or its dangerous aftermaths in the first place?

Rack is easy to ignore from a safety standpoint. In fact, it’s too easy. Other hazards might stick out like a sore thumb, so there are times plant managers or warehouse supervisors can be less concerned than they should for hundreds of tons of racks and load in a warehouse bustling workers and lift trucks.

Here are some ways to avoid (or minimize) lift truck/rack impacts…

  •  Protect your uprights.This is a no-brainer. You can inexpensively install a variety of rack upright protectors at the base of your posts. You can also put heavy gauge guard rail at the end of aisles. All of this stuff is painted bright yellow. There are metal upright protectors, poly and other types, but the main function is consistent – they deflect impact off of the upright.
  • Beams should be brightly colored. Ever notice that most manufacturers sell a warm-colored beam (yellow or orange)? They may have green, blue, or gray frames, but the beams are bright for a reason: they’re easy to see for a lift truck driver who’s maneuvering 3,000 pound loaded pallets into rack bays. Avoid dull colored beams, and don’t repaint them a more subdued color to match corporate colors or for aesthetic reasons.
  • Have a no-repercussions policy for reporting impacts. Guys make mistakes – even good drivers. During a fast paced day, they may smack an upright. You need to know that it happened, so don’t punish them for reporting it. Sometimes, the damage can be slight and the driver will decide it’s in his best interest to let it slide, as if a quick visual inspection can confirm whether or not the accident hasn’t damaged the structural integrity or capacity rating. Let your drivers and warehousemen know up front that you want to know, and that they won’t be reprimanded if they tell you.
  • Inspect frequently. It’s uncommon for warehouse operators to deploy frequent, proactive in-house rack inspection programs. Make it a part of your routine to inspect frequently, at least monthly. While a quick visual inspection won’t tell you anything other than a rack may have been hit, that’s the start of getting it repaired to safe standards. Less frequently, an independent engineer should inspect your rack. You’ll be money ahead with these simple, inexpensive inspections.When you inspect, look for  (1) Damaged uprights; (2) Damaged or bent beams; (3) Operational and capacity signs; (4) Overloaded beams – are they bent or deflected beneath the load; (5) Is the rack plumb and vertical?; (6) Look for missing beam clips or other connections; (7) Damaged welds; (8)Beams popped out of the uprights; (9) Damaged braces or column protectors.
  • Post capacities on the rack. Most racks come with stickers and signage that inform you of the capacity. If yours doesn’t, have them made and posted.
  • Don’t alter your rack or any of its components without professional assistance. Don’t allow cleats or other items to be welded to beams, uprights, bracings, etc, or for its load profile to radically change. If you do make appropriate, engineer-approved changes, change your facility drawings, signage and processes to denote what was done.
  • Use good pallets, designed for the rack. Your pallet’s design should take into account the nature of the goods being stored and the rack it’s being stored on. Pallets that don’t sit snugly on the beams can cause drops or the loaded items to fall. Pallets that are too small can drop through (and using supports is acceptable, but can reduce your functional capacity). Don’t allow loads to overhang the pallet, and always shrink wrap pallets on high beam levels, since in a collision they can be knocked off more easily.
  • Load the rack correctly. Too little space above the load can cause damage either in loading or unloading. Leave your lift truck operators plenty of room to maneuver – at least a foot, and preferably more. Make sure pallets are square and balanced on the beams.

Rack is simple, safe and effective storage. To keep it that way, pay attention to the little things, train your people, make them aware that it can be dangerous when abused, hit, loaded incorrectly or overloaded. Training is a key, so spend time to be sure that everyone has their eyes open and reports issues as they see them.

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Scott Stone Cisco-Eagle's Director of Marketing. He has over 25 years of experience in the industry.