Tips to Prevent and Reduce Pallet Rack Damage
13 ways to make your warehouse rack safer and more productive
Pallet racks are frequently subject to abuse, and even the toughest rack will need some cautious handling, processes, guarding equipment, and other help to remain in service. Racks can be overloaded, hit by heavy forklifts, misloaded, and otherwise impacted. These are some tips to help you avoid the frustration, expense, and danger of rack damage.
- Train, follow up, and then train more: Training is always a key. Do your forklift drivers know the right procedures for backing away from racks (and toward the opposite row)? Do they observe speed limits and widen turns near racks? This is an ongoing process, and management must buy in for it to be effective. Given the cost of a single rack collapse, the time and effort spent on drivers is critical. Treat them more as skilled workers than general warehouse hands and it will pay dividends in a number of ways.
- Clean House. Clutter can contribute significantly to rack damage because it limits the maneuverability of forklifts in an already confined space. Pallets stacked in aisles, pallet jacks left in front of bays, and other obstructions endanger rack by reducing visibility and limiting drivers’ options. Will a driver swerve to miss an obstruction and then swipe a rack? I’ve seen it happen – and the results were disastrous.
- Widen your aisles: One of the chief issues with pallet rack is the width of the aisle. This is understandable as companies want to maximize limited space, but it can be incredibly counterproductive if aisles too narrow. While reconfiguring a series of rack aisles is painful and can be time consuming, consider the cost of a single rack collapse due to insufficiently wide aisles. For counterbalanced forklifts, the rule of thumb is: Lift Truck Head Length + Load Length + 12″ (for maneuverability) + 6-inches pallet overhang. The head length is the dimension from the back of the forklift measured to the front of the load’s backrest. Load length is length of the pallet based on the stringer (the 2 x 4 that’s parallel to your forks when the lift is loaded). The generally-accepted aisle width in most facilities is twelve to fourteen feet, and that should be enough to allow good drivers to back away from one aisle without slamming the one behind them. For narrow aisle and reach trucks, consult your manufacturer guidelines. In all cases, refer to your forklift manufacturer documentation for recommended aisle widths.
- Lighting should be adequate in rack aisles. While this is a minor issue, rack aisles are inherently darker and throw more shadows than open floor space. Good lighting also helps drivers’ state of minds and keeps them sharper.
- Watch the corners. Rack is often damaged at the lower five feet when it’s hit at the end of a row—usually the diagonal and horizontal braces. This happens because forklift operators “turn into” the bottom of the racking systems as they round a corner while emerging from or entering an aisle. Aside from consistent training, you can help prevent this type of damage if you install bollards, end of aisle guard railing or other protective systems to make sure drivers give themselves adequate turning space.
- Be sure your rack is inspected regularly by a qualified professional. While this won’t prevent damage in and of itself, it can let you know when there is a problem. Aside from professional inspections, do walk-throughs and visual inspections as frequently as you can to see if there has been damage. Damaged rack is a time bomb; knowing about issues allows you to repair or replace damaged components before a serious accident can occur. More on rack inspections here.
- Allow anonymous reports of accidents. Forklift drivers are often hesitant to inform management of a collision because they fear punishment. If you implement a drop box where people can anonymously inform you of rack collisions and other safety problems, you may remove the fear of punishment in the event of an accident. You’ll always have to monitor for careless drivers, but you need to know if your rack has been damaged.
- Consider cameras and monitoring systems. While this is somewhat invasive for employees, it allows you to identify when and where a rack was hit so you can address it with the driver. If rack damage is a persistent issue, it may be worth considering. Cameras intrinsically make people more aware that they are being monitored, and thus more cautious.
- Don’t skimp on the rack. Many see rack as something that has a cost per bay or pallet position, and that’s the final cost. The truth is, the full cost of ownership must include the way a rack will perform over time. Fully enclosed uprights have been scientifically tested to absorb more damage than partially enclosed ones. Video: “How much difference does fully enclosed rack make?” In a nutshell, quite a bit. Enclosed rack frames have 44 times more resistance to torsional fork truck impact loads than open-back roll form columns.
- Paint your forks. Often, after damage has occurred, you’ll see it, but be unable to identify who was responsible. If each forklift has different color forks, it’s easy to identify which one caused the damage. If the truck is matched to an individual, this makes it possible to track damage and address it with the driver. Bonus: brightly colored forks also make it easier for the driver to see them as he’s maneuvering a load at height.
- Help the drivers with visibility. Consider backup alarms, rear view mirrors, rack mounted safety mirrors, or other devices that help increase awareness and visibility for drivers.
- Make certain that your pallet rack is rated for the load you want it to carry. Capacity issues often occur when new SKU’s are brought in, and storage positions are reconfigured. The takeaway: if you’re storing something new or substantially different on the same pallet positions, check the weight and confirm both the beam and upright capacity of your racks.
- Install guardrails or bollards at the end of rows to protect uprights. Install pallet protectors at each frame post to help cushion potential impacts. Sure this has a higher initial cost, but the wear and tear it can save on your rack over time is significant. That doesn’t even account for the possibility that it may help prevent a rack collapse that could cost many thousands of dollars, or even worse, cause serious injuries. Guarding will not prevent damage to a forklift, but the lift gets just as damaged hitting rack as it does protectors or railing.
Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.