Ways to Prevent Damage in Rack Aisles
Protect your people, inventory, forklifts and facility
Where there are people, forklifts and heavy pallets, there is always the potential for damage. You can walk through just about any warehouse and see dented rack frames, crushed wall sections, damaged pallets and other telltale signs of facility wear and tear. This is why walking around is a great warehouse management technique, but there is more you can do.
Covered in this guide:
- Protecting your rack’s upright frames
- Protecting your support beams and decking
- Protecting your facility walls, floors and columns
- Protecting your inventory and palletized loads
While worker safety is the most important issue, we cover that extensively in other articles. This one covers safety to a degree but is focused on asset and facility protection.
How to protect upright frames
Frames tend to be the most frequently damaged pallet rack component because they are subject to forklift impacts. Over the years, the chances of a forklift striking a particular frame are high. You see dings, dents and scrapes on frames all the time in the average warehouse, and it’s always worth looking at ways to prevent them. Also, dented frames are a red flag that dangerous events like rack collapses or pallet dumps are possible.
You should practice good inspection techniques, but these simply allow you to detect and repair the damage, not prevent it. For proactive protection, try these methods:
- Look at row spacing: If you can afford the space, allowing a bit of extra row spacing reduces the chances of a really common type of damage — the back-up accident. Drivers who are backing away from the facing row commonly strike the rack behind them and a bit of extra space can make the difference.
- Specify the right rack system and type. Not all racks are the same. For instance, fully-tubular columns are sturdier than open back columns. Structural racks are more impact-resistant than tubular racks. Select the right frame and rack type for the job and you’ll suffer less damage to the rack and your inventory.
- Build redundancy into the rack. You can opt for double columns that weld to the front rack column. This can be done either at the most vulnerable spots, down a row or throughout the system. Aside from adding extra beef to the rack by spreading out stress loads, it may also boost rack capacity and is often needed for very heavy applications. Also consider heavier diagonal & horizontal bracing, which adds strength to the rack section and improves resistance to forklift collisions.
- Use column protectors on every leg. These protectors are a common-sense, inexpensive way to reduce the chances of damage to your support legs. There are a lot of options, ranging from simple, floor-mounted steel to frame-mounted flexible poly, and all of them can have their place. If you aren’t sure what would be best for you, check our handy guide that compares the variety of types.
- Install guard rails at the ends of aisles. This is another inexpensive method that reduces the chances of a forklift striking the end of a rack row as it turns into or exits an aisle. You can use standard guardrails, but there are also specialized protection devices just for this purpose. Bollards are sometimes installed at the corners of each side of the rack, which help defend the most vulnerable point.
- Protect the struts and sides. Most of these techniques focus on the legs, but forklifts do strike the struts and bracing at times. Side protectors can be installed on the lower sections to defend the rack frame from this type of damage. Recommended for heavy-traffic areas.
How to protect the walls behind your racks
For rack sections installed against a facility wall, push-through damage isn’t uncommon.
One way to prevent this damage is to install a beam at the floor level on the back of the rack that prevents pallets from touching the wall. Another is to install floor-level pallet stops, which bolt to the floor behind uprights to block the pallet. People sometimes place pipe or other steel barriers behind the rack, which can also work. The protection shouldn’t be loose — either bolt it to the floor or install it on the rack system.
Another way is to install wire panels along the back of the rack. This covers the entire span and limits push-throughs. Nets can work if they are installed flush with the back of the racking and have little or no give to allow a pallet to drive into the wall.
How to protect your load beams
Frames are subjected to damage more often than beams due to their greater exposure to lift truck impacts, but beams can still be damaged during loading and unloading. Defective beams are unsafe and can spill loads or compromise an entire rack system.
Prevent the “uplift” accident
When drivers lift a load too far up, it can bump the load beam above it, which can dislodge the beam or damage the connectors. This can make the beam unstable. It’s called an uplift accident.
Always install the loading clips or locking devices that are standard with most every teardrop beam rack. They click into place and help prevent the beam from lifting out in the event a forklift bumps the bottom of the beam. A forceful uplift impact may snap the clip by exceeding its capacity. Adding a bolt to each connection means a higher level of protection from uplift accidents. Bolted racks have this protection built in, but it’s inexpensive to add it to your teardrop system.
It’s worth noting that any good rack safety program should always check beams for damage, snapped clips, deflection or poor connections to the frame.
Make it easier for drivers to see the beams
Aside from uplift accidents, ramming beams by misaligned loads will cause damage to the beams, and possibly to the load if part of it dislodges. Good training, lighting, and visibility are key to ensuring loads are aligned when they are placed on beams. You can also add technology like forklift guidance lasers, tilt indicators and blind spot cameras that let the driver see where the load is positioned.
Protecting palletized loads and inventory
There are a number of techniques to help reduce damage issues with loaded pallets.
- Load your pallets correctly. When a load is off center or otherwise misaligned, stress is put on the rack system and decking. Read our guide to load types for more information. This guide to loading and unloading very tall racks may also be useful.
- Catch falling loads. Partial load drops are a big source of product damage and can be dangerous to warehouse workers. Loads can fall for a number of reasons, but there are techniques to help reduce the issues. Read our guide to falling item prevention for details. Many companies install measures such as rack safety netting, wire panels and safety straps that help restrain pallets and loads.
- Use good quality pallets. Using poor-quality pallets may result in a broken pallet that can come apart when handled. It makes little sense to store valuable inventory on cheap, unreliable pallets.
- Wrap your pallets. When pallets are stored in high storage positions, the load is safer and less likely to fall if securely wrapped before storage.
- Keep your racks organized and your aisles clear. These measures help ensure drivers can see the racks and pallets. Organization and clear aisles help reduce accidents and impacts of all types.
- Read our guide to reducing inventory damage. This guide covers pallet rack areas, and more.
These techniques aren’t guaranteed to prevent damage to racks, the facility or your loads, but are a good start. They are practical methods for the everyday warehouse. In some areas, such as seismic zones, you may have to contend with other factors. Always keep in mind that good hiring and training practices are the first line of defense in a quality warehouse operation.
Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Marketing Director with three decades of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. He writes on automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations.