"If you look at pictures of collapsed racking, it looks like a war zone," says WSPS consultant Norm Kramer. "Just a mangled mess of intertwined metal pieces that can cover a large area." This frightening scenario, with its obvious risks to people and property, can occur when warehouses repeatedly fail to identify and fix racking damage. It's often a case of "one time too many," says Kramer.
Companies can greatly minimize the risk of "a potentially catastrophic" racking collapse by promoting a safety culture that encourages incident reporting, and by taking the appropriate steps to immediately investigate incidents and take action.
Incident reporting is essential
Racking incidents usually occur when a heavy piece of equipment, such as a forklift truck or other material handling device, strikes a racking structure. "When this happens, there will typically be a certain level of damage to the racking structure. It may be minor or it may be significant," says Kramer.
It's critical that a company know about these incidents so that it can assess risk and take preventive action, if needed. But incidents may go unreported, for two reasons:
- a poor or inadequate reporting system. "Without a clearly set out and communicated reporting process, it may become an accepted practice in the workplace that when racking gets struck or damaged, it's not a big deal," says Kramer.
- a punitive approach to reporting. "Employees are fearful of reporting incidents or even close calls because they are afraid of being punished or terminated."
In addition to having reporting systems in place, companies need to "create a comfortable environment for workers to report hazards and incidents to the supervisor."
Upon receiving an incident report from the worker, carry out an investigation immediately. Here are nine suggested steps.
- Consult with workers at the site of the incident.
- Inspect the rack to determine the degree and type of damage and set out action steps.
- If necessary, take steps to protect worker safety (i.e., block off the area where the damage occurred, or unload the racking structure if it's safe to do so).
- Advise workers in the area about the hazard.
- Find the root cause of the incident. "It may not be operator error," says Kramer. "It may be that the vehicle's turning radius is too large for the space between the racking. It could be the forks and the pallet are not compatible so the forks stick out too far. It could be poor lighting in the warehouse."
- Put controls in place to address the root cause. "It may mean increased training for the operator, better lighting, prescription safety glasses…"
- Communicate with management to ensure timely and quick repair to any damaged racking structure.
- If racking is modified (cut, spliced, or welded) during the repair, arrange for a Pre-Start Health and Safety Review of the racking structure by a professional engineer before work can resume.
- Write an investigation report and keep records.
In addition to investigating incidents, regularly inspect racks for damage, says Kramer.
How WSPS can help
Check out the resources below.
- Training. Take this one-day course, offered in collaboration with CSA, Inspecting Your Steel Storage Racks, to learn how to inspect and maintain steel storage racks by applying the CSA user guide A344.1 and standard A344.2)
- Consulting. WSPS expert consultants are on hand to help you;
- develop a racking inspection program,
- develop a customized inspection checklist,
- carry out a hazard analysis,
- develop customized presentations.