November blitz: racking

Oct 11, 2011

November Blitz: RackingAny workplace with pallet racking is a potential target for inspectors during a month-long blitz starting November 1. “If you have lift trucks and pallet racks,” says Don Brown, a provincial specialist with the Ministry of Labour’s Industrial Health and Safety Program, “we’ll be interested in having inspectors visit your workplace.”

Since loaded pallets can weigh hundreds of kilograms, the potential consequences of any kind of failure are high.
The most serious racking hazards involve a total or partial collapse of a rack, and loads falling from the rack or lift truck used to load or unload the rack. Consequently, inspectors will focus on issues that can lead to worker injuries when working with or near racking systems. To learn more about racking safety, see “How we can help,” below. As for the racking blitz, read on.

During the blitz, ministry inspectors will pay particular attention to warehouses, distribution centres, retail operations, and manufacturing plants where pallet racks are commonplace. One of the common orders issued was for employers to maintain racks in good condition as required by section 25(1)(b) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

“If racking has the potential to collapse,” says Brown, “we want to make sure it’s rectified and properly maintained. Otherwise, it represents a significant hazard that could seriously injure or kill workers.”

What inspectors will be watching for

Although the ministry is still finalizing its plans, Brown identified two likely inspection priorities. “Inspectors will be checking on whether employers are maintaining equipment in good condition, which is a requirement under section 25(1)(b) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. I think another important component will be the employer duty to provide information and instruction to workers (section 25(2)(a)). For example,” continues Brown, “where workers are loading racks and working around racks, it is important that they understand the loading specifications and understand and be trained on how and when to report racking damage. Safe operation of lift trucks is also important.”

Preparing for an inspection

“Who installed the racking” is one of the first questions that Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) consultant Chuck Leon asks when visiting a warehouse or storage facility for the first time.

Don’t know? How about the drawings: can you find them?

Answer no, and you could be in trouble on at least two accounts. Ministry of Labour inspectors won’t be happy. Worse, your workplace could be at risk for injuries and property loss.

“If you don’t have the paperwork and drawings to show that a racking system was built and installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications,” says Leon, “you’ll need a Pre-Start Health and Safety Review conducted by an engineer. If you’ve modified a racking system, you’ll need an engineer’s report on the system.

“A lot of people don’t realize this. They think it’s a grandfathered thing: ‘The racks were here before I started so I must be exempt.’”

Don Brown clarifies the situation: a racking structure installed prior to October 7, 2000 is exempt from a Pre-Start Health and Safety Review (PSR) unless it has been modified, he explains. Furthermore, if racking was installed in accordance with current applicable standards, then no PSR is required.  However, the employer should have documentation to support this.*

“If any rack doesn’t appear up to standard,” says Chuck Leon, “the inspector is going to ask questions. ‘Who installed it? Was it installed by the manufacturer according to the manufacturer’s specifications? Do you have drawings of the racking systems?’”

Both Don Brown and Chuck Leon note that CSA Standard A344.2 and CSA User Guide A344.1/ provide practical, accessible racking information specifically targetted to a Canadian audience. Although the guide applies primarily to pallet racks, principles set out in the guide apply when purchasing and using other types of racks, such as deep reach, push-back, drive-in and drive-through, cantilever, portable, stacker, and rack buildings.

One company’s experience

A 2003 fatality that resulted from damaged racking in a food warehouse highlights the hidden dangers of damaged or inadequate racking.

In August 2003, a shipping/receiving worker was crushed under twisted metal shelving and frozen food when several steel racks suddenly collapsed. Shortly after, a roof caved in and a wall buckled outwards. The collapse and cave-in left a huge pile-up of twisted metal and tons of frozen food so that recovering the worker’s body required three days of concerted efforts by emergency officials and a private contractor. Heavy demolition equipment had to be brought in to remove the debris.

The employer received a $240,000 fine.

How we can help

Visit the Machines, Tools and Equipment topic page for additional information and resources.

* October 7, 2000 is the date that amendments to section 7 of Regulation 851 took effect. The amendments ensure that a timely professional review identifies specific hazards, or hazards associated with exposure to chemicals and other designated substances, in certain circumstances. For more on section 7, see “Partner resources,” above.