A warehouse employee standing near a cart is picking a product from a shelf when a pallet falls unexpectedly on them from the top level of a rack. An employee is walking past boxes stacked in tiers when they suddenly topple over. An employee is found unresponsive laying on the ground next to a rack surrounded by products that seem to have fallen on them from the rack above. These scenarios are real. They resulted in serious injuries to workers and, in one case, a fatality. Warehouses and storage facilities may not immediately seem like hazardous workplaces, but if safe storage practices are not implemented, they can be.
The Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) reported 11 fatalities in the industrial sector in 2022 from crushing injuries and seven fatalities from struck-by injuries. Clearly, incidents like the ones described above have led to tragic consequences, which is why safe storage and material handling practices are so important. “It’s not just about inspecting your racking systems to ensure they are not damaged and removing defective pallets. You also need to look at how things are placed on a rack and where they are placed so that items are flat, stable, and secure. This includes ensuring that there isn’t too much pallet overhang,” says Norm Kramer, Warehouse and Distribution Specialist with WSPS.
Safe storage and material handling are the focus of a current MLITSD inspection campaign. Inspectors have already started visiting manufacturing and farming workplaces. To prepare, Norm recommends starting with an internal audit. “Review your procedures, training, and how tasks are completed to determine if your workers are at risk of injury,” says Norm. “Pay particular attention to areas where others are working. For example, when a load is being placed on a rack, is someone working on the other side? If so, that person could be at risk of having material pushed down on them by the load on the other side of the rack.”
Follow these six tips to protect workers
Norm offered these tips to help employers review their storage practices and procedures in preparation for the ongoing material handling inspection campaign.
- Use equipment that is suitable for the size, shape, and weight of the product you are working with. This includes both your lift truck and steel storage racks. The weight of the load should be distributed evenly to ensure there is no excessive overhang and items should be stored on flat even surfaces. Avoid overloading.
- Consider installing accessories, such as wire mesh decking or safety bars across beams that would temporarily stop a misplaced load from falling. It’s a small investment that could prevent a critical injury or fatality.
- Ensure that there is comfortable space between the load and the racking frame or adjacent items. When pallets are packed too tightly, you are more likely to make unwanted contact with the post and destabilize adjacent items.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for weight limits. If you exceed these limits on racking systems or lift trucks, you increase the risk of someone getting injured.
- Review visibility hazards, such as pallet obstructions, at the ends of rows and near pedestrian walkways to determine if there’s a risk of people getting hit or crushed by mobile equipment. Reorganize workflow or layout to minimize or eliminate these risks.
- Train your operators and warehouse workers on these procedures and enforce them in the workplace. It’s important for everyone to understand what can happen if safe storage practices are not followed.
How WSPS can help
Connect with a WSPS racking and warehouse specialist to learn more about how you can improve your storage practices.
Articles and videos
- Check out the following video series on warehouse safety featuring Norm Kramer - Safety in 60 Seconds: Warehouse Safety Tips
- Safety Tips videos - Manual Material Handling and Safe Lifting
- Safe lifting: 10 tips and videos of how to lift properly (article)
- Prepare for MLITSD Material Handling inspections (article)
- 8 steps for keeping lift truck operators and pedestrians safe (article)
Checklists and guides
- Manual Materials Handling Information Guide
- Manual Material Handling and Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) Job Aid
- Non-motorized Material Handling Equipment Checklist
- Guidelines for Supervisors - Ensuring Safe Lifting and Manual Material Handling in the Workplace Information Guide
- Manual Material Handling - Mobile Ladder Stands or Mobile Ladder Platforms checklist
Free Webinars - Safety Connections
- Register for a live webinar on Material Handling in Agriculture - September 27, 2023
- View archived webinars: MLITSD Initiative - Material Handling in Manufacturing and MLITSD Initiative - Material Handling in Agriculture
Promote staff development with these WSPS training programs.
- Inspecting and Maintaining Steel Storage Racks (in person or virtual; 1 day)
- Manual Materials Handling (eCourse; 1 hour)
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.