Safety First and Last: Storage racks can pose risks

Jeff Thorne
August 17, 2017
By Jeff Thorne
Mismanagement of racking can lead to safety concerns. Without proper planning and design, moving material on and off racking systems by hand or with the use of lifting devices such as a pallet or lift truck can place workers at risk. Injury may occur due to poorly stacked or falling material, slips and trips, overreaching or being struck by other lifting devices.
The racking itself can create additional risks as well. When racking has not been inspected or maintained, or if it’s modified or damaged, the racking has the potential to become unstable or collapse, resulting in catastrophic consequences.

Employers across Canada have a general legal responsibility to provide equipment in good condition and to ensure the safe storage and handling of materials. Storage racks, whether they are cantilever, drive-in or drive-through or push-back racks, must be properly designed, installed, used and maintained.

Some provinces such as Ontario require a PSR (Pre-Start Health and Safety Review) to be conducted if the employer does not have documentation supporting the fact that the racking has been designed and tested in accordance with current applicable standards. This can become an issue if your racks were purchased as a used item. A PSR may be necessary to ensure the rack is installed correctly and can support the weight put on it.

In British Columbia, modifications to regulations will come into force Jan. 1 that clarify and outline safety requirements for steel storage racks loaded by mobile equipment or by a lifting device. Racks that are loaded manually and are under eight feet high have an exemption in the new regulations. The changes and clarity provided in the new regulations in B.C. should be practiced by every employer. The requirements focus on making sure storage racking is designed and constructed with good engineering practices and can safely support the items.

Employers need to treat storage racking like any other equipment or device used in the workplace. Employers need to include details on how to effectively manage all aspects of selection, installation, capacity, use, inspection, reporting, modification, repair and dismantling.

Specific training is important. Instructions must be provided on the safe loading, unloading, and maintenance of the racking and the instructions must be readily available to the workers. When it comes to installing the racks, the person performing this task must be qualified to do so. Failure to have a qualified party perform this task can lead to collapse. The qualified person should have knowledge of proper planning, inspection principles, hazards, mobile equipment and specific details of the rack design. This includes items such as the maximum allowable product load per level, number of levels, vertical spacing, components, wear and tear and when to consult the manufacturer or a professional engineer.

The rated capacity of the rack must be clearly posted on the rack or in the general vicinity of the rack and workers must know the capacity. They should also know the capacity of the loads being placed on the rack. Employers must ensure that parts are maintained and replaced as needed. Workers must be aware of what constitutes damage or wear and tear.

 Regular inspections must be conducted by a qualified person. The frequency should be at intervals that would prevent unsafe conditions. This frequency may be governed by the racks location (indoor or outdoor), the competency of lifting device operators, prior damage to the racks and the level and method of the rack’s use. Employers must ensure racks are regularly maintained and that damaged or worn parts are replaced based on what is outlined by the manufacturer.

Racking systems often get overlooked and the structural integrity is taken for granted. Damage may not get reported, and parties inspecting the racks may not have the required competencies to do so. This can be a recipe for disaster, so make sure storage racks get the attention they require. If not, what goes up may come down.

Jeff Thorne is manager of training for Occupational Safety Group.

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