‹ Back to Columns

Storage Rack Safety

Daniel Engling

Storage racking has become a must-have, business-critical fixture for nearly all manufacturing and distribution operations in the U.S. However, despite the considerable contact time between employees and this apparatus, employers often neglect to maintain and protect storage racks as well as they should.

Regulatory References
In the federal OSHA regulations for general industry, there are two main references to storage racking which we can look to when determining the correct approach. The first is found in 1910.176(b) under “Subpart N – Materials Handling and Storage.” This standard lays out the employers’ responsibility to ensure that storage racking does not create a hazard. Simply put, if the use or maintenance of a storage rack poses a safety risk to employees, then the operation is not compliant with this requirement. Helpful, right?  

The second OSHA reference to storage rack safety is found in 1910.159(c)(10) under “Subpart L – Fire Protection.” This standard lays out the minimum distance which racking systems, or anything else in the building, must leave in proximity to fire suppression sprinklers.

These are not exactly comprehensive. It seems like we must look elsewhere in order to get our answer to the question of “what is ‘not creating a hazard?”’  

Load Limits
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has developed the ANSI MH16.1 standard which is dedicated to the design, testing, and use of industrial steel storage racks. This standard includes sections related to loading capacity, design of uprights and beams, column bases, racking, testing, and many others. One of the more exhausting challenges in MH16.1 is the grueling process of calculating rack capacities. For what it’s worth, the standard includes approximately 117 unique variables for use in its numerous formulas. OSHA wants to see the load limit, in pounds, posted on each beam

When racking is in like-new condition and the original manufacturer is known, determination of load capacities seems like it wouldn’t be too challenging. However, consider the following variables: seismic effects, deflection amplification factor, torsional warping constant, lateral force at any level, snow load and wind load (outdoors), drift amplification, critical elastic buckling load…and about 110 others. There are a couple ways to make sure this critical information is computed correctly:

  1. Drop by your local state university and pick up a structural engineering degree.
  2. Hire a professional.

With that out of the way, let’s get into some practical actions us safety professionals can take on our own to help keep our people out of harm’s way.

If your facility utilizes both storage racking and powered industrial trucks (PITs), chances are fairly high that somewhere on the property is an upright support that looks like the hubcaps on a Driver’s Ed car. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, based on estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one out of 10 forklifts will be involved in an injurious accident every year; remember, this is based on reported accidents, not your basic ‘dent and runs.’

According to OSHA’s PIT standard (1910.178), operator training must be refreshed if you have reason to believe that retraining is necessary for an individual. The minimum “reasons to believe”’ include verification that “The operator has received an evaluation that reveals that the operator is not operating the truck safely.”  

Are you the “safety cop” who only witnesses unsafe acts if you are sufficiently hidden to see what the natural habits look like? Consider how you can foster working relationships with supervisors and line personnel. As it turns out, they usually want to go home in one piece as much as you do, but a communicative relationship still takes work.  

MH16.1 states the pertinent portion(s) of any rack shall be isolated from use immediately upon discovery of any visible damage. This isolation is to be maintained until it can be evaluated by a professional. This is a black and white directive for how to deal with damage when it happens. However, the practical implications often raise questions and, at times, misguided answers.  

“What should I do if the rack is loaded when it is damaged? What if a damaged rack has been used without incident for months before the discovery of damage?”  

Don’t get lost in the weeds, the standard instructs us to simply “isolate” the rack. This may be inconvenient, but it points us to the next step.

In many cases, storage rack design and repair professionals may be contacted for immediate dispatch. In fact, some companies have 24-hour hotlines or email monitoring in order to facilitate rapid response. While there are many online calculators for storage rack capacities, it is important to understand that none of them are capable of evaluating your specific instance of damaged racking. Repair kits abound; however, each still require the inspection of a qualified professional at minimum.  

General Conditions
Foundries present certain inherent issues which make them particularly susceptible to increased risk of rack failure. Reasons for this elevated susceptibility include the following tendencies:

  • Large pallet weights: Foundries produce products which apply strain to racks more than most manufacturers.
  • Low visibility/lighting: The low reflection coefficient of surfaces coated in fine, black foundry dust is one of several factors affecting illumination.
  • Dust obscuring rack inspections: Cracks, warping, and impact damage may be obscured by dust.
  • Aged facilities: Most foundries have been in operation longer than the tenure of the most senior employee. Racking weight limits and names of manufacturers have been lost to history since the labels wore off.
  • Vibration of equipment: Mechanical vibration over a long term can deteriorate structural integrity.
  • Bimetallic contamination: The anodic low-alloy steel of structural support members can be corroded quickly when in contact with deposits of alloys and electrolytes.
  • General transportation traffic: Many foundries are configured with outdoor storage racks near shipping bays.

Promptly addressing these concerns is an important step toward safer racking in your facility.

It is helpful to remember the dollars paid for safe, functional equipment and fixtures are always less than the true costs of injury.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the November 2019 issue of Modern Casting.