3 Unexpected Pallet Racking Dangers and How to Avoid Them

a worker fallen on a wet floor

If you don’t get your racking inspection frequency right, you could fall victim to some of these lesser-known dangers.

HSE’s stance on racking inspection frequency is that every warehouse should have at least one inspection from an expert, such as a SEMA approved racking inspector, once a year and that regular racking inspections should be performed by “technically competent” staff. HSE outlines this advice its guide to warehouse health and safety, which we recommend that all warehouse owners read in full. Not following this advice, or not fully understanding it, can lead to some racking dangers that you may not have even thought of.

Floor Safety: More Than Slips, Trips, And Falls

When most people think of floor safety, they think of yellow foldaway plastic signs saying “WET FLOOR” and gritted walkways. This kind of floor safety is important and it’s the subject of HSE’s INDG2255 “Preventing Slips and Trips at Work: A Brief Guide”.

However, with regards to storage systems, whether that’s pallet racking or cantilever racking, there are two other major kinds of floor-related danger. Firstly, there are uneven floors. HSE recommends that racking is installed on even flooring. Otherwise, the racking will be unbalanced even when there is no load. Secondly, there are weak floors. We don’t typically think of floors as “weak”, especially those on the ground floor. However, it’s worth finding out what the maximum weight your floors can take is, how you can strengthen them, and where particular weaknesses in your floor might be. Your racking system might be able to handle a certain amount of weight but, if your floor can’t, you’re in a huge amount of danger.

Knowing exactly how and where to install your racking can be difficult for those without proper experience; this is why HSE recommends that it is done by “competent people”. It then recommends installation training from the Storage Equipment Installers Registration Scheme (SEIRS), who are overseen by SEMA. Much like with racking inspection training and racking inspection frequency, HSE has its recommendations, but it is ultimately the warehouse owner’s decision to follow or not follow those recommendations.

In fact, this brings us to an important legal change that occurred with regards to HSE in 2015. It highlights yet another racking danger that the average employer might not be aware of.

“Technically competent” and The 2015 CDM Regulations

“Competent” is a word HSE likes to use a lot in its guide to warehouse safety, and it’s a word which is intentionally vague. This because, since the introduction of the updated CDM regulations in 2015, it is ultimately the warehouse owner’s responsibility (the “client”) to maintain safety in their warehouse. In other words, a “competent” person is whoever a warehouse owner thinks a competent person is.

That said, HSE has its recommendations and, if the worst should happen and a warehouse owner was found flouting these recommendations, then that warehouse owner (that “client”) could be held legally responsible.

This change replaces HSE’s old system of enforcing its recommendations with inspectors. Moreover, according to Tony Mitchell from HSE, the previous system allowed anyone with a card to call themselves an “expert” or “technically competent” and, by the time the regulations were introduced, there were over 300 of these “card schemes”.

Nowadays, there is no enforcement and there are no cards. There are only HSE’s recommendations and the people who a client believes are “technically competent” or an “expert”. If an accident or a fatality happens and the recommendations weren’t followed, then there would be legal action. What is more, the client responsible for the accident would be expected to defend the “technically competent” people or “experts” who worked in their warehouse.

This change can be difficult to understand because it doesn’t change any of HSE’s advice. In fact, upon learning about the new CDM regulations, most employers will continue to act in the same way. However, the unexpected danger that this brings with it is that a warehouse owner may have a very lax definition of “expert” or “technically competent”.

For this reason, we recommend following HSE’s advice as closely as possible. For example, HSE recommends internal racking inspections by a “technically competent” person. For this, consider racking inspection training from a SEMA approved racking inspector — an inspector which HSE labels an “expert” — in order to give your staff the technical competence they need.

Racking Inspection Frequency and Bad Lighting

Bad lighting is a much bigger problem for workplaces than most realise. Badly placed lighting fixtures can be troublesome for racking systems in particular for two reasons.

  1. They could be physically blocking the racking
  2. They do not light the racking system well enough

Avoiding the former danger is simply a matter of moving the lighting far enough away from the racking system or installing the racking system so that this is not an issue. Avoiding the latter danger can be slightly more difficult.

The correct racking inspection frequency for internal, staff-permed racking inspections is up to the warehouse owner. However, with bad lighting, it won’t matter how high this racking inspection frequency is. An expert racking inspector, such as a SEMA approved racking inspector, knows exactly what to look for and where to find it. However, your staff will not be experienced enough to know if your racking is damaged under bad lighting — no matter how many times they inspect it.

To make your warehouse safer, you need to make sure that every part of your warehouse is well lit. This can be difficult and, as objects move around the warehouse and light bulbs fade, it changes. Still, as with all safety precautions, keeping your warehouse well-lit is a constant process.

Make sure that your warehouse avoids these unexpected dangers with a racking inspection by a SEMA approved inspector from SEE.

Don’t Stay Silent about Warehouse and Racking Safety!

warehouse and racking safety at Storage Equipment Experts

Warehouse and racking safety requires carefulness, regular rack inspections, and workers who are free to speak up about potential problems.

Warehouse and racking safety is not a dogma; it is a dialogue between employees, employers, customers, safety experts, and the government. Everyone should have a say in how our warehouses can be made safer because warehouse and racking safety affects everyone.

However, while this is something which we at Storage Equipment Experts believe in, it is evidently not an idea shared by everyone. Workers at a supermarket distribution company were recently fired because they raised concerns over health and safety. Silencing whistleblowers does not help to make warehouses safer. The fear that employees are not allowed to talk about warehouse or racking safety leads to a culture of danger and worker exploitation.

The recent trial over the conditions at Sports Directs’ main distribution warehouse shows what happens when employees are not free to express their concerns over safety. Workers were pushed to the limit in extremely unsafe conditions and, as a result, the centre was forced to make 83 ambulance calls over the course of two years.

The Law Requires Safety Inspections: Warehouse Racking Inspections, Forklift Inspections, and Many Other Safety Inspections

Employers are legally obliged to ensure that their warehouse is being operated in accordance with HSE standards. These regulations are in place because they save lives and they should not be ignored. Employees should be encouraged — not punished — for raising health and safety issues, especially when those issues concern the law.

With regards to warehouse and racking safety, employers are legally required to make sure their racking is inspected by a safety expert — a SEMA approved rack inspector — at least once a year. Should an employee notice a problem, they should mention this to their employer. In fact, HSE encourages employers to conduct rack safety inspections of their own on a regular basis.

Employers should not be quiet about warehouse and racking safety. Rather it is both a legal requirement — and good business — to make sure that they are actively involved in a frank and open discussion about warehouse and racking safety. This is why we provide racking inspection training from a SEMA approved inspector.

Safe, Smart, and Confident Employees are Better for Business

Businesses with employees who are educated on safety issues are better for several reasons. For a start, safety training of any kind helps to motivate employees as they feel more invested in and a bigger part of the team. Both warehouse racking inspection training for small businesses and warehouse racking inspection training for big businesses have the psychological benefits that come from spending money on human capital. However, the other reason safer and smarter employees are better for business is cold hard cash.

Rack Safety Inspections Now Mean Bigger Profits Later

OSHA calculate that businesses who spend more on safety save money in the long run. Specifically, for every dollar a business spends on safety, they can save up to six dollars. This makes perfect sense. Rack safety inspections are a small expense, but the potential returns on this investment are huge.

After failing to adhere to warehouse safety standards, the international beer-giant Anheuser-Busch had to pay a jaw-dropping $162,000 fine. A racking safety inspection from a racking inspection expert could have saved them from this monetary cost, and sometimes the costs of not paying for a warehouse safety inspection are much worse than a fine. Casualties and — in some tragic cases — fatalities are the very real result of failing to invest in racking safety.

Businesses and their staff have no reason to stay silent about warehouse and racking safety. The warehousing, logistics, and supply chain industry works better for everyone when everyone is free to talk about safety in a frank and informed way.

Don’t be silent and don’t ignore racking safety! Contact Storage Equipment Experts for a quote on your next warehouse racking inspection.

Racking Inspection Training at Hayden’s Bakery in Wiltshire

Image of Racking Inspection Training Course

Last week we held a one day Racking Inspection Training course at the Hayden’s Bakery premises in Wiltshire. A total of 5 delegates joined the course which included forklift drivers, a warehouse manager and Health & Safety Manager. We always recommend holding this type of course at your premises as this ensures that our instructors make the course content relevant to your warehouse and they can carry out a ‘mini’ racking inspection of the racking at your site which gives delegates practical information on how to complete their own future inspections.

Here is what Mr Martin Vellenoweth (the Health & Safety Manager at Hayden’s Bakery) had to say:
We found the Racking Inspection Training course met our requirements perfectly.
Overall it was very well received, delivered at the right pace and had just the right content.
On completion the guys now have confidence, knowledge and competence to carry out thorough their own internal racking inspections.
Judgements can be made following SEMA guidelines/tolerances to ensure the integrity of the racking and the safety of the people without waiting for a whole year for the next SEMA racking inspection.

The Racking Inspection Training course provides essential knowledge for warehouse personnel responsible for the safety of the Pallet Racking systems. We provide information and instructions on how to carry out a pallet racking inspection – How to measure and categorise any damage to the pallet racking – we discuss the need for rack safety inspections and the related legislation and guidance provide by the Health & Safety Executive & how to conduct a risk assessment of the storage equipment in your workplace in order to decide the frequency and type of racking inspections suitable.

SEMA Technical Bulletin No. 3

Rack Protection – Maximise Racking Safety

Minimising the possibility of damage to pallet racking is one of the most important challenges facing the storage industry and SEMA are very active in promoting the safe use of storage equipment.

One of the most relevant documents for the safe use of pallet racking is the ‘SEMA Code of Practice for the Use of Static Pallet Racking SEMA 2010.’ A complimentary copy of this code is available from SEMA for all End Users.

The SEMA Users Code has various requirements which will minimise damage including:-

  • Person responsible for racking safety
  • The User should nominate a competent person to be responsible for racking safety (PRRS).
  • The PRRS is responsible for ensuring that the racking is used, inspected and maintained in accordance with the appropriate regulations and guidelines.

Operator Training To Reduce Racking Damage and Accidents

The User shall ensure that the operators are trained in the appropriate use and limitations of the storage equipment. It is the responsibility of the User to maintain the racking in reasonable condition. Comprehensive and effective driver training will minimise the possibility of any accidents.

Rack protection

End frame protectors are recommended, in truck operated racking, for all end frames between a gangway and an aisle and also for all end frames between a bridge bay and an aisle. Other racking protection requirements should be considered as identified by the risk assessment. The User should be aware of the implications of retrofitting protection devices which reduce operating clearances and can, in some circumstances, lead to an increase in the amount of damage.

Inspection requirements

Regular inspection of the pallet racking is required. The inspection should follow a hierarchical approach using 3 levels of inspection as follows:-

1. Damage inspection by warehouse operatives
2. Weekly inspections as a visual check from ground level
3. Annual or bi-annual inspection by a ‘technically competent’ person


Any damaged component, noted during inspection as requiring repair or replacement, should be taken out of use in accordance with SEMA guidelines and repaired or replaced by suitably trained personnel as required.

Typical racking protection requirements are shown in Figures 1 and 2.

Racking Inspections

Figure 1. Plan view of racking showing typical protection requirements

Racking Inspections

Figure 2. Elevation of racking showing typical protection requirements at a bridge bay

Another important document regarding the safe use of pallet racking is the HSE document ‘HSG 76, Warehousing and storage. A guide to health and safety.’ This can be downloaded free from the HSE website.

The HSE document has various requirements which will minimise damage including the following paragraphs on rack protection:-

Racking Protection Important In Reducing Risk

639 Where racking is likely to be struck by lift trucks and other vehicles, it should be protected. Generally, such damage is at the lower levels of the racking – use renewable column guards to minimise the risk of damage from accidental impact. Corner uprights in a run of racking are especially at risk and should be suitably provided with a protective device in a conspicuous colour.

640 Retrofitting upright protection devices to an existing aisle where they have never been provided can have the effect of reducing the available clearances for fork-lift truck manoeuvres, which can in some circumstances increase the amount of damage caused. Such situations need consideration on a case-by-case basis.

Unfortunately clause 639 is being interpreted that all racking uprights are likely to be hit and should therefore be protected by rack protectors and even that it’s the Law in the UK. This is not the correct interpretation of this clause.

Rack protectors should be regarded as a ‘last resort’ means of avoiding damage and other methods of damage prevention should be considered before taking the decision to use rack protectors.
The protection of racking is not just dependant on physical rack protectors, but relies on a number of items including:-

1. The specification
2. The installation
3. The defined responsibilities of the person responsible for racking safety
4. The training of the operatives
5. The inspection procedure
6. The maintenance procedure

Items to be considered should include:-

1. The type of damage to be protected against
2. Whether other methods of protection are more appropriate
3. The type of protector required
4. Whether the protector will reduce clearances, potentially leading to more damage
5. Whether the protector may hide potentially serious damage
6. Whether the protector may lead to less reporting of damage
7. Whether the protector may result in operatives using the protector as a buffer

The use of rack protectors should be carefully considered to ensure that it is appropriate and is not just a quick fix which may lead to further safety issues.

SEMA August 2012