As winter turns to spring, the change in weather can play havoc on your warehouse.
HSE’s stance on racking inspection frequency is that all warehouses need an “expert” racking inspection, such as a SEMA racking inspection, at least once a year. However, should you have any issues with your racking whatsoever, you should also be sure that it receives an “expert” racking inspection as soon as possible.
That responsibility is outlined in regulation 6 of The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. Here, it is specified that employers should have their “working equipment”, in this case, a racking system, inspected by an expert in the following instances:
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- After an installation
- After an assembly at a new site or location
- At suitable intervals
- Each time that exceptional circumstances which are liable to jeopardise the safety of the work equipment have occurred
Those last two points highlight why a racking inspection in the spring is so important.
The Effect of Seasonal Temperature Changes on Storage Systems
The extreme cold of a large warehouse in the winter can make all metals, even steel, significantly weaker and more brittle. This is unfortunate for racking systems because it is during the winter months when racking systems are most under strain, as businesses try to capitalise on the extra business that Christmas typically brings in.
As a result, after months of enduring cold temperatures and storing excess Christmas stock, most racking systems are already in need of a racking inspection. Then, the warm weather of spring comes and makes things worse. This is because of thermal shock. You’ve likely seen this phenomenon before in reverse, as in from hot to cold, but the principle is the same.
You take a glass out of your dishwasher immediately after the wash has finished. The glass is piping hot, but it’s also a hot day and you want an ice cold drink. So you chuck some ice cubes into the glass, fill the glass up with water from the fridge and what happens?
In many cases, nothing. You enjoy a nice glass of cold water none the wiser. However, in many other cases, the glass can suddenly break due to the thermal shock of going from very hot to very cold. The extremity of the shock depends on the speed of the temperature change, as well as the amount of change in temperature. Not all glasses will smash, but the continued thermal shock has the potential to significantly weaken materials in a way which is invisible to the naked eye.
For this and many other reasons, racking systems are not made of glass. Moreover, the good news is that steel, which most racking systems are made of, is a very strong material. As a result, it is the least affected by thermal shock. That said, it is still affected. Over the course of several years, the thermal shock of British weather can take its toll on a racking system and, as spring approaches, a racking inspection is a vital part of checking for this phenomenon.
What is the Ideal Racking Inspection Frequency?
HSE recommends “expert” racking inspections at least once a year — and the “at least” is vital to understand there. The thermal shock of seasonal temperature change is enough of a reason to increase your racking inspection frequency to at least twice a year: once in spring to check that the wear and tear of Christmas and the thermal shock of spring hasn’t damaged your racking system too much; then once in autumn to check that the thermal shock of the oncoming winter hasn’t damaged your racking in time for another busy Christmas period.
In fact, autumn and winter are particularly important times to check for thermal shock because of the UK’s peculiar and unpredictable weather patterns. In 2016, a freakishly warm “Indian summer” was immediately followed by one of the coldest winters on record.
Of course, depending on your warehouse and the amount you use it, you could consider increasing your racking inspection frequency to four or more times a year. The “at least” from HSE is intentionally vague. As the owner of a warehouse racking system, the CDM regulations mean that you are ultimately responsible for the safety of your system. So, if you’re ever unsure, don’t hesitate to contact us.