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Warehouse Safety

A distributor’s opportunity

Unfortunately, warehouse safety often ranks at the bottom of many businesses’ concerns. Distribution center owners are concerned about protecting their inventory, but they don’t realize the impact of warehouse safety on their bottom line. Something as simple as a damaged rack can prove very costly.

Choosing the correct racking system and focusing on warehouse safety are opportunities that exist to help grow their business as well as yours. This is especially true when accounting for today’s industry standards, which far exceed those of 10 to 20 years ago.

Bear in mind that the warehouse represents the pulse of your client’s operations and often reflects on the state of their business. Warehouse employees have frequently cited warehouse conditions as a determining factor on their morale and productivity. Ensuring upkeep of the racking system and focusing on warehouse safety will help their business grow in a healthy manner, creating a win/win situation for both you and your client.

Common Misconceptions
The first step to increase safety within your client’s warehouse is teaching them to pay particular attention to the load capacity of the racks and to the lasting effects of damage. Below are some common client misconceptions about damaged upright racks. These mindsets cannot become viable long-term action plans. Temporary solutions significantly increase risk and decrease safety. Make sure your clients understand the inherent risks of each of these statements.

  • “We expect to spend money on frequent repairs and replacements to fix damaged upright racks.” This obviously should not be the case.
  • “A temporary fix can be provided by using the forklift to straighten back the rack.” Actually, this approach weakens the structure and causes long-term damage to the racks.
  • “Damage to our racks is minimal or non-existent, so no action needs to be taken.” This perception increases the potential for a crash or simply makes the client more willing to take a chance.

Develop a Proactive Approach
According to MHIA, the North American racking industry in 2008 is worth around $1.3 billion, certainly an investment worth protecting. The economic pressure to shorten lead times and increase inventory turnover has resulted in a much higher density of lift trucks in warehouses. Companies must be aware of the liability arising from injuries caused by faulty or collapsed rack.

By doing your part to help your client be aware of these dangers and pay attention to warehouse safety, you will make a significant impact on their bottom line. Specifically, the practices that they should adopt must meet the following criteria:

  • Protect their original investment
  • Control or avoid insurance claims (liability, equipment and merchandise)
  • Increase and maintain the safety of people
  • Stop the cycle of continuous repair and replacement.

To verify whether your solution meets the criteria, it is important to understand racking operations and maintenance, invest the time to educate yourself and be aware of the major risks of not taking action.

Racking Operations and Maintenance
Be familiar with the functionality and capabilities of their racking system; understand the way it works and the way it reacts to misuse. Instead of just installing the racks, offer your client the proper training to achieve optimum usage and safety. Inspections and maintenance are needed on a regular basis. Set up processes and procedures to monitor the upkeep of the racks, as well as the general upkeep of the warehouse. Involve your client’s employees in the process, so everyone will take an active role and become accountable for the condition of the warehouse. These procedures will only take 10 to 15 minutes per day, but they will have a significant impact on the health and morale of warehouse employees. For example, three main key elements can be verified daily:

  1. Vertical alignment and proper anchoring of upright racks
  2. Beam connection with the safety devices and load versus beam capacity and
  3. Proper positioning and condition of the merchandise.

Educate Yourself
Pallet racking systems are made from two different types of steel: cold roll form steel and structural steel. Structural steel is mostly used for refrigerated and freezer environments and can be found in high-rise warehouse type buildings. Due to the stability and the toughness of the steel, it can also withstand higher impact abuse.

There are five main groups of racking systems on the market: pushback; pallet flow; drive-in, drive-through; conventional racking; and narrow aisle. Analyze and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the various alternatives. Organizations devoted to developing safe procedures in the workplace include Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in the United States, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) and Quebec’s La Commission de la SantÇ et de la SÇcuritÇ du Travail (CSST). Consider these organizations your allies. Develop a relationship with them and utilize the tools they offer to develop preventive practices within your client’s warehouse.

The Risks of Not Taking Action
Be aware of the significant risks and dangers created by not taking action. The collapse of a racking system can result in insurance claims, liabilities, loss of productivity or, worse yet, the loss of human lives. It can also cause significant delays in operations or a halt in production, which can be disastrous to any business. Public reports on the Web sites mentioned above illustrate evidence that these collapses happen every day, to businesses in all markets.

Many business owners fail to inform insurance companies of potential claims. They would rather hide claims or make silent payments to injured parties, thereby denying that a problem exists and perpetuating potential claims and liabilities. Are your clients willing to take chances, or will they be proactive and develop an action plan to safeguard their workers and the public environment?

Whether they choose to replace their racking system, repair and/or reinforce the racks, or maintain the status quo, the actions taken should meet the needs and the goals that your clients have set for their businesses. An effective warehouse safety action plan should be proactive and help maintain the overall daily condition of the warehouse. It should be a long-term solution that protects their original investment, without requiring frequent repair or replacement. It should always be based on proper business ethics and should work towards limiting liability and insurance claims. Most importantly, their racking system and warehouse practices should safeguard the health of their employees and the public environment.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Dany Dion

Meet the Author

Dany Dion is president of Damotech Inc., located in Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada, and on the Web at www.damotech.com.

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