Rack Safety

Warehouse accidents involving racking systems are normally kept under wraps in the Middle East. However, logistics managers must become proactive in reducing risks.

  • E-Mail
By  Robeel Haq Published  April 4, 2006

Rack Safety|~|rack_safety2.jpg|~||~|The diverse range of activities being handled in warehouses across the Middle East is constantly increasing. Additional tasks such as packaging and labelling are now taking place alongside traditional distribution activities, leading to growing numbers of warehouse hazards. This has resulted in logistics managers re-assessing their health and safety policies to ensure potential mishaps are kept under control. Accidents caused by faulty or damaged racking are normally kept under wraps in the Middle East, which means official figures on the number of incidents are currently unavailable. However, despite the secrecy, these accidents are a reality throughout the region and should not be ignored. “Companies tend to keep warehouse accidents outside the public domain,” says Geoff Wheatley, regional director, SSI Schaefer. “Accidents involving racking certainly occur in the Middle East but these incidents rarely hit the headlines because companies fear damaging their reputations by releasing the information.” The financial impact and potential fatalities resulting from racking accidents are considerable. A collapsed racking system could result in property damage, ruined products, personal injury and even death. However, a handful of simple preventative measures can effectively reduce the risks. “Companies always benefit from being proactive rather than reactive to avoid any possible warehouse accidents,” says Walid Tamari, UAE sales manager, Emirates Specialities Company. “Although logistics managers can never guarantee an accident-free warehouse, it’s important to take measures towards reducing the numbers of accidents. This is not necessarily a daunting task and can be easily achieved.” Manufacturers of warehouse racking should follow international standards, which are implemented to protect customers. These standards, created by the likes of the Storage Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (SEMA), the Rack Manufacturers Institute (RMI) and the Federation Europeenne de la Manutention (FEM), are there to ensure manufacturers abide by stringent safety procedures. All suppliers of warehouse racking systems should have structural data that backs up their designs and conforms to industry standards. “These standards are designed to protect the safety of the operators within the warehouse environment,” says Wheatley. “There are certainly risks involved in using non-certified racking. Therefore, it’s important for the customer to ask whether the racking has the latest certification. This gives them peace of mind about the quality of the racking in the warehouse.” Although higher quality racking is more expensive in the short term, the return on investment should be better than lower quality alternatives. However tight warehouse budgets can make cheaper options more attractive for companies in the Middle East. “Pricing is the most important decision criteria for the majority of companies purchasing racking systems,” says Tarek Saoud, director, SPAN SCS. “Unfortunately this means poor engineering or low quality shelving is widely available and demand exists for such systems. However, purchasing quality racking that meets recognised international standards is certainly important in the long term.” Purchasing quality racking is certainly an important first step in ensuring warehouse safety. However, companies should also conduct regular inspections of the racking systems, which is a commonly neglected activity in the Middle East. “It’s important that once the racking is installed in the warehouse, customers must take precautions to ensure damage does not occur,” says Wheatley. “Regular inspections allow the logistics manager to keep track of damage and take preventative action.” Logistics managers should replace or repair damaged racking as soon as possible. Ignoring damaged racking is not only reckless, but it also sends out the wrong signals, because disregarded damage tends to promote further racking damage in the warehouse. There are various causes of damage to warehouse racking systems, which are often highlighted during inspections. Overloading is a prime example. Racking is designed to support specific load weights, which are outlined during the purchasing process. Therefore, when selecting the system, companies must choose something with adequate strength and stability, based on the weight of the loads being placed on the racking. The entire system could collapse as a result of companies using the racking in a manner other than originally configured. “The racking systems found in warehouses are carefully analysed during the design process to meet the requirements stated by the customer,” says Saoud. “This means the suitability is subject to certain specifications. For example, the loads being carried by the racking will contribute either positively or negatively to the system’s structural integrity. If overloading occurs, it can result in accidents.” The load limits of the entire racking system, as well as each shelf, should be clearly stated on the racking system to ensure warehouse staff is aware of maximum load sizes. This information should ideally be placed once or more in conspicuous locations, such as at the end of all aisles. Racking systems are generally produced using lightweight material, which limits their ability to withstand large amounts of wear-and-tear. If the forklifts in the warehouse happen to crash into a racking system, for example, the resulting dents can affect the load-carrying ability of the racks and create a dangerous working environment for employees. “The racking systems can receive structural damage following a harsh blow,” says Tamari. “Although incidental scrapes are normally quite harmless, anything more serious, like a dent resulting from a forklift collision, means the damaged component will probably need replacing.” This highlights the importance of careful forklift truck driving within the warehouse. The skill of these drivers has a great bearing on the amount of damage likely to be caused. If the operators are reckless whilst handling vehicles, the chances of mishaps occurring are much higher. “Damage can be avoided if the company hires good quality forklift truck drivers,” says Wheatley. “If the company notices damage whilst inspecting the racking systems, it must research the cause and discuss the situation with the responsible forklift truck driver. If the damage continues, the company must decide whether to provide some form of training or whether to take action against the driver, such as issuing warnings.” There are various different types of forklifts available in the market, each suitable for different tasks. It is very important that warehouse operators use the forklift most suitable for the individual task. Using an inappropriate forklift can also cause damage to the racking. “Sometimes companies are not educated enough in using the right forklifts,” says Tamari. “A reach truck is different to a counter balance forklift. They perform different functions. So if a driver is using the wrong forklift and pushing up instead of pushing down, it can cause the racking to collapse.” In addition to efficiently driving the right forklift, companies can also purchase optional tools such as steel or plastic protection systems to help prevent damage. Impact damage is most likely to occur at the base of any frame, even more so in the case of the end frames. The protectors are placed over the front face of a rack upright and even if serious damage occurs, the protector is replaced rather than any component of the racking system, which is a cheaper option. Purchasing quality racking and conducting regular inspections will bring long-term benefits to companies. Although the safety aspect of warehouse racking is somewhat neglected, the situation is showing signs of improvement. Local authorities and companies are becoming more proactive about reducing the risk of accidents. “The situation is expected to improve in the future,” concludes Wheatley. “Jafza is very proactive regarding warehouse safety and conducts regular inspections. Also, more international players are entering the market and these companies normally have their own inhouse guidelines regarding health and safety. Companies such as GAC, RHS and Transworld are very safety conscious in the warehouse environment and regularly train employees.” Of course, no matter how well storage systems are designed and forklift truck drivers trained, damage to warehouse racking systems is inevitable. Luckily, reducing the risk of mishaps and accidents is relatively simple, saving money in the long term and ensuring the safety of your warehouse staff. ||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code