It is a warehouse manager and worker’s worst nightmare: a sudden and harrowing collapse of a racking system. One might expect that what triggers a rack collapse is the pressure of a single blow to the rack by a pallet being loaded hastily or a single crash by a forklift truck. However, as you will find below, these events occur for many unfortunate and sometimes surprising reasons.
There are of course inevitable rack collapses due to external forces like the 2021 Illinois Amazon warehouse collapse due to a raging EF-3 tornado. But in this article, we will take a closer look at some catastrophic racking collapses and warehouse fails from around the world that could have been prevented. We will then draw some key lessons from each one, as they all present an eye-opening learning opportunity in pallet rack safety.
What are the main causes of rack collapses?
- Structural rack damage accumulated over time
- Direct impact from forklifts due to error or inadequate aisle width
- Overloading or improper use of racking systems
- Modifying rack configuration without expert assessment
- Inadequate rack design for the type of use
- Rack deterioration due to environment (rust, chemicals, ...)
- Improper repair, replacement, or maintenance
Learn more on the leading causes of unsafe racks. Here are our top 6 racking collapse videos with key observations from professionals and associated safety lessons.
1. Rack Safety and Regular Inspections
Rack Collapse Video Observation:
In this rack collapse video, we can see that the forklift driver is struggling because he is moving forward and backward several times, trying to retrieve the pallet. What appears to be a low-velocity impact propagates into a disastrous system collapse before our eyes.
Key Safety Lessons:
Training warehouse workforce on forklift truck driving, as well as on rack safety is one of the best investments a company can make to minimize unnecessary risk. Learning the proper course of action to take when racking safety issues occur can sometimes make the difference between life and death -or at least, between a healthy rack and a racking collapse. Pallet racking systems must also be properly used and maintained so that the maximum permissible load is not exceeded. Load capacity refers to the maximum load that may be placed on a given racking system. How is one supposed to know the max load a rack can hold? This is where the LARCs come in handy. LARCs (Load Application and Rack Configuration drawings) establish the load capacity of pallet racking. Knowing and displaying your pallet rack load capacity in the form of visible labels is critical to the safe operation of your warehouse. And finally, protecting racking in high traffic areas is also recommended as these heavy-duty steel protection devices offer high-impact resistance and extend the life of your racking.
2. Adequate Forklift Operator Training
What Can Be Observed in this racking collapse:
The forklift driver makes a bad call when he attempts to squeeze through a tight passage with the wide load he is transporting. He bumps into a front column of the rack, causing a dangerous collapse.
Key Rack Safety Lessons:
Ensuring that all forklift operators have gone through formal training (and subsequent “refresher” training) is key in accident prevention. OSHA requires both education and certification (requiring an in-person component) before you can safely operate a forklift. If companies implemented stricter training policies, OSHA estimates that about 70% of forklift accidents in the U.S. could be prevented. The forklift truck driver in this video could have been more cautious with the task at hand. He could have stopped and made sure his path was cleared before passing. Adding pallet racking system protection products such as guards and end guards also helps to protect the rack upright columns and pathways from forklift impact. These are cost-efficient and simple rack safety solutions that help prevent cumulative rack damage which in turn, may potentially prevent a rack collapse such as this one.
3. Being Conscious of the Consequences of Every Decision
Warehouse Collapse Video Observation:
A forklift truck driver can be seen coming down the warehouse aisle and trying to maneuver around a few pallets. Although we cannot see a significant impact on the racks, a shocking domino effect of racking collapse ensues.
Key Warehouse Safety Lessons:
Sometimes, no matter how much technical training one gets or how many years of experience one has under their belt, things can still go wrong. A human error exists as it is impossible for anyone to be perfect – even in the warehouse environment. As a warehouse manager, you cannot control your workers’ every move. However, by training your employees on how to be more conscious of the consequences of their actions, you can help them make better choices. As we see in this rack collapse video, a split-second bad decision had a huge impact. If this forklift driver had been more self-aware and had taken the time to reflect on the possible impact of his decision to drive through the narrow passageway, he may have thought twice about it. He may have asked the other workers to move the pallets that were obstructing the aisle, possibly avoiding the collapse entirely.
Although unrelated to the cause of this collapse in particular, aisle width is something that should also be carefully considered in a warehouse. It should be larger than any type of load that will be carried by the forklift truck. Aisle width is determined either by calculation or by referring to the forklift manufacturer’s recommendations. Traffic patterns must also be devised and communicated with warehouse workers, especially forklift truck drivers.
4. Racking Behavior in Seismic Zones
Warehouse Collapse Video Observation:
During an earthquake, a portion of the racking fails to hold the products. The warehouse worker who is seen at the top of the screen makes a desperate run to exit the warehouse.
Key Security Lessons:
While seismic activity is not one of the leading causes of pallet rack collapse, purchasing and installing racks that are designed to withstand seismic shock is vital. Warehouses in moderate to high seismic zones should be more rigorously inspected for damage and/or defects. The rack loads must always respect the LARCs (Load Application and Rack Configuration drawings). When damage is spotted, the decision to either replace or repair the damaged rack components should be made swiftly as the repercussions of disregarding such damage can have devastating consequences.
5. Proper Attachment of Pallet Rack Beams
Warehouse Racking Collapse Observation:
A man in a warehouse-type retailer is shopping when suddenly products fall from the shelves. What is unique about this collapse is that it is isolated, as only the contents of one cell plunge to the floor. This tells us that a beam is likely unclipped.
Key Racking Safety Lessons:
During rack inspection, one must ensure that beams are properly attached, and the presence of adequate safety pins must be observed. Safety pins help prevent beams from accidentally dislodging during normal loading and unloading tasks. It is likely that the beam in this video was only partially detached, but then given the weight of the product load, it finally gave way. If these steel storage shelves were regularly inspected, perhaps this incident could have been prevented.
It is also very good practice to use additional rack protection products such as safety bars and rack decking, that can help further support the load on your racking. Safety bars are installed between beams and can prevent misplaced pallets from falling through or prevent beams from spreading apart. Rack decking is a safety device that sits on top of two beams in a cell and provides small packages from falling through. It can be used in conjunction with safety bars.
A third option is adding safety netting that can be easily installed on the racking frames. It provides an effective barrier for keeping loose items or smaller-sized items from falling into a workspace or aisle way, protecting anyone walking by storage racks, and offering product fall protection.
6. Damaged Upright Resulting in Sudden Failure
Rack Collapse Video Observation:
In this video, as two people are walking through the warehouse, they notice that one rack’s column is leaning towards them. Suddenly, the top part of the rack moves slightly forward, and a pallet falls on the floor, spilling the goods it contained at the very place where the two people stood a few seconds earlier. This subtle but abrupt failure shows the importance of making sure the column is always in good condition.
Key Lessons for Warehouse Safety:
When the columns are not kept in good condition, damage that may be perceived as mild can lead to severe consequences. Damage on the front or sides of the column can cause the column to deform, which can lead to a loss of structural integrity, followed by failure. It is also important that the horizontal and diagonal braces are kept intact and support the structural load of the frame and the products stored. Severe deformation or even detachment of the braces from the upright can reduce the rack’s load capacity.
This could create an imbalance of load and overexert the upright beyond its weight-bearing capacity. The consequence of this situation could lead to column damage and then rack collapse, if not addressed in a timely manner. The baseplate must also be attached to the rack, fully in contact with the floor, and anchored. The collapse in the video above might have been avoided with better safety practices. With regular inspection, the upright column condition would have been monitored, and this incident could have been prevented.
Support from Rack Safety Professionals
The warehouse collapse videos viewed above show the importance of racking quality, their engineering, and their proper fit depending on use and location. Regular inspections are necessary to maintain rack integrity. Most experts and governing bodies agree to recommend monthly pallet rack inspections done by warehouse personnel, and yearly independent inspections performed by third-party rack experts or engineers. An engineer will look beyond the superficial dents and cracks and give you an in-depth assessment of your racking health. Working with a knowledgeable rack safety solutions provider can help avoid these types of devastating warehouse rack collapses.
Invest in rack repair and protection products that are right for your needs and installed properly. Your first line of defense against damage is the use of rack upright guards. Guards are an efficient way of protecting the lower portion of rack uprights, where over 85% of damage occurs. When damage is detected, rack repair kits are available to fix rack columns and braces, without requiring to unload and replace the entire upright. When compared to upright replacement, pallet rack repair is the most convenient and cost-effective solution for rack damage.
Damotech’s specially designed rack repair and protection products offer a cost-effective and durable solution to pallet racking system damage. They also come with a lifetime warranty against impact. This means that once installed, if your unit were to get significantly damaged, we would simply replace it, no questions asked. Our experienced engineers offer services including rack inspections, load capacity calculations, and more. Investing in the safety and proper maintenance of your racking is the best way to prevent the above warehouse fails from occurring. If your company is not making rack safety a top priority, talk to an expert today to find out how we can help support you in your rack safety journey -and avoid rack collapses!
Photo source: www.dailymail.co.uk
Rack Damage Video
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Quiz: How Safe Is Your Warehouse?
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