Legal Responsibilities Surrounding Damage to Pallet Racks in Canada

Posted on August 1, 2019 - updated on August 31 2023 
Charles Carbonneau, P. Eng.
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Did you know that in Canada, only an engineer who is a member of a professional order has the authority and insurance to establish the load capacity of a structure such as a pallet rack system? Since the collapse of such a structure can have catastrophic consequences, here is a review of the responsibilities of the manager and the owner surrounding damage to pallet racking.

The Role of the Engineer

The load capacity calculation must consider the following loads: gravitational, impact, notional and seismic, and must meet the CAN / CSA S161 (Annex M) Rack Design Standard or its American equivalent, ANSI MH162. These standards were established, taking into account a certain variation in the quality of the steel, the geometry of the components used, as well as the stored loads that the structure will have to support. The parameters applied to these variations give the rack a global safety factor established by checking the threshold of probability that the loads exceed its pallet rack weight capacity.

Pallet Rack Damage

It is often the case that a damaged rack will remain standing even when still fully loaded. Thankfully! However, there is no doubt that the damage will have reduced a portion of the safety factor, and now nobody can say with certainty how much reserve remains for the next impact or a possible earthquake. Several videos on the internet show rows of pallet racks that collapse following what appears to be a small impact between a forklift and one of the columns of a racking system.

"My rack is damaged, but I don't put much load on it... "

The only way to determine the loss of capacity of a component is to perform a destructive test in a lab. Without such a test, engineers cannot establish with certainty the safe pallet rack weight capacity of a damaged component. Besides, when the damage is diverse and recurring on several consecutive upright frames of the same system, no one can establish the actual margin of pallet rack load capacity left on this system. This uncertainty is amplified when one considers the significant seismic forces that can develop during such an event.

The procedure recommended by governing bodies and the CNESST3 in Quebec in dealing with damage is to immediately unload the bay where the damage is located, to forbid loading or access to it and to have the damaged parts replaced or repaired by specialists.

What the Criminal Code says about the obligations and responsibilities of pallet rack owners

Bill C-45 is a federal statute that amended the Criminal Code of Canada. The bill, passed into law on March 31, 2004, imposed new workplace health and safety obligations and provided for significant penalties if these obligations result in bodily injury or death.

Bill C-45, added to section 217.1 of the Criminal Code, reads as follows:

"217.1 Everyone who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task."

The amendment also added Sections 22.1 and 22.2 to the Criminal Code imposing criminal liability on organizations and its representatives for negligence (22.1) and other offenses (22.2)4.

In short, individuals responsible for the work of other employees (e.g., supervisors, managers or owners) must take reasonable measures to prevent bodily harm failing which they expose themselves to negligence and criminal charges in the event of an accident.

Why such changes to the law?

These changes were brought about following the Westray coal mining disaster in Nova Scotia, where several miners died at work in 1992. Despite safety concerns raised by workers, their union and health and safety inspectors before the accident, the authorities failed to secure a conviction against the company or its managers. Recommendations issued by a commission of inquiry later led to Bill C-45 and changes in the Criminal Code. For more details on these changes and the application of this law since 2004, read an overview here.

What you need to remember

Racks are highly efficient and optimized structures that require all components to be free from damage to bear the load placed on them fully.

Damage reduces pallet rack weight capacity, but it's difficult to establish by how much, prompting engineers to recommend certified replacements or repairs to restore the full capacity of the systems. Additionally, the consequences associated with cumulative damage to pallet racking are numerous. In case of an accident, managers who have not taken action to expose themselves to accusations of criminal negligence.

Employers can limit their liability and reduce the risk of being charged under the Criminal Code's provisions by implementing an effective health and safety program.

Damotech's specialists are trained to recognize the damages that affect pallet racking systems and their load capacity. They can identify what needs to be repaired or replaced, and their recommendations are intended to help warehouse managers maintain a safe workplace.

A periodic and annual inspection by a professional is recommended to ensure the integrity of the racking systems and demonstrate the goodwill of managers in providing a safe environment for their employees.


  1. Canadian Standards Association, CAN / CSA S16-14 Design of Steel Structures, 2017, 217p.
  2. ANSI MH16.1-2012 Specification for Design, Testing, and Utilization of Industrial Steel Storage Racks, Rack Manufacturers Institute, an Affiliated Trade Association of Material Handling Industry of America, 2012, 68p.
  3. Pallet Rack Safety - Prevention Guide. Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec, 2009, 2e édition
  4. Westray Bill (Bill C-45)

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Welcome to the world of Damotech, the first and largest rack safety solutions specialist in North America. With its lines of rack protection and repair products, Damotech strives to put an end to the endless cycle of upright replacement by focusing on warehouse safety and the permanent elimination of recurring rack damage. Through our engineering services, we will help create a safer working environment for you and your employees, bringing you true peace of mind while saving you money in the process.