Adopting a safety-focused mindset is an excellent start to addressing rack safety in your warehouse. But with so many products available on the market, knowing which safety devices to use poses a challenge. Choosing the wrong component could make things worse than using no protection at all. By the end of this article, you will hopefully have a better understanding of the products available to make your warehouse and racks safer.
What to Protect?
A warehouse can be a very active space. Workers and forklifts are busy loading and unloading material in the racks. A pallet of goods can quickly move through the facility and be gone the next day. Because of these dynamics and the inherent risks of warehousing activities, it's wise to outfit areas prone to damage with safety devices. In its most basic functions, a warehouse or distribution center receives merchandise, stores it on racking systems, and eventually uses it internally or ships it out again. There are three main things to protect: the people, the stored goods and the building assets, which includes of course the storage systems and the building itself. We can, therefore, split protection devices into these categories.
"To increase the safety of your warehouse, protect people, products and storage systems."
Protection for People and Products in Your Warehouse
Building Column Protectors
These warehouse column protectors are intended to safeguard the structural columns that support the building’s roof. They come in a variety of materials and shapes. The strap-and-ratchet systems are made of plastic, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) or vinyl. They wrap around the columns to absorb shock from material handling equipment. The heavy-duty steel products, round or square, act as a solid barrier against lift trucks' high impacts.
These devices are installed between beams, two per pallet. They can be used with or without decking and are easily installed by either being bolted or clipped-in on the beams to prevent them from sliding along the span of a bay. They prevent misplaced pallets from falling through or prevent beams from spreading apart, especially for structural beams.
As the name suggests, these safety devices sit atop the two beams in a cell, provide a surface deck and prevent smaller packages from falling through. They are often recommended on the first level of a tunnel bay. Rack decking can be used in conjunction with safety bars, most of the time being of the welded-wire decking variety. Other common types are made of bent sheet metal or corrugated steel with holes punched out of it to meet the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) 50% minimum exposed area for water flow in case of a fire.
Vertical warehouse containment netting or pallet rack netting provides an effective barrier for keeping loose items or cartons from falling into a workspace or aisle way, protecting anyone walking by storage racks and offering product fall protection. It can be made from various materials like fabric, plastic, or wire mesh, and can also be fire retardant. Safety netting can be easily installed to the racking frames. They are a smart investment, especially in warehouses that deal with small packages or loose palletized material.
Wire Mesh Backers
These are essentially a more sturdy version of safety netting, made out of steel, with an encompassing frame made from L-channel or flat bar steel, with brackets to attach it to the racking system frames by means of a bolted connection.
For fire safety, it is important to maintain an empty space between back-to-back rack systems. Flue spaces are openings within the pallet rack structure that allow vertical lines of sight stemming from the floor up to the ceiling. An open flue space provides for heat and smoke to rise in the event of a fire. If fire suppression sprinklers are triggered, the open flue space also allows for the water to penetrate the multiple levels of stored product to extinguish the fire at its source. A blocked flue space directs the fire horizontally allowing it to increase in size and intensity, increasing damage and loss. Flue protection devices, or pallet stoppers, are products that limit pallet movement within a cell so that the open area around it can be safely respected. The International Building Code (IBC2012) requires 6” of longitudinal open flue space and 3-4” of transverse clearance between merchandise and pallet rack uprights. Pallet stoppers come in all shapes and sizes, your selection goal being to choose a style that leaves the most open flue space.
Protection for Racking System Structures
Rack Upright Guards
This safety device protects a pallet rack system's upright column by shielding it with steel, plastic, or elastomer-rubber. They take on various shapes and sizes, as some are fastened to the ground at a short distance from the column, while others are directly installed on the column for added rigidity. Material selection and anchoring will dictate the energy absorption rate. A plastic or elastomer column guard will more gradually absorb energy and eventually cause column deformation. These styles tend not to be bolted to the ground. They also occupy more space as material thickness is required for energy absorption. Steel guards have more immediate energy absorption as they tend to be anchored and made of thick steel. Those with a low-profile and fitted form are appreciated by those who do not want guarding solutions to protrude into the aisles.
End of Aisle Protection
This is a protection device installed at the end of a rack aisle. It prevents impacts on the part of the system prone to damage from forklifts, especially on the corners. They are generally placed at the base of the rack and measure roughly 12-24" in height. More heavy-duty guardrails or fences can also be used in critical areas with high forklift traffic. These are made of different materials, chiefly plastic or steel; however, both styles are anchored to the ground at a short distance from the upright frame.
These protection devices, much like those you see on highways, act as fences or bumpers to protect machinery, walkways, in-plant offices, personnel, inventory and equipment from damage or injury. In many cases, these can be seen delimiting areas of racking or travel lanes to separate forklifts from foot traffic. They are made of steel, plastic or rubber for absorbing impact.
Contrary to guard rails, guide rails are used near or within the rack aisles at floor level, to help "guide" forklifts down an aisle in selective racking systems. They are commonly used for drive-in and drive-through applications where forklifts move into the rack, where a slight misalignment could cause severe damage to the structure.
Just like guard rails, bollards are also static structures, used to protect racking systems, office spaces, or building walls near loading areas, both in and outdoors. They usually take the shape of a cylinder and are roughly 3 to 4 feet in height. Bollards can also be made of steel or plastic, and sold hollow, or installed and filled with concrete for added stopping power. They are bolted directly to the ground.
Now that you have a better idea of the types of safety protection devices at your disposal, it may still be a little overwhelming to process all this information and know how to move forward in making your warehouse a safer environment. Simply remembering that in warehouse you need to protect three main things: the merchandise, your building (including rack structures), and most importantly, your employees – is a great start. Partnering with a knowledgeable rack safety solutions provider is strongly suggested as they will offer their guidance to help you along the way. Damotech’s large scope of expertise in everything on rack safety can assist in isolating issues and help prevent recurrence. We also manufacture a variety of protection and repair products, which have been stress-tested to meet demands, helping to make your choice even easier.