Knowing the most likely issues to affect your pallet storage can help a warehouse operator in three ways:
- Proactively preventing problems happening
- Retrofitting to ensure pallet storage problems don’t keep happening
- Streamline work flows and improve productivity.
This means that warehousing space can be better managed to prevent accidents and to improve profit, by looking carefully at pallet storage and ensuring it is working to its maximum for you.
What is at risk with poor pallet storage
The risks can be high, but there is a lot that can be done to prevent all risks. So what are the potential problems with pallet storage?
- Pallet racking collapse – this is a rare issue, but it causes a range of problems from loss of business, fines and injuries.
- Injury – in 2018/2019, the Health and Safety Executive reported that 10% of non-fatal workplace injuries were the result of a moving object. This is most commonly something falling from a shelf or rack.
- Fines – there are a number of ways that inadequately managed warehouse space can lead to fines, most notably the Provision of Work Equipment Regulations mean that companies can be fined and even prosecuted for warehouse failures
- Damage to stock – any problem with pallet storage will almost always lead to stock damage, and if failure to maintain can be proven, insurance companies will not pay out for this damage.
Loss of business – the inability to fulfil orders will negatively impact profits and may lead to long term reputation damage
Failure to maintain your racking system
It sounds insane to suggest that the biggest problem with pallet storage is poor maintenance, but it’s true. The problem is that in many situations, warehousing has become such a pressured environment that warehouse personnel aren’t always following the best procedures to ensure health and safety in the long term. One of the most common problems is forklift damage in non-automated warehouses, and ensuring that you have a clear reporting system can prevent future problems. Personnel should be aware of:
- Supporting struts – if there are missing horizontal or diagonal braces, or braces are dented, repairs are needed as this can compromise the integrity of the pallet storage system.
- Beam damage – similarly, recognising if there is a damaged beam in the pallet racking system and fixing it can prevent collapse under heavy loading.
Column damage – usually caused by forklift collisions, and while repairs are the first thing to do, consider installing column protectors around frame bases if this may be a recurring problem. Your reporting system should tell you how often these collisions occur. You may also need to look at whether your aisle width is sufficient to allow for forklift turning and backing as this is when most collisions occur.
While YouTube is full of terrifying videos of forklifts crashing into pallet racking systems and causing domino style collapses throughout entire warehouses, this isn’t the kind of collision that usually happens. Fortunately, that kind of accident is rare. What is much more common is the kind of small scale collision that we described in point A – and while small bumps and grazes might not seem to be a major problem, repeated impacts can weaken columns and damage supporting struts so that eventually, often when warehouses are being restocked after seasonal surges like Christmas or summer holidays, the weakened area is overloaded and breaks or bends.
Solving this kind of problem is multi-faceted. It requires:
- Adequate forklift driver training. This may include taking agency or new drivers through your warehouse pointing out pinch points or tricky areas, rather than relying on their certificated training to guide them.
- Proper spacing of racks, corridors and turning points to allow forklifts to operate safely.
- Setting and implementing speed limits so that forklift operatives have adequate time to assess potential situations and respond safely
- Checking that lighting is adequate. This is essential where a warehouse has natural lighting through docking stations etc where low sun can be a hazard that may not be recognised.
- Ensure warehouse personnel keep aisles clear of obstructions so that forklifts are able to use marked routes and don’t end up with skid hazards in their path.
Poor Installation, Layout or Design
An inadequate pallet storage design or layout can hamper efficiency and increase risk of injury or damage, while a poor installation process can lead to inherent weaknesses in the system, substantially increasing the risk of collapse or damage to stock. Other issues in this area include trying to mix and match different forms of pallet racking, sometimes acquired second-hand, which don’t actually fit together properly. Finally, not all pallets are fit to use with pallet racking. The international standards in this area are designed to ensure that pallets do not break under load which can lead to issues including stock damage, injury to personnel and even to having to clear out entire racking area to remove the broken fragments, which slows down other warehouse activities.
Solutions to these problems may include hiring a specialist racking installer, using rented warehouse space where racking is installed and maintained by professionals, and training staff to ensure they understand which pallets are rackable and which aren’t.
Overloading racking systems
A problem with pallet storage that is remarkably common is regular overloading which can cause bowing, bending and even pallet toppling as well as adding to the risk of accidents. Every manufacturer has weight limits for the systems they provide, and it’s important not only to know these, but to ensure that warehouse staff are trained to calculate existing weight on a pallet rack and estimate the impact of any additional weight. Load notices should be displayed and agency or temporary staff should be given clear guidelines on how to estimate load as part of their induction to the warehouse.
One easy way to overload a pallet storage system is to use the wrong kind of racking for stock. Long and/or bulky items are better placed in cantilever racks, while long thin items like pipes fit better into pigeon hole racking etc. Always using adjustable pallet racking, without looking at options specifically designed to improve efficiency and reduce risk, can be a false economy.