The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is something of a bogeyman to most employers. While the agency has an important job—keeping workplaces and workers safe—its rules are often nuanced, detailed, and hard to follow, making it easy to accidentally violate an obscure rule. Violations usually carry steep penalties, so large companies pour resources into ensuring that they’re in compliance and smaller companies dread the possibility that they may have violated an obscure rule without being aware of it.
The truth is, when it comes to warehouse racking safety guidelines, OSHA doesn’t offer much guidance.
Since warehouses are one of the more dangerous places to work, you might expect OSHA to have created detailed guidelines for the safe operation and use of warehousing equipment. The truth is, when it comes to warehouse racking safety guidelines, OSHA doesn’t offer much guidance. There are only two applicable rules: 1910.176(b), which effectively states that material stored in tiers must be made safe, and 1910.159, which covers fire sprinklers and essentially requires 18 inches of clearance between the rack and the sprinkler. These OSHA guidelines may be vague, but by following some basic, commonsense principles and maintaining a maintenance schedule, it is possible to be confident that your warehouse has satisfied OSHA regulations.
Satisfying Warehouse Racking Safety Guidelines
The most common reasons that OSHA cites companies for their pallet racking have to do with basic installation, maintenance, and repair issues. Although OSHA has no specific warehouse racking safety guidelines, they are covered by the general clause of the Occupational Safety Health Act that created the agency, which states simply that each employer shall provide a workplace that is free from recognized hazards. In other words, if your pallet racking is not installed correctly or poses an obvious hazard, you can be found in violation of OSHA regulations and fined. OSHA has fined businesses over their pallet racks in the past due to:
- Improper Installation: In order to be used safely, a pallet rack needs to be properly installed. A failure to anchor each post and brace properly and to the specifications dictated by the manufacturer is a safety violation.
- Damaged Racking: Equipment damage isn’t unusual in the warehouse, and pallet racking is subject to damage from forklifts that bump into the posts or into the horizontal cross braces supporting the pallets. Dings, dents, and bent metal reduce the overall strength of pallet racking, and the damage should be repaired quickly to keep employees safe.
- Unsafe Modifications: When a pallet rack is damaged, occasionally a cross member may be replaced with whatever piece of steel is convenient and held in place with whatever fasteners were handy at the time. As a non-engineered modification, this type of repair can be dangerous and will be found in violation of OSHA requirements.
- Unposted Capacities: Unless a pallet rack was installed improperly or unauthorized repairs were made, it’s unlikely that overloading racking will cause it to collapse, but damage to the racks is possible. In order to maintain safety, a pallet rack’s maximum load should be clearly posted to avoid overloading and prevent damage to the racks.
All of the above issues can be prevented by implementing an inspection and maintenance cycle for your warehouse racking. Pallet racks should be inspected upon installation and periodically checked for damage. If bent bars or damaged vertical posts are discovered, the affected section should be taken out of use until it can be properly repaired. Parts used in repairs should be provided by the manufacturer or should meet with the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure employee safety.
Rack and Pallet Load Limits
Pallet racking is designed to easily hold pallets loaded to the maximum capacity, and, in theory, they could hold more weight. After all, steel framing is what holds up many skyscrapers. The steel framing that makes up most warehouse racking is generally built to work with one of the six ISO standard pallet sizes and whatever loads those pallets can typically carry. The usual figure is about 2,000 pounds of static load for the typical North American Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) spec pallet, and racks will be built with a centerline beam that can support at least 2,000 pounds on each side of the beam facing the aisles. Exact loads can vary depending on the configuration of the pallet rack and the types of pallets used.
Ideally, only wood block pallets and pallets made of sturdy alternative materials such as plastic and metal should be stored on pallet racks. Low-cost stringer pallets are flimsier and become unreliable after a few trips through the supply chain. While OSHA doesn’t take issue with storing stringer pallets in racks, if a pallet failure in a rack leads to injury, they may. High-quality plastic pallets are able to hold more weight than wood block or stringer pallets and may be the best way to keep employees safe and avoid issues with OSHA.
Some plastic pallets are equipped with GS1-compliant tracking features through barcodes or embedded RFID transmitters.
However, the strength of plastic pallets—some high-quality plastic pallets can support 2,800 pounds edge-rackable—can also be a temptation to load pallets with more product than your racking can bear. Unless your warehouse is equipped with racking that can support the extra weight—and pallet racks that will easily bear it do exist—do not load the pallet to its maximum capacity. For this reason, it’s important to clearly communicate the rack loads in your warehouse by labeling them.
Since plastic pallets can hold more weight than most other types of pallets, it’s especially important to be able to reliably communicate their maximum load and the load they’re currently bearing. A plastic pallet that is loaded to its maximum capacity could be shipped from a warehouse equipped with racks that will hold the weight to one that has a less capable racking system. Printing the load weight on a pallet license plate is one solution, but these labels are easily lost in transit. A better option is to associate the data with a permanent feature. Some plastic pallets are equipped with GS1-compliant tracking features through barcodes or embedded RFID transmitters. Data associated with these tracking numbers like SKU types, quantities, or the weight of the pallet can be retrieved from a database by a properly equipped supply chain, and warehouse receiving staff will know whether it is safe to put a fully loaded pallet in their racks. Keeping OSHA satisfied and your workers safe often comes down to clearly communicating information–whether through labeling your warehouse racking load limit or using plastic pallets that are able to provide data about their product loads.
The iGPS plastic pallet is able to hold heavier static and dynamic loads than a reusable wood block pallet and is equipped with GS1-compliant tracking. To get started with a durable, heavy-duty plastic pallet, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.