Manufacturing News

Racking up the benefits of safe storage

Capital expenditure is often the first casualty during a downturn, but as Katherine Crichton discovers, the odds are stacked against companies who cut corners when it comes to materials handling safety.

WITH floor space a rare commodity at most warehouses and distribution centres, the trend to store goods vertically is on the increase, but sadly, so too is the increase of serious injury or death caused by inappropriate racking systems and unsafe stacking practices.

In the past 20 months in WA alone, a 17 year old labourer was killed when a bundle of timber sheets fell on him and a 37 year old man died when he was struck by steel that fell when racking collapsed.

As well as the risk of serious injury and loss of life, there are also the interruptions to supply, damaged stock and equipment, not to mention tarnished reputations and the ensuring legal and OHS implications following an incident.

In 2002, WorkSafe Victoria fined a Whittlesea company more than $20,000 after a man was crushed when unsafe racking collapsed, dropping 1.5t of steel mesh onto the worker, who sustained a fractured vertebra, lacerations to his head and facial nerve damage, and damage to his arm.

The company had implemented self-designed and built racking, which did not comply with commercial or Australian Safety Standards.

WorkSafe’s Michael Birt says all too often WorkSafe inspectors visit sites that have implemented ‘home made’ racking systems, with potentially disastrous consequences.

“Something people need to get their head around is that companies and individuals are not charged for OHS infringements just because someone has died to their negligence, but because they failed to provide a safe place to work,” Birt told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“Employers have a legal duty to ensure a workplace is safe and that includes making sure racking is able to take the load expected of it, and that it does not threaten the safety of workers.

“It is important companies ensure shelving and racking is designed, installed and maintained in accordance to Australian Standard 4084.”

While times may be a bit tough financially, Birt warns industry that now is not the time to risk the loss of productivity – let alone prosecution – for having inefficient and unsafe racking systems.

“On average fines are around $50,000 but in Victoria can reach and exceed a million dollars.

“It is important that the selection of racking design is made on the basis of safety and operational factors that take into account safe working load criteria and is not based solely on price,” Birt said.

Looking after your racks

The best way for businesses to ensure employee safety is to be proactive about managing potential safety risks.

With increased awareness of safety in the workplace and current OHS legislation allowing for individuals as well as companies to be charged with safety breaches, there is all the more reason for industry to take workplace safety seriously.

Alan Smith, Dexion Logistics, National Service and Construction Manager, says at a minimum, a “rack audit” should be conducted every six months to identify potential weak areas that need repair or replacement.

“Audits will also help identify normal wear and tear that may indicate a section of racking that is simply getting to the end of its life and needs replacing,” he explained.

According to Smith, another potential cause of racking collapse is the use of incompatible components such as imitation parts.

“Currently there are a number of companies promoting components as ‘equivalent’ replacement parts for leading-brand racking products.

“Using imitation parts can compromise the integral load carrying capabilities of a storage system.

“Many imitation parts tend to be lighter due to the use of lesser quality, or thinner raw materials.

“They may also be lighter because of the variations in product dimensions.

“This should signal a warning to any warehouse manger that safety in your storage system is being compromised.”

Smith says another common contributing factor to racking collapse is through overloading and/or incorrect installation.

“Without professional advice and correct installation procedures, you cannot be sure your racking is capable of standing up to the loads being imposed on it.

“In fact, may people are not aware that changing beam levels in a bay has a major impact on the original design capabilities of a rack.

“Regular maintenance and inspection of racking can help ensure the integrity of the system design and warns this is all the more important when making alterations to existing systems.

“Racking is designed to a specific need inline with AS 4084 and whilst it is fully adjustable, changing the configuration can compromise the racking design integrity.

“It is important to consult an experienced racking solutions provider to ensure a comprehensive service in determining the options available for a particular design,” he explained to Manufacturers’ Monthly.

According to Smith, through initiatives such as Dexion’s Scheduled Service Plans, which have been designed to assist businesses monitor and prevent failures before they occur, companies can better ensure their workplace is as safe and as risk free as possible.

The company uses standardised rack-inspection software coupled with PDA devices, to enable its team of inspectors to provide same-day reports, which allows rectification work on both Dexion and non-Dexion products to begin as soon as possible.

“Regular scheduled rack inspections and rack inspection log books are also aimed at keeping racking systems in a ‘fit-for-purpose’ condition,” Smith said.

Dexion 1800 100 050, www.dexion.com.au.

WorkSafe Victoria 1800 136 089, www.workcover.vic.gov.au.

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