Outside of fire, the most damaging warehouse hazard is collapsing pallet racking. Such can be the grievous losses and business disruption that despite insurance it can break businesses, yet arguably the defence measures against such risks are woefully inadequate.
Pallet racking is safe. It only becomes unsafe when it combines with careless people and so any means to eliminate huge costly collapses should be encouraged but is there foot dragging on this? Sadly and evidently there is. Until three years ago the only anti-racking failure measures were a variety of rack barriers, column guards and guide rails, all with one serious limitation, namely they extend up from the ground no more than a few feet. Given that pallet racking legs reach many times higher than that they are widely exposed to that most common cause of collapse --- forklift collision. This can even occur while a truck is manoeuvring in an aisle with load at maximum lift height, causing it to topple over, crash the mast and load into the racking and create a domino collapse.
This is not to belittle the traditional means of protection but their shortcomings clearly show they need augmenting that would protect at all heights. Just such a solution is Rhino from RCP* introduced three years ago but seemingly downplayed by the leading UK trade body, Storage Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA). This unique, patented design prevents racks from collapsing by means of using wire ropes suspended from the steel structure of the building, if possible, and then attached to each racking support leg. When the building's steel structure cannot be used than a secondary steel structure is installed to form a support for the suspension ropes. With this system in place, any leg that is damaged will not be able to collapse, thus preventing any costly domino effect.
But does the cost of Rhino make one blink? Hardly. the cost of a domino-type racking collapse could run into seven figures, not including any serious injuries, fatalities and possible, permanent business losses through disruption, and massive future hikes in insurance premiums. One of RCP's benefits, in fact, is reduced insurance costs because the system has been proved in the field. Irrespective of the number of stored pallets, the cost is calculated by the length of the racking run. As an indication, this can vary from £85 to £130 per outer leg. Inner legs are not used if the racking is back-to-back. In respect of drive-in racking, RCP would look to fit to three rack legs deep. The only form of racking that would not warrant the system would be automated crane rack systems.
As regards Rhino's maintenance, the only action needed would be an annual inspection so as to identify any unreported impacts, which in any event is a requirement with or without Rhino. The issue of rack inspection is critically important because one of the rarely mentioned risks that really catches the facility and safety managers off guard is the rack collapse caused by the pervasive, subtle damage that can be unnoticeable to the untrained eye. For example, if a rack system has multiple uprights that exceed out-of-plumb guidance of 0.15 inch per three-foot section a collapse could occur. It is very easy to walk by a 0.15 inch deviance and not even notice it, or "it's just a little damage, not worth bothering with now." The necessity for watchfulness becomes even greater in cold store environments.
So far, most of RCP's 12 installations have been retrofits, and there are five pending with 30,000- pallet stores, and there is much interest coming from seismic-prone regions. As regards overseas representation, RCP would consider licencing arrangements.
One might reasonably ask that given this major breakthrough in warehouse racking safety why does Britain's leading warehouse racking trade body, SEMA, apparently take a low-key view, even though SEMA's technical adviser has witnessed a live demonstration and reported that the system works. It has been mooted that if they recognised Rhino warmly as worthy of serious consideration then that would be questioning their members' installation design and integrity, a curious attitude if true because all racking is safe but accidents will happen.
UK racking collapses involving fatalities are rare, about less than one a month, but serious injuries are measured in their hundreds. SEMA also claims that UK rack collapses are rare, but with at least one major racking collapse occurring every week, according to one involved source, that is a curious definition of rarity.
Domino style pallet racking collapses like these could break businesses