The Primary Causes of Collapse in Warehouse Racking


In our most recent blog, we detailed some of the most common myths about warehouse racking. The last myth we tackled was “pallet racks just fall down.” When you think of it logically, this simply isn’t true. It’s like saying “cars just explode,” because if cars just randomly exploded for no reason, most of us wouldn’t ever drive one!

Now we’re not saying that pallet racks cannot collapse when an outside force acts upon them, but we will say that a properly installed and maintained racking system isn’t just going to collapse for no reason. Today we’re going to take a look at why pallet rack damage occurs and how such failures can be avoided.


CAUSE: Overloading Beams

Overloading the capacity of warehouse racks and beams i

s probably the second most common cause of collapse (after forklift hits, see below). Some companies require thinner, lighter beams because they know that what they’re storing isn’t terribly heavy. Others will need thicker, stronger steel to hold metal or stone objects. Warehouse storage solutions are designed to meet a very particular storage capacity, and putting too much on them can cause them to fail over time or even immediately.

It’s important to remember that beam capacity is by pair of beams, not by each beam. While you might know that, a new worker in the warehouse might not know. Proper training is one of the simplest ways to make sure that a warehouse racking system doesn’t get overloaded.

CAUSE: Overloading Uprights

When loading something onto a rack, it’s relatively easy to think about the horizontal space on which you’re placing the load because you’re interacting with it directly. But equally important is to consider how that load, as well as the load on all other horizontal racks, is placing weight on the vertical uprights.

Much like with the horizontal beams, you should never overlook the capacity of the uprights. One affects the other, and while losing a single beam is bad, losing an entire upright is worse.

CAUSE: Uneven Loading

Because warehouse racks are so large and heavy, it’s easy to see why some people might think that they’re immovable and impervious to damage. But while uneven loads might not cause them to fail, it can cause them to tip. Loads that are top-heavy, side heavy, or contain pallets that are too close to the edge can all lead to a dangerous situation.

CAUSE: Poor Design

Remember at the beginning of this article when we said that pallet racks don’t just collapse? This is the situation in which it actually kind of happens, even though the reason behind it is quite clear. While a design problem isn’t as obvious as “forklift hit upright support,” it can definitely be a cause of failure.

The same basic components might be used in many different warehouses, but the way those components are put together can affect the capacity that the racks can handle. In a poorly designed rack system, components that could normally carry a certain load are compromised, which means that they’re more likely to fail even when underloaded.

When you’re working with warehouse layout consultants, you also want to make sure that they are experts in racking system design. Find a company such as DAK Equipment and Engineering that are experts in pallet rack design and you’re more likely to get safer warehouse storage solutions.

CAUSE: Poor Installation

Unfortunately, well-designed warehouse racking can actually be completely compromised by bad installation. While racking systems might not look complex once they’re assembled, you’ll be surprised at their complexity when you see them go together. Some of the extra parts are to increase capacity, while others are there to increase safety.

The many parts and exacting assembly means that anyone putting racking together has to be properly trained to do so. Do your research and make sure that the company you’re about to hire doesn’t have any collapsing skeletons in their closet.

CAUSE: Forklift Damage

Aren’t forklifts wonderful? They allow you to move heavy loads not only horizontally but also vertically in your warehouse, performing feats that would usually take multiple workers and a system of pulleys to pull off.

Unfortunately, they’re also the biggest offender when it comes to warehouse racking collapse. If you take a look at this video, you can see that they’re almost always involved in warehouse accidents. It makes sense, of course: the modern warehouse couldn’t exist without some sort of heavy materials handling system, and forklifts require a lot of weight and power in order to perform the duties.

Why Are Forklift Drivers Hitting Warehouse Racking?

Unfortunately, there are many reasons that a forklift operator might damage your warehouse racking and industrial shelves.

  • Distraction – You might have banned cell phone use in the warehouse, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other distractions that can cause a forklift operator to hit a pallet rack. They might be talking to a coworker, avoiding a mess on the floor, or simply thinking too hard about the argument they had with their spouse the night before.
  • Moving Too Quickly – As a warehouse manager, you’re probably always talking about efficiency. To a forklift operator, that might translate to moving more quickly. While you certainly want them to work efficiently, you don’t want them to do it at the expense of your pallet racks. Problems also occur at the end of the day when a forklift operator is trying to make up time in order to meet shipment schedules.
  • Inexperience – Working a forklift is both a skill and an art; we’ve all seen operators who are absolute masters. But not everyone is so skilled, and inexperienced workers can make many mistakes even if they’re certified.
  • Forklift Error – Machines can’t technically make mistakes, but if it experiences a power surge when it’s in the middle of the aisle, your pallet racking could suffer.

Immediate Vs. Long Term Damage

You’ll notice that all of those clips in the video show the immediate, dramatic results of a forklift hitting industrial shelving. But what you don’t see is the security cam footage of times that a forklift hit a rack and they stayed perfectly in place. Pallet racks are made to suffer some abuse, and they’re not going to fall down with every hit. But these hits can build up or cause collapse down the line, so it’s important to remember to schedule time with a pallet racking inspection service to make sure that any damage that has been sustained isn’t going to cause critical collapse in the future. If they are damaged beyond repair, new sections of racking can be installed to replace damaged metal.

Preventing Pallet Rack Damage From Forklifts

If problems with forklifts are going to happen (and they will), what can be done to prevent and/or reduce the damage. We’re glad you asked!

Install Rack Protection

The fact is, your racks are going to get hit! There’s just no preventing every hit from occurring, because employees aren’t perfect. While you might go months without any collisions, nothing is going to stop it from occurring occasionally.

Rack protection is one of the least expensive and easiest ways to make sure that your warehouse storage racking is kept safe from the small hits from forklifts and other moving equipment. These protectors are strategically placed to protect the pallet racks, often by getting in the way to let the driver know that they’re too close to the storage racking. The most popular type of protection includes end-of-aisle protectors and in-aisle column protection, and these can be bolted into the floor or attached to the pallet racking system. Rack protection can also consist of netting and wire mesh to prevent overhead items from falling in the event of a hit.

You should always consider your danger zones when deciding on pallet rack protection. For instance, the racks that are closest to the loading dock are more likely to get hit simply because of their location in the warehouse. Racks that are in tight aisles should be protected more than those that are in wide, often-traveled aisles. It all just depends on your warehouse, the racking itself, and your needs.

Will rack protection prevent all damage? No, but it will stop small problems from becoming bigger ones. Just as a fender-bender is different from a head-on crash when driving a car, small damage to rack protection is certainly preferable to hitting the rack itself. Click here to learn more about the rack protection that DAK Equipment and Engineering sells and installs.

Enforce the Speed Limit

Much like most cars can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour even though there are speed limits, forklifts can also go faster than they should in a warehouse. This can be useful when driving across the parking lot from one warehouse to another, but when in the warehouse they should be restricted to a specific speed that’s determined by your warehouse layout and the number of pedestrians that are present. If you see an operator driving too fast in a warehouse, shut that down immediately so that they’re less likely to run into your pallet racks.

Build In Aisle Space During Warehouse Design

Warehouse layout design is a big deal. For someone who’s involved with the process of designing warehouse space every day like we are, the primary goal of a warehouse could seem to be “get as much shelving in there as possible.” This thought process is only partially right, because it should be “get as much shelving in there as possible while still allowing adequate, safe passage for forklifts.”

Yes, a warehouse should be designed to maximize the available space, but it also has to work efficiently with the vehicles that move about. Proper warehouse layout design will not only make getting to particular pallets easier, but will increase safety as well. The minimum allowed space isn’t always a great idea, simply because you can’t always rely on your best driver to be working the forklift all the time; inexperienced drivers must also be accommodated. If you have frequent operator turnover, making the aisles wider can be a much safer option than trying to cram in every pallet rack possible. Wider aisles can also increase safety by allowing both forklifts and pedestrians to pass each other without fear crushed toes (and OSHA intervention).

Clean Up The Warehouse

As we mentioned above, one of the reasons that forklift operators might become distracted is due to what’s on the floor in front of them. Avoiding what’s on the ground is certainly important, because they’re sure to hit it if they don’t. But when they’re looking down, they’re not looking laterally and they’re not looking up.

When we say clean up the warehouse, we’re talking about from both a trash perspective and an organizational perspective. If there is a big wad of pallet cellophane on the floor that your forklift operator isn’t comfortable driving over, they’re either going to have to drive around it or get out and pick it up. On the other hand, non-trash items, whether it’s empty pallets or inventory waiting to be shelved, can also get in a driver’s way and cause them to make tight turns that would have been easy if the floor wasn’t so cluttered.

Prevent Collapse With DAK!

At DAK Equipment and Engineering, we have the warehouse storage solutions you’re looking for. When you need warehouse layout design, we can create the pallet rack blueprints that will maximize your storage capacity while still leaving enough room for the forklifts. We’ll expertly assemble it as well, making sure that it’s going to hold up to the stated capacity. We can also help you understand what to look for when it comes to damaged racks so that little problems can be fixed before big problems occur.

When you’re ready to get the best in industrial shelving, DAK is ready to help. Contact us today with questions or to get the process started. We want to get your warehouse as efficient as possible!




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