The real story behind storage racking compliance (NZ)

Storage racking is like a miniature city inside your warehouse. Imagine 10 high-rise buildings neatly aligned and supporting tonnes of product between them. In a seismic event, they react the same way any tall steel structure does, sending objects flying and sometimes collapsing completely.

That makes them extremely dangerous both to human life, and business operations. In fact, racking may be both the biggest economic and health and safety risk in your business. It’s this level of risk that has brought racking compliance into the spotlight in the years since 2011.

The biggest risk in my business is racking failure?

It depends on your location and the associated seismic risk. In Auckland or Dunedin probably not, but in Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, it very well could be. Let’s look closer at the risks:

  • Risk to human life – this is an obvious one, humans typically don’t fare well around heavy falling objects and most warehousing facilities are very H&S conscious as a result.

  • Risk of product and asset loss – again an obvious one, product is damaged falling off shelves, or racking itself is damaged or warped.

  • Risk of disruption to business – this third point is less considered. Imagine there’s been a seismic event at your facility and 3 out of 10 racks have fallen over. Not too bad you suppose, but one went through a wall into the office, setting off the emergency sprinkler system and flinging boxes and debris everywhere. The entire facility is water damaged, including all IT assets in the office, and any stock not already damaged by falling. Not only have you written off nearly all of your product, your team has lost any work on their computers, and your entire facility is unusable until it can be dried out and repaired. Whilst this may sound extreme, it is a possibility in even a small seismic event if your racking is not properly designed for local conditions.

Same rules, new era

There’s been a lot of discussion about the growing complexity in gaining compliance for racking installations. Of course the events of 2011 threw seismic compliance into the spotlight for projects across the country and even abroad, but requirements for racking haven’t actually changed much. They just weren’t enforced in the past. Now that seismic compliance is being addressed with new vigour by councils, engineers around the country are closely scrutinizing installations both old and new.

In the past, many racking suppliers used the highest European specifications, then further increased the strength to suit New Zealand’s seismic environment. More recently, the industry has begun to discover just how much stronger NZ racking systems need to be. This is causing headaches as designs around the country are getting pushed back by engineers at the compliance stage. In general, most racking designs still need to be stronger, or hold less weight. Many suppliers are discovering their designs need more steel, often after the job has been quoted, leading to awkward client conversations and diminishing profit margins.  

A new set of guidelines is needed

The truth is that there is still no consensus between council and the engineering profession as to what a compliant racking installation looks like. The most widely used guideline pre-dates the 2011 earthquakes and engineers now have a lot more to consider before they can put their stamp on a design. Without a clear best practice engineering guide, suppliers and installers are stuck with a trial and error compliance process where methods differ from engineer to engineer.

An updated guide for best practice methodologies from the relevant professional engineering bodies would allow suppliers to design more or less to engineering standards, engineers to sign off on designs quickly, council certifiers to know exactly what to look for, and the end user to feel confident that they are getting a robust solution. Until we have this guide, we will continue to do the best we can with what we have.

When in doubt, design for the worst case scenario

As engineers, we are personally responsible for the fate of any installation we put our stamp on. This means that in the absence of clear industry guidelines, we calculate based on the worst case scenario. The good news is, you can be sure your racking design is robust. The bad news is, some designs may be over-engineered (a possibility in low-risk seismic zones) and therefore more expensive than necessary. Until the engineering profession can agree on a best practice methodology, we must design more cautiously than may be necessary in some situations.

In the end, you can’t be too careful

The economic and health and safety risks are such that the seismic performance of racking in any business should be a key consideration at an executive level. Whilst that may mean paying more, or charging more if you are a supplier, the risks are very real and should be invested in accordingly.

Minimise your risk by talking to an engineer

Suppliers and installers – get your racking design checked by us before you send that final quote to the client. Consider it part of your administration costs and let the client know that this design has been pre-approved by one of our racking engineers. Design changes at a later date will only eat into your profit margin.

Business owners/managers – if you’re concerned about your racking, book an inspection with us nationwide – especially if  you’re in a high seismic zone such as Wellington, Kaikoura, Christchurch and Southern Alps, with racking installed before 2012.