Rack Design & InstallationRack Inspection & Maintenance

Protect Uprights From Forklift Impacts With Pallet Rack Column Guards

What’s one of the biggest causes of accidental damage to industrial steel storage rack? It’s impacts from motorized vehicles, such as forklifts. Exposed pallet rack columns facing the aisles are at the highest risk of damage due to these impacts. Any resulting damage can significantly reduce the load bearing capacity of the system. This results in an increased risk of rack collapse, which is a serious safety concern. To mitigate the force of an impact and reduce the risk of damage, a range of pallet rack column guards are available. Add these protective guarding devices as an optional accessory for a new installation, or as a retrofit to existing systems.

Where to Install Pallet Rack Column Guards

Chad Cory, National Account Manager at Steel King Industries—a member of the Rack Manufacturers Institute (RMI)—noted that pallet rack column guard installation typically occurs in two locations.

“Guarding can be applied to the aisle-side face of the rack column where uprights are vulnerable to impact from an approaching load or reversing vehicle,” he explained. “Also, it can be installed at the ends of rack rows to protect corners a vehicle must navigate. They are at higher risk because of the higher traffic entering and exiting aisles. This also includes cross-aisles and in rack tunnel bays.”

Guidance and best practices for the selection and installation of these protective guarding devices is available from the members of RMI, continued Cory. “RMI lists more than 20 different options in its publication, ‘Considerations for the Planning and Use of Industrial Steel Storage Racks’ in section 3.4.2,” he said.

Cory further noted that the members of the Protective Guarding Manufacturers Association (ProGMA) include several rack protection products engineered to mitigate forklift impacts in the Protective Guarding Search Tool.

Protecting Aisle-Side Columns

Depending on the needs of the application, pallet rack column guards (also called rack leg protectors) applied to aisle facing uprights come in different materials. They also offer different installation options. These include:

  • Free standing column protectors, made of formed steel plates, wrap around the face and sides of the rack column. To secure them, the protectors can be:
    • Anchored directly to the floor and not connected to the column.
    • Attached to both the column and the floor with bolts and anchors.
    • Welded to the columns, typically during manufacturing of the rack system.
  • Steel, foam, or plastic guards attached with bolts, rivets, or straps directly to the rack column.

Guarding for End of Row Columns

At the ends of rack rows, typical pallet rack column guards include:

  • Free standing, industrial facility protection guardrail made of steel or polymer materials. These are set a short distance away from the racking and bolted to the floor.
  • Heavy, structural steel angles with welded, formed ends that wrap around the rack columns. For installation, the horizontal leg of the angle is pre-punched to accept concrete anchor bolts.
  • Formed or welded pipe or tube in an inverted U-shape that runs the full depth of the rack assembly. They are typically factory welded to steel base plates and anchored to the floor.
  • Polymer pipe or tube anchored to the floor along the full depth of the rack assembly.
  • Guards that attach directly to the sides of the upright frames.

Other Upright Reinforcement Options

In addition to pallet rack column guards, there are other upright options that can mitigate forklift impact forces. These include:

  • Column doublers, which add a second piece of steel to the aisle-facing upright columns. Welded together, this reinforces the column for additional strength and impact resistance
  • Column inserts—made of steel or other rigid materials—slid inside the bottom portion of the aisle-facing upright column. Typically installed at the manufacturer, these range from 12 inches to 5 feet tall, increasing the impact resistance of the most vulnerable part of the column.

Pallet Rack Column Guard Selection Considerations

Before investing in pallet rack column guards for the aisle-side or end of a row, Cory advised facility owners and operators to consider the following points when evaluating their options.

“Consider how you want to attach the devices. If your operation has restricted aisle widths, such as a very narrow aisle (VNA) layout, anchoring guards in front of the uprights may obstruct traffic,” he said. “It’s important not to impede any handling clearances.”

Other considerations Cory noted included:

  • Verifying adequate spacing for the installation of additional anchors for floor-mounted guards.
  • Determining the position of load beams to prevent interference from the guarding.

Training forklift operators to exercise caution when navigating around the ends of and through rack aisles is also critical, he added. “While protective guarding for rack uprights will help reduce damage from impacts and potentially improve safety, they are no substitute for properly training operators to operate forklifts with care when loading, unloading, and transporting pallet loads,” Cory said.

Likewise, during routine rack inspections, an assessment of the condition of pallet rack column guards and other protective devices should occur. “Just like damage to the rack system, any damage to the guards should be noted, reported, and promptly repaired or replaced,” he concluded.

Looking for a list of the full range of protective accessories available for racking installations? RMI’s publication, “Considerations for the Planning and Use of Industrial Steel Storage Racks,” lists more than 20 different options in section 3.4.2.