Avoiding Forklift Collision Damage in Cold Storage Warehouses

According to the industry journal Frozen Food Age, forklift collisions are more frequent in cold storage warehouses than in traditional facilities -- partially due to the unique challenges of operating in colder environments, but also due to unique issues that tend to accompany warehouse design and layout in these operations.

Structural Barrier Rail

As forklift accidents can damage equipment or infrastructure, cold storage warehouses need to limit incidents in order to see a better return on investment (not to mention a safer work environment).

The good news is that in many operations, a few key improvements can make a dramatic difference without heavy expenses.  Industry experts recommend the following ways to reduce damage from forklift collisions:

Separate Forklift Traffic with Appropriate Structural Barriers - Installing barrier rails around equipment and racking can provide protection from equipment damage due to forklifts, safeguarding racking, walkways and insulation from sudden damage. WorkSafe Victoria encourages warehouse managers to install barrier rails leading from all doorways in which foot traffic and vehicle traffic intersect. Bollards or rails should surround all racking systems.

When barriers aren’t a viable option, managers can attempt to reduce the number of trips in and out of controlled atmosphere areas.  This helps to protect insulated doors, which is certainly a priority in cold storage warehouses. High voltage batteries and mobile battery handling equipment eliminate unnecessary trips in and out of coolers (and as we covered in an earlier blog, these systems can also extend the life of equipment by reducing corrosion due to condensation).      

Keep Operators Comfortable - Most operations see high turnover rates for cold storage lift truck operators, partially due to uncomfortable working conditions, and high turnover results in a larger percentage of inexperienced workers on the job. This collective lack of experience can lead to a higher number of lift truck accidents.

By keeping forklift operators comfortable, managers can reduce turnover.  Specialized equipment is helpful; control panels should be sized for gloved hands, and ergonomic tools should be employed wherever possible. Lift trucks with heated cabs can also reduce discomfort, although this might not be a viable option for some facilities.

Ensure Adequate Training - Ongoing training is essential for keeping lift truck operators safe and engaged. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandates training and certification for all staff who will operate powered industrial trucks, with evaluations at least once every three years. Local standards may call for more frequent training or evaluation.

Design for Safe Traffic Flow - Facilities should be designed to prevent forklift collisions, with pedestrian walkways that are clearly designated and separated from lift truck traffic areas. When possible, pedestrian areas should be separated with impact-resistant structural bollards or raised to prevent lift truck access.

Visibility is crucial to all warehousing tasks, especially those involving powered material handling equipment. Lift truck thoroughfares require clear sightlines with adequate lighting. Wherever possible, traffic should be routed around columns and posts to avoid tight corners with low visibility thresholds.

The occasional forklift strike to a racking system is an operational reality for every operation, but barrier rails and bollards can prevent the impact from becoming a disaster. Designing facilities with adequate barriers in place is the first step to protecting warehouse equipment from potential damage from forklift collisions.