HSEThe HSE Warehousing and Storage guide published in 2007 states that any pallet racking upright that could be hit by a fork lift truck should be protected. Obviously then questions would be asked if a rack collapses after being hit by a fork lift truck that had not been protected.

However like many health and safety issues the best way to achieve the desired outcome of a safer workplace can be varied and confusing for the health and safety professional.

The conventional argument put forward by racking manufacturers is that steel is the best protection for pallet racking uprights. But if steel is the best material to absorb impact then why do cars use plastic for there bumpers?

The technical argument does not support the racking manufacturers’ argument. Pound for pound, a well designed plastic protector is far superior and more economical option than a steel guard. Of course if you are a steel fabricator interested in selling steel products this may affect your opinion.

I will explain the argument in more detail. Metal column guards are normally bolted into a concrete floor just in front of the column being protected. The reality is that steel does NOT absorb impact; rather, it transfers impact by permanently deforming at the weakest point until it damages either the bolts or the concrete floor. Impacts can occur when a pallet is being placed into a bay or more often when a pallet is being withdrawn from a bay, and it is during withdrawal that steel guards are most vulnerable to damage. When damage occurs, the result can be costly.

Plastic guards work quite differently to steel because they absorb impacts. Under light to moderate impacts a plastic guard will deform to resist the impact and then return to its original shape. Under higher impacts a plastic guard will deflect even more, delivering increased impact absorption. It may not fully return to its original shape, but it still retains its protective function.
This staged response makes plastic protectors flexible enough to accommodate everyday knocks and bumps yet robust enough to withstand substantial forklift impacts, very much in the same way as your car bumper. In some cases of severe impact, the plastic protectors will be destroyed and need to be replaced. This is exactly what plastic protectors are designed to do. Importantly, there is no damage to the column.

If replacement of the plastic protector is needed then the cost of replacement is much lower that the cost of replacing a steel guard and much lower than replacing an entire column.

Then there are the commercial reasons for buying plastics protectors. Initial purchase cost of plastic is similar to steel guards, installation cost is much less than steel and replacement of damaged plastic guards is much less than steel.


Having extolled the merits of a plastic rack guard this should not mean that everybody goes out and buys a guard just because it is plastic. As with car bumpers the design of the plastic protector is paramount. Randomly attaching a piece of plastic pipe to the front of your car may improve the cars protection but to what standard? Employers have a duty of care to provide and maintain plant and systems of work that are so far as reasonably practicable safe and without risk to health. So it is the obligation of responsible managers to ensure that rack protection complies with local Standards and most importantly, Occupation Health and Safety Laws within your country. The consequences of not doing so can be costly for both the company and the manager in charge.

In the current climate new corporate manslaughter legislation all warehouse managers need to ensure that the products they use meet the necessary requirements. There are many plastic and rubber rack protectors on the market but what standards have they been tested against. In Europe the recognized standard is FEM 10.2.02 section 2.6. If you have a rack protector meeting this standard for both side and front impacts then you can argue that you have taken all necessary precautions.

Not all tests are equal

I believe that a rack protector should be tested for the FEM standard with a cross section of upright duties. I have noticed some protector manufacturers quote tests on unusually thick upright sections. As most uprights these days are from uprights less then 2mm thick it is sensible to see whether the protector you are considering have been tested on such an upright.

The plastic rack protector is a relatively new phenomenon and various products have been launched on the market all claim a certain performance one in particular claims in their advertisements to be the only one to meet the relevant tests. This is factually wrong as the Protect-it product that I designed meets all these standards. Furthermore this information is freely available on our website whereas I have been unable to see the other products test data. www.protect-it.com.au

While obviously I have a vested interest all I ask is before you buy any form of rack protection do your homework.

Your other responsibilities:

So you have done your market research, bought your protectors filed away a copy of the relevant test report so you can sit back and relax? Unfortunately not. Having fitted a column protector you have in many ways created another problem for yourself. You have a responsibility to regularly check your racking for damage and with a column protector in front this makes it harder so as a final check which protector is the best for you see how easy it is examine the upright behind the protector because you will need to check the uprights condition on a regular basis.

Paul Huxtable

Paul Huxtable is the inventor of the award winning and market leading Protect-it plastic rack protector with over 600,000 units sold he believes that the Protect-it is the largest selling plastic rack protector in the world. He has over 37 years experience working in a broad cross section of industries over 5 continents. He has been trained in both Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Design and has developed an international reputation for his innovative abilities.

Protect-its are available in the UK through a number of distributors. For your nearest distributor visit: www.staminahandling.com