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Ensure Warehouse Safe, Compliant Racking and Shelving

Warehouse regulations change frequently, and requirements are more complex. Having an expert partner can ensure compliant, durable, cost-effective storage racking.

By Arlin Keck, Contributor

Racks must meet applicable fire codes and insurance requirements, i.e., racking loaded with flammable products requires certain accommodations to assure adequate fire detection, containment and suppression. (photo courtesy Steel King Industries)

While it was once common for the majority of warehouse managers to purchase standard storage racks that could be “quick-shipped” from rack manufacturers’ stocked inventory, this is occurring less often, as racking becomes more specialized and regulations stricter.

Today, storage rack systems are generally considered a building-like element, so are often subject to a variety of federal, state and local regulations. These ordinances are continuing to evolve—perhaps none more so than seismic standards—and can become a pitfall for warehouse managers unfamiliar with them. Therefore, warehouse managers should seek expert guidance from a qualified design professional whenever the racking, foundation or warehouse infrastructure must accommodate unusual stress, loading, function or other non-standard factors.

Ordering quick-ship pallet racks is convenient, but it should be limited to use with non-flammable, non-hazardous product stored inside buildings in low-risk seismic regions. Usually, with quick-ship racks, there is a maximum pallet load limit that the racking can handle and a maximum bay load limit that the racking and existing warehouse floor can handle. There is also usually a six-to-one, height-to-depth ratio placed on the racking. Any rack outside of these parameters typically requires a qualified design professional’s review.

Even when the quick-ship rack is appropriate for a warehouse, there may be a need for expert input, if there are special circumstances. One such example might be if the rack installation occurs on a sloping floor.

Despite greater warehouse complexity and evolving regulations, understanding a few key distinctions about racking will help warehouse managers keep their facilities cost-effectively safe, compliant and productive.

Among the key distinctions to understand are seismic standards and environmental concerns for rack-supported buildings. Engineered systems, such as pick modules and elevated platforms, also have their own engineering issues.


Racking must be designed for any unusual stresses, loads or functions placed upon it. Storage racks are considered building-like structures, according to the International Building Code, and are represented as such in the Rack Manufacturer’s Institute Standard. (photo courtesy Steel King Industries)

Storage racks are considered building-like structures, according to the International Building Code, and are represented as such in the Rack Manufacturer’s Institute (RMI) Standard. Therefore, racks need to be designed to the local seismic requirements—just like a building. Since the RMI is the recognized U.S. specification for the design, testing and utilization of industrial steel storage racks, responsible warehouse managers will want their racks to meet this recognized standard for seismic design.

RMI created the R-Mark Certification Program as a way for storage rack users to clearly identify those rack manufacturers whose components and design are in accordance with the RMI Specifications. Steel King is one of a select number of rack manufacturers that holds an active R-Mark License and is a licensed fabricator in Los Angeles County, which has some of the strictest seismic codes in the nation.

While all U.S. states have some potential for earthquakes, 42 of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in a 50-year period, which is generally considered the lifetime of a building.

Another reason for warehouse managers to seek a design professional’s input is the fact that seismic zone designations are changing. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) uses ground acceleration values, referred to as Seismic Design Categories (SDC) from A to F. With seismic requirements increasing in many parts of the country and with a better understanding of structural performance during an earthquake event, these standards will continue to evolve, placing more demand on the rack design.

Seismic separation is another requirement for racks placed within an existing warehouse. This means the rack needs to be a certain distance away from the building columns, so they will not collide during an earthquake. In high-seismic regions, special inspection is typically required. An independent inspector will watch the installation and verify proper bolt tightening, especially the anchor bolt, along with checking for rack damage and missing or poor welds.

Outdoor racking, as well as rack-supported structures, must also be designed to account for wind, rain and snow loads. In hurricane-prone regions, for example, outdoor rack and rack-supported structures must be designed to withstand the force of high-speed winds, in addition to standard product and dead loads.

When heavy snowfall is prevalent, the outdoor rack and rack-supported structures must accommodate the accumulated weight of both snow and snow drifts, which occur when wind pushes snow up against taller structures or towers. In all such unusual environmental conditions, of course, it is essential to consult with a professional about incorporating necessary safety factors into the rack design.


By definition, an engineered system is any non-standard storage rack that requires special design considerations. This can include a variety of rack types, as well as safety equipment that is semi-customized or custom-designed specifically to the warehouse application.

In terms of safety, racking, of course, must be designed for any unusual stresses, loads or functions placed upon it. It must also meet applicable fire codes and insurance requirements. For instance, racking loaded with flammable products would require certain accommodations to assure adequate fire detection, containment and suppression.

Some of the most highly engineered systems actually involve pick modules, elevated platforms and work platforms. In such engineered systems, a number of key factors must also be addressed to ensure safety, compliance and permitting.


While there is no denying that purchasing quick-ship racking is convenient for many standard applications, many larger, more complex warehouse applications today require expert input from a design professional. This is almost always the case when it is necessary to coordinate with integrators, as well as various safety and trade professionals under deadline. Troubles often occur when someone decides it is quicker and cheaper to buy quick-ship racking, when the application really calls for an engineered system.

So, when optimal storage, material flow, safety and compliance are required in a warehouse, proactive managers will get the help they need up front to avoid costly surprises, delays or retrofits. WMHS

About the Author

Arlin Keck is an Engineer at Steel King Industries (, a designer and manufacturer of warehouse storage racks, pallet racks and material handling/safety products since 1970.

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