The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has general stacking and storage regulations and materials handling recommendations for businesses that store product inventory so that conditions don't become a hazard to workers. OSHA also has specific warehousing regulations for different industries and the products they offer, including grains, lumber and bricks. It is important to provide safety training to employees about potential hazards in the work environment.
OSHA Standards for the Warehouse Industry
If workers do not follow OSHA warehouse safety guidelines when stacking materials, the materials can collapse or fall and crush or pin workers, causing severe injuries or fatalities. Before stacking materials, an employer must paint walls or posts with stripes that show the maximum stacking heights allowed, so warehouse workers can quickly reference the height limit and consider the accessibility of, and need for, the material when building stacks for storage.
It is an employer's responsibility to make their employees aware of the accessibility of the materials, the height and weight of the stacks, and the condition of the storage containers or pallets. Additionally, they must:
- Keep materials from accumulating in storage areas and loading docks. Failure to do this may cause various safety hazards, including tripping, fires, explosions, or an infestation of pests, including rats and insects.
- When storing materials in buildings still under construction, place stored materials inside buildings a minimum of 6 feet from hoistways or a minimum of 10 feet inside floor openings and away from exterior walls.
- Separate materials and products that are not compatible.
- Place bound material on a rack and stack, block or interlock it to prevent toppling over, collapsing or sliding.
OSHA Requirements for Grain Bins and Silos
While there is no stacking height limit for grains, OSHA guidelines recommend certain workplace safety standards for warehouse employees working in bins or silos:
- Turn off and lock all equipment associated with the bin or silo so the grain will not move while workers are inside. Standing on moving grain can cause a fatal injury, as it acts like quicksand and can pull people down in seconds.
- Prohibit workers from walking down grain to make it flow.
- Provide workers with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as a secured body harness and lifeline or boatswains chair before they enter a bin or silo.
- Station a worker outside a bin while a co-worker is inside to continuously track them while they work and offer any assistance.
- Prohibit workers from entering silos or bins under a bridging condition or where grain products can potentially bury them.
When working with grains, employers must train employees on the importance of following these safety rules before they enter bins or silos. The employer should also test the area's air quality before employees enter to make sure there are no combustible and toxic fumes and determine if there is sufficient oxygen present for workers. If hazardous air exists, employers should vent it to reduce toxicity and bring oxygen levels up before anyone enters. Employers must also issue a permit each time a worker enters a bin or silo stating that the implementation of these precautions took place.
Worker Safety Guidelines for Brick and Lumber
When stacking bricks and lumber, OSHA regulations state that storage should not occur on scaffolds or on runways above supplies used for primary operations. Brick stacks should not be taller than 7 feet. When loose brick stacks are at 4 feet and above, taper them back 2 inches for every foot above 4 feet. For masonry blocks stacked taller than 6 feet, taper stacks down one-half block per tier above 6 feet.
Before stacking lumber, remove all nails and place the stacks on sills that are level with solid support. Lumber stacks should be self-supporting and stable and should not be taller than 20 feet when using a forklift or 16 feet when stacked through manual lifting.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.