How to Anchor Pallet Racks to Be Safe and OSHA Compliant

16th Mar 2023

Pallet racks are a critical component of any warehouse storing large loads. If your racks aren’t properly anchored, though, these must-have storage solutions become million-dollar accidents waiting to happen.

The size of the loads typically stored on pallet racks means that should the rack fail, a warehouse could face catastrophic inventory losses. Worse, unsecured racks pose a potentially fatal employee hazard that OSHA takes very seriously.

Pallet rack anchors are base plate-and-bolt systems that secure the rack to the floor. These anchors prevent racks from pivoting or tipping over when struck by forces like earthquakes, impacts, or high winds.

OSHA requires pallet rack anchors

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not specifically name pallet rack anchors in its requirements, but don’t be fooled. Failure to secure pallet racks is one of the most frequent citations the agency issues. At least two OSHA regulations can be interpreted to mean these large-load racks must be bolted down.

Section (5)(a)(1) of the OSH Act of 1970 requires employers to provide “a place of employment which [is] free from recognized hazards that are…likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” There have been multiple instances in which unsecured large-load racking was found to violate this rule.

OSHA has also cited facilities with unsecured pallet racks underOSHA Standard 1910.176(b), which covers the safe storage of material.

Though OSHA clearly considers unsecured pallet racking a hazard, it doesn’t offer a specific protocol to secure racks safely. Butwhen citing a facility for unsecured large-load racking in 2015, OSHA inspectors recommended the facility fix the problem by bolting down its racks in accordance withANSI Standard MH16.1-2012. That standard says racking systems must include column base plates anchored to the floor, then goes on to give technical specifications for appropriate plates and bolts.

Unsecured pallet racking is an accident waiting to happen

Avoiding an OSHA fine is a strong incentive to bolt down your freestanding racks, but it’s far from the most compelling reason.

First, there’s the human element. OSHA regulations are intended to protect employees from harm, and a freestanding rack holding heavy loads is dangerous.

Second, there’s financial liability. An overturned pallet rack could cost you anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars in damaged inventory. Many warehouses keep tall racks close together to maximize storage space. If none of them are anchored to the floor, a forklift crashing into one could create a devastating domino effect.

It can be hard to imagine something as heavy as a loaded pallet rack tipping over. You might think the weight of the stock itself would hold the rack in place. But unless they’re secured to the ground, these racks are still subject to the laws of physics.

Despite the dangers of climbing onto racks, employees have been known to clamber onto a shelf to retrieve an item. Those localized, uneven movements can be just enough to pull the rack off balance. More commonly, pallet rack anchors hold the rack steady in the event of a seismic event. This could be anything from an earthquake to a bump from a wayward forklift.

How to anchor pallet racking to the floor

  1. Check your flooring. It’s best to anchor your racking to concrete. Other industrial flooring types, like epoxy and vinyl, are typically not sturdy enough to hold the bolts. Even vitrified porcelain, while very strong, can be weakened at the spots you drill into it to secure anchors. If your warehouse floor is anything but concrete, get the advice of a materials handling expert before installing large-load racks. It's important to level your pallet racks before anchoring them. Few concrete floors are perfectly level. To avoid putting uneven stress on your anchors, use steel shims to level the frames.
  2. Talk to an expert. Securing pallet racks to the floor involves drilling into your concrete slab. Using the wrong type of anchor, anchoring racks at the wrong point, or bolting them into the wrong position are simple but costly mistakes. Save money and time by getting advice from an expert before starting, to be sure you do it right the first time.
  3. Know how many anchors you’ll need. Most base plates have two or more holes, but that doesn’t mean every hole gets an anchor. In fact, drilling holes that close together can weaken the concrete between them. Most racks need only one bolt per base plate. The additional holes are to provide you options in where to place your anchor. If you drill a hole and encounter rebar, instead of relocating the entire rack, you can just switch to a different hole in the plate. There are exceptions. If a facility is in an earthquake-prone area or if the loads intended for the rack are extremely heavy, each base plate should be anchored with two bolts. Consult with your materials handling expert before beginning to be sure you use the right number of anchors for your specific location and application.
  4. Install your anchor. Follow your expert’s guidance on the correct hole depth and nut torque for your racking. Then:
  • Drill a hole the same diameter as your bolt and slightly deeper than the bolt’s length.
  • Use a wire brush or vacuum to clear debris from the hole so the anchor can get a good grip.
  • Slide a washer onto the anchor, thread the nut so it is flush with the top of the bolt, and insert the bolt into the hole. Drive it down until the nut touches the base plate.
  • Tighten the nut to the appropriate torque.

Choosing the right pallet rack anchors for your facility

There are several types of bolts you could use to stabilize your racking, and each one comes in multiple sizes. Choosing one is not just a matter of personal preference. Each anchor type and size is designed for a specific application, and using the wrong one could cause the anchor to fail.

To choose the appropriate anchor type and size for your project, refer to the rack manufacturer’s recommendations or the expertise of your materials handling advisor. Here are the anchor types you’re most likely to encounter.

  • Wedge anchors. This is the most common pallet rack anchor. It looks like a standard bolt-nut-washer combo, but the bolt’s tapered end makes it unique. When properly torqued, the tapered end is forced through a metal sleeve that expands the space taken up by the bolt, similar to a drywall anchor. When using these anchors, the right hole size and torque are critical. Wedge anchors are permanent, so be really certain about your layout before using them. If you decide to move your racks later you’ll have to cut the bolt. This also means if you use the wrong size bolt and it breaks, you will have to drill a new hole through a different part of the base plate to replace it.
  • Strike anchors. These impact-expansion anchors can only be installed in concrete, not masonry. Strike anchors are sized to perfectly fit the hole. You can visually inspect a strike anchor after it’s been set; if the head of the pin touches the threads, it is properly set.
  • Screw anchors. Screw anchors are relatively rare in warehouse applications. They can be installed in both concrete and masonry and, unlike wedge or strike anchors, they can be removed and reused. They’re typically used in applications where racks only need to be anchored temporarily.
  • Sleeve anchors. Sleeve anchors are rarely used for pallet racking because they are not rated to anchor racks holding heavy weights. For racks holding light and medium-duty loads, they can be installed into both concrete and masonry.
  • Adhesive anchors. Adhesive anchors are a very resilient choice for permanent anchoring. Installing them is similar to installing a wedge anchor, except the hole is filled with epoxy before the bolt is inserted. Once hardened, the epoxy holds the anchor firmly in place.

Frequently asked questions about anchoring pallet racks

  • Do you have to bolt down pallet racking? Yes. Unsecured pallet racks are dangerous. Even short racks can overturn if they are not bolted to the floor.
  • How many columns on a pallet rack must be anchored? All of them. Both ANSI and the Rack Manufacturers’ Institute (RMI) require anchors at the base of every column, including short columns, aisle columns, and interior or rear columns.
  • How many anchors does each column need? Typically, one. Base plates come with multiple holes, but in most cases, you can choose one and install a single anchor. In some instances, like earthquake-prone areas or extremely heavy loads, columns should be anchored with two or more bolts. Consult your engineer or materials handling expert for advice on how many anchors you should use.
  • What are the technical specifications for pallet rack anchoring? OSHA and RMI both reference the technical specifications put forth by ANSI. In addition, you should consult your local building codes and the recommendations of the pallet rack manufacturer.
  • How do I know which anchor to choose? Consult your engineer, rack manufacturer, or material handling advisor to choose the anchor type and size best suited to your needs.
  • Can I insert anchors near slab expansion joints? Yes, but be careful. Consult an engineer or materials handling expert before drilling into concrete near expansion joints.
  • Can I install a new anchor near an old, unused anchor hole? If you already have an old anchor hole, you can place a new anchor 3 or more bolt diameters (center to center) away from it. If the old hole is filled with dry-pack mortar, you can insert a new anchor 1.5 bolt diameters away.

Do it right the first time

Bolting down pallet racks is not as simple as inserting a couple of screws. It’s a precise activity that should be undertaken with care. Doing it wrong wastes time and resources, fails to secure the rack, and leaves you with a damaged floor.

Before you drill your first hole,consult with a warehouse racking expert. We can make sure your floor is ready to receive anchors, help you design the optimal layout for your racking, advise you on the right anchors to buy, and oversee installation to make sure the job is done right.