RUBB

At first glance floors may seem harmless enough, not warranting much care and attention and indeed there is usually no budget in place for maintenance. But neglected floors can become a dangerous and high cost issue in so many ways, some of which are not immediately apparent. Despite ample legislation like the Health & Safety at Work Act, slips and trips still account for a third of all reported major injuries at work and poorly maintained and cleaned floors can cause serious forklift accidents and even explosive fires.

The Workforce Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 require floors to be suitable for the workplace and work activity, kept in good condition and free from obstructions. There are also specific British and European standards which examine slip resistant floors and footwear. The starting point for compliance with all the relevant legislation is a risk assessment exercise. Where risks are identified, the remedial cost may be minimal, as with clear floor line marking and signage or, at the top end of the scale, require significant investment.

Sadly, most work on floor repairs is reactionary rather than preventative, a policy that costs far more in the long run, not just on the floor but on maintenance of materials handling equipment and operators using them. This emphasises the importance of frequent monitoring and updating of risk assessments.

Floor repairs often involve no more than hole filling, a relatively low cost exercise that can reduce forklift wear and tear as well as pedestrian accidents. Much higher up the cost scale is uneven floor flatness that has been caused by low load bearing capacity of the soil beneath a concrete floor. Flatness is particularly crucial in high bay VNA warehouses, where a difference of just 4 mm across a 1,500 mm-wide aisle leads to truck mast deflection of 32 mm at 12 mt high.

If faced with floor dishing problems the good news here is that technology advances have made the remedial costs much less than previously used solutions like pile driving, which can be horrifically expensive and disruptive. Foam injection techniques, for example, of the kind supplied by Uretek, will raise sunken floors to flat levels much quicker, cheaper and less disruptively than pile driving.

Another advance in recent years to reduce disruptive floor levelling issues is the use of laser screed and the laser ground method within the affected aisles. This approach, offered by suppliers like the Cogri Group, replaces the more conventional use of the long strip method, which is both disruptive and far more time-consuming.

Concrete floor qualities and surfaces vary and so forklift traffic can vary in the damage it inflicts. Operators of older warehouses may profit from a re-look at the types of forklifts used and their wheel types, sizes and materials. Conventional VNA machines and reach trucks use relatively small, hard material wheels that cause high wheel load points. A switch to larger rubber wheels could cut impact wear on floors and need not mean forgoing the benefits derived from high density VNA storage afforded by VNA trucks.
Articulated forklifts, for example, use much bigger, softer tyres while still being able to work in 1.6 mt wide aisles up to 12 mt high. Floor cleaning is also made easier by these trucks as no rail guidance on the floor impedes floor cleaning.

Finally, it should be remembered that floor cleaning machines need to be the suitable kind. Heavily oiled floors might need a scarifying action first before a clean, and care must be taken to avoid just sweeping up dust as this could create a fire hazard or even an explosion, depending on the type of dust. It has been known for air-borne custard powder dust to demolish a building with one blast. Floors, therefore, may first need to be washed to turn the dust into a slurry for containment.
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