By Jonathan Parks, Contributor
Anyone who manages or operates a warehouse or fulfillment center is likely aware that pallets are a leading cause of warehouse injuries. Pallets enable the lifting of heavy loads with mechanical equipment, which is never entirely risk free. Objects can shift and machinery can fail, and the result can be dangerous. According to research published by Penn State University, using data collected from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, more than 30,000 people visited hospital emergency rooms between January 2014 and December 2018 due to pallet-related injuries.
Luckily, training your employees can minimize the chances of an accident. Ensuring your warehouse workers are familiar with pallet safety tips and best practices can help prevent avoidable injuries.
The most hazardous workplace injuries are caused by heavy loads falling on employees. Pallets may cause this type of accident if they are stacked improperly or are mishandled by a forklift. To prevent this, ensure your pallets are in good shape before putting them to use.
When wood pallets arrive at your facility, thoroughly inspect them for loose or broken boards that can break during handling, creating splinters that can harm employees, destabilize loads or get caught in machinery. Nails are also a concern. Nails can work free of a pallet’s boards as the pallet flexes during handling or as the wood shrinks and swells due to moisture. Protruding nails can snag employees’ clothing, damage personal protective equipment and cause injuries.
Pallets should always be inspected when first delivered. If a pallet displays any of the issues above, return it immediately to the provider to be refurbished or disposed of. Detecting damaged pallets is the first step toward reducing accidents in the warehouse and during transportation.
Five Pallet Safety Tips to Keep Workers Safe
Always ensure your employees are handling the pallets safely. They may be tempted to take unsafe shortcuts. For instance, operators won’t always get out of the forklifts to ensure that their forks are lined up. This can lead to the forks ramming into the stringers or blocks of a pallet, resulting in damage to the pallet after it passed inspection — and possible damage to the forklift, too.
You can keep your workers, pallets, forklifts and warehouse safe by following these pallet safety tips:
- Ensure employees are properly trained. Make sure workers are staying within safety guidelines and are not taking shortcuts.
- Don’t overload or unevenly load pallets. Pallets should be loaded only to their rated capacity. If counterweights are provided for the forklift, they should be used to help counterbalance a heavy load. Under no circumstances should improvised counterweights like sandbags or other warehouse personnel be used.
- Don’t stack empty pallets too high. Pallets should be stored on a smooth level surface and stacked no more than 15ft high to comply with OSHA regulations. Most insurance companies will prefer you stack pallets no higher than six feet.
- Have two people lift pallets weighing more than 50lbs. Empty reusable wood block pallets should be lifted and carried by two people. If only one employee is available, they should exercise caution, lifting with their legs and bracing the edge of the pallet against the stack so at least part of the weight is supported for them before attempting to lift the whole pallet.
- Keep the warehouse clean. Wood or other debris on the warehouse floor can cause dangerous accidents.
As someone who works exclusively with plastic pallets, my personal first-hand experience suggests that plastic pallets generally present fewer safety problems than wood pallets. They are lighter, more resilient and don’t involve nails or splinters that your employees can get snagged or cut on. That said, it’s good practice to follow these pallet safety tips no matter what type of pallet you’re using. In the end, the best pallet safety tip may be to do your homework and choose high-quality shipping platforms that are less likely to cause injuries to employees or damage to products. WMHS\
Jonathan Parks serves as SVP, Supply Chain at iGPS Logistics, a leading provider of plastic pallet pooling solutions. He has more than 15 years’ experience in the supply chain and logistics industry (https://igps.net).