Denise Rosenau, web marketing manager, has been working with SJF Material Handling for over six years.
Pallets and pallet racking are one of the simplest and yet most essential tools used daily in the global supply chain. Whilst they are designed to be as safe to use as possible, they can still cause significant hazards when not used correctly.
Some of the most common injuries sustained from incorrectly using pallets and racking are puncture wounds, sprained ankles and even broken bones. While these are thankfully uncommon, when forklifts are irresponsibly used for an unproved purpose, like a man lift, the results can be disastrous, and even fatal.
With an estimated 2 billion pallets in circulation across the United States, it is incredibly important to ensure that handlers have a good grasp of what it takes to work safely with and around pallets. Educating users and taking all appropriate precautionary measures is essential to avoiding unnecessary accidents.
Here are the essential DOs and DON'Ts of working safely with pallets and racking.
Use protective equipment
It's important to use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when working with pallets and pallet racking. These include gloves and standard safety shoes/boots to protect your feet from falling pallets. In environments where pallets are regularly being dropped (intentionally as a process of moving them), it may be prudent to wear hearing protection. There are some facilities that implement protocols to ensure that pallets land softly when being placed on the floor to avoid their workers developing auditory issues from the resulting damage.
Limit the height of stacked pallets
When manually stacking pallets, it is important to maintain a stacking height of 4 ft. (1.2 m) maximum. This helps to ensure that pallet handling remains as safe as possible. Beyond this height, it is necessary to organise for a forklift operator to assist in separating any tall stacks into smaller piles before being unstacked or otherwise manually handling them.
Take care when stepping between or standing on pallets
When pallets are positioned side by side in storage racks, workers sometimes need to step between them, or even onto one in order to reach behind a pallet for a product. Ankle and knee injuries are all too common for workers who attempt these moves only to lose their balance, so take caution when traversing pallets in this way.
It's important to be just as cautious if you decide to stand on a pallet, however temporarily. If your foot were to become trapped between the boards or a board was to break beneath you, it could result in significant injury. Some designs are also prone to tipping, so you can't afford to be complacent when traversing pallets.
Only reach behind pallets with pick hooks
Wherever possible, avoid stepping on pallets to reach for products behind them. Instead, always use a pick hook to pull the product forwards. This practice will prevent any unnecessary tipping of a pallet from an imbalance of the weight that is placed on it.
Manually lift pallets with extreme caution
There is a wide variety of both racking and pallets - some pallets can weigh as little as 30 lb. (13.6 kg) to over 70 lb. (32 kg). Some applications of lightweight pallets allow for individual handling by an employee, and they can usually be lifted with relative ease. However, heavier pallets are more widely used and extreme caution must be taken with handling and moving them. Ideally, always use a forklift or similar materials handling machinery; otherwise, employees should lift them together and always follow the occupational safety and health guidelines for safe lifting techniques.
Use a pallet as a man lift
Limit the height of stacked pallets. PHOTO: CHUTTERSNAP
Only a certifiably safe, engineered lift platform should be used as a man lift, with no exceptions, and these should only be used once you have been certified as having received the appropriate training. It's true that pallets are designed to hold considerable weights (2,500 lb. / 1,100 kg - or more), but this guide relates specifically to loads that are uniformly distributed across the pallet and not the localised load that a standing worker would create.
Use damaged or inappropriate pallets
Damaged pallets should be removed from the workplace immediately to avoid accidental use that could result in injury. If you find one, remove it from general use and set it aside for either recycle or repair. Take care to also choose pallets that are designed for the purpose of the task at hand to ensure that it is the right and safest choice for the job.
Stand empty pallets on their end
Empty pallets that are left standing on their end are prone to becoming unstable and create an unnecessary hazard that could easily result in avoidable injury were they to tip over and land on a worker's leg or foot.
Leave pallet debris lying around
Broken pallet boards that have been left lying around the warehouse floor are a common cause of slip and trip accidents. They can also create instability in materials handling equipment, and even damage wheels, so be sure to prioritise not only safety but warehouse efficiency and clear up pallet debris as soon as it is created.
While working safely with pallets and racking may seem straightforward, many aspects can all too easily be overlooked when urgency and/or complacency are at play. It is essential that all aspects of safe pallet practices are adhered to and regularly reviewed to avoid unnecessary incidents.