On July 26, 2017, as three warehouse employees were trying to remove a block of wood that was jammed beneath a pallet, an unsecured load fell and amputated one employee’s thumb. Later that month in a different warehouse, an employee pulling a pallet jack tripped over a stack of empty pallets and fractured his ankle. In August of 2017, an employee was moving a stack of pallets when the top pallets on the stack became unstable and fell on the employee, giving him scrapes and a concussion.
All three of the stories above are from actual Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) accident reports, and pallets played a role in all three. Pallets are often the cause of warehouse injuries; after all, pallets enable the lifting of heavy loads with mechanical equipment, and neither weight nor heavy machinery is entirely risk-free. Objects shift and machinery fails, and the result can be broken bones or worse.
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 Important Pallet Safety Tip: Wood Pallet Inspection
The most hazardous workplace injuries are caused by heavy loads falling on employees. Wood pallets may cause this type of accident if they break or otherwise fail while being handled by a forklift. This can be prevented by ensuring that your pallets are in good shape before putting them to use. When wood pallets arrive they should be thoroughly inspected for the following:
- Loose boards: Wood pallets are built from multiple boards which can pull free of the stringers or blocks they’re attached to. A loose board can pull completely free when the pallet is lifted and cause instability when it’s moved.
- Broken boards: Individual boards on a pallet sometimes break during handling, creating splinters that can harm employees or get caught in machinery. Broken boards can also destabilize loads.
- Protruding nails: Nails often 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, cause lacerations, and inflict puncture wounds.
It may put a dent in your productivity for the day, but pallets should be inspected when they are first delivered. If a wood pallet displays any of the issues above then it should be removed from use. Unacceptable pallets can be rejected at this stage and the provider can take them back to be refurbished or disposed of. If you only discover that the pallets you’ve received are unsuitable when something goes wrong, the problem is yours and your employees.’ While intact, undamaged pallets can also cause injuries, detecting damaged pallets is the first step toward reducing accidents in the warehouse and during transportation.
5 Pallet Safety Tips to Keep Workers Safe
Once you’ve determined that your pallets themselves are safe to use, you’ll need to ensure that your employees are handling the pallets safely. This is easier said than done, since hard-working employees with a deadline will always be tempted to take shortcuts. For instance, operators won’t always get out of the forklift to ensure that their forks are actually lined up, and this can lead to the forks ramming into the stringers or blocks of a wood pallet, resulting in damage to the pallet after it passed inspection–and possible damage to the forklift, too.
Empty reusable wood block pallets weigh enough to cause lifting injuries and should be lifted and carried by two people.
Make sure your workers, pallets, forklifts, and warehouse stay safe by following these pallet safety tips:
- Ensure employees are properly trained. Monitor employee job performance to 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 for dynamic loading. 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 15 feet high in order 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 50 pounds. Empty reusable wood block pallets weigh enough to cause lifting injuries and 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.
It’s a good idea to follow these pallet safety tips no matter what type of pallet you’re using, but you should also realize that some pallets are inherently safer than others. While wood pallets have the tendency to crack, splinter, and leave pieces of wood behind, modern pallets made of plastic have a more durable, unified construction.
Plastic Pallets Are a Safer Shipping Platform
If you’ve worked in a warehouse, then you know that employee injuries happen even when workers are trained and pallets are inspected. Many times this occurs because wood pallet damage wasn’t clearly visible during inspection or because of a simple human error that became more serious because a 75-pound pallet was involved. Plastic pallets solve many of these warehouse safety issues because of the way they are constructed. High-quality plastic pallets have:
- Unibody Construction: Unlike wood pallets, plastic pallets aren’t made of individual boards fastened together. Their lack of nails makes them less likely to come apart and less likely to snag employees, their clothes, or your products.
- Lighter Weight: At under 50 pounds, plastic pallets are much lighter than wood pallets and are light enough for one person to move and stack safely.
- Uniform Size and Shape: Plastic pallets are much more consistent in weight and measurement than wood pallets, removing much of the need to adjust forks for slight dimensional variations while lifting pallets.
- Ergonomic Design: High-quality plastic pallets also feature design elements like chamfered edges and rounded corners around the notches that make it easier to insert forks into the pallet. These features remove the need to bulldoze pallets across the warehouse floor or otherwise force entry.
Due to the material they’re made from and their construction, plastic pallets are a lighter and more resilient shipping platform than wood pallets. In the end, the best pallet safety tip may be to choose a high-quality plastic shipping platform that is less likely to cause injury to employees or damage to product.