On April 08, 2020, an employee sustained fatal injuries when pinned between a large pallet and a positioning table. In May 2019, an employee was killed in a walk-in storage freezer when he was struck by a pallet. A similar incident occurred in February 2019 when a pallet fell off the rack onto an employee and fractured his back and neck.
Each of these Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) accident reports highlights the role pallets can play in warehouse injuries. While pallets enable warehouse workers to lift heavy loads with mechanical equipment, they can also compromise employee safety when objects shift in transport or heavy machinery fails.
Employee trainings on pallet safety tips can help minimize pallet accidents. Additionally, warehouse managers can consider alternatives to wood pallets to prevent injuries and protect equipment.
Pallet Safety Tips to Keep Workers Safe
Wood pallets, whether handled manually or by a forklift, have caused more than 30.000 injuries in five years. To minimize pallet injuries, warehouse managers can educate employees on pallet safety tips that can be broadly categorized under pallet inspection and pallet handling.
Wood degrades rapidly due to moisture absorption. As a result, wood block pallets complete only 3-4 trips across the supply chain before they must be repaired. In order to reuse wood pallets safely, the pallets should be closely inspected for the following:
- Loose or broken boards: Wood pallets shrink or expand depending on their moisture content. This activity loosens the boards attached to blocks or stringers. A pallet with compromised boards destabilizes product loads. Additionally, loose boards jam automated systems and damage warehouse machinery.
- Protruding nails: Nails often protrude from the pallet’s surface. These sharp objects can injure workers and damage products. Protruding nails that work free from pallet boards can also damage warehouse automation machinery.
Although onsite pallet inspection, maintenance, and repair can decrease warehouse productivity, wood pallets should nevertheless be inspected after every trip across the supply chain to ensure worker safety. Pallets rejected upon inspection should be designated for repair or discarded. Additionally, warehouse managers should prevent broken and discarded pallets from leaking out of supply chains as unintentional contact can cause non-occupational injuries.
Once a pallet inspector determines that pallets are safe to use, employees should handle them safely to further minimize injury risks. The following pallet safety tips for lifting pallets manually or with the help of forklifts can help prevent workplace injuries.
Pallet Lifting Safety Tips
- Train employees on pallet lifting techniques: By following a few key ergonomic principles for lifting heavy wood pallets, warehouse workers can minimize strain on their lower back, spine, and shoulders. Employees should be trained on smart lifting techniques to avoid back and shoulder injuries.
- Avoid pallet lifting by a single person: OSHA recommends engaging two people while lifting weights heavier than 50 pounds. Empty reusable wood block pallets, weighing around 75 pounds, can cause lifting injuries and should always be lifted and carried by two people.
- Avoid overload or unevenly loaded pallets: Pallets should stay within the limits of their rated capacity for dynamic loading. The uneven density of wood pallets can unbalance a stack of loaded pallets; therefore, overloaded or unevenly loaded pallets should be avoided at all costs.
- Avoid stacking empty pallets too high: OSHA regulations mandate that pallets should be stacked no higher than 15 feet on a smooth level surface. While stacking the empty pallets by hand, employees should wear protective gear and stack pallets no higher than six feet.
- Keep the warehouse floor safe and clean: Floor-level pallets should be marked with brightly colored materials, and unused floor-level pallets should not be left unattended. Likewise, since stray splinters and nails from damaged wood pallets can pose a serious risk of injury, warehouse floors should remain clear of such debris.
While these pallet safety tips apply to all types of pallets, warehouse managers committed to the safety of the warehouse and workforce are turning to high-quality plastic pallets for a lighter, stronger, and safer alternative to wood pallets.
Plastic Pallets: Lighter, Stronger & Safer Shipping Platforms
Unfortunately, warehouse injuries occur even when pallets are inspected and workers are trained on pallet safety. A simple pallet inspection error can cost lives and cause injuries. High-quality plastic pallets enable warehouse managers to easily address many safety issues that arise from wood pallets.
Plastic Pallet Features That Enhance Warehouse Safety
- Unibody Construction: Unlike wood pallets, plastic pallets do not contain individual boards pieced together with nails and fasteners. As a result, plastic pallets lack the stray splinters and protruding nails that can injure people and damage products.
- Lighter Weight: Plastic pallets are up to 35% lighter than wood block pallets, weighing around 50 pounds.
- Nonabsorbent Surface: Wood block pallet weight and integrity can vary due to moisture content. Since plastic pallets are impervious to liquids and do not degrade in damp environments, their weight and integrity remains consistent and reliable.
- Uniform Size and Shape: Unlike reused wood pallets that display dimensional variations, the consistent weight and measurements of plastic pallets make them better suited for automated storage and retrieval systems.
- Ergonomic Design: Plastic pallets have built-in handholds that improve ergonomic efficiency for manually lifting. Additionally, rounded corners at the notches facilitate fork placement into the pallet.
While plastic pallets are light enough for a single employee to lift, best practices recommend employing two people to manually move or stack these pallets. Machinery such as Gorbel’s vacuum sorting system can lift, move, or stack pallets effortlessly and improve productivity as well as warehouse safety.
Stronger and safer plastic pallets have four times the lifespan of wood pallets and can make up to 100 trips across the supply chain. This makes them an ideal fit for pallet pooling and helps lower the total cost of business (TCOB) by eliminating the need for in-house maintenance, and pallet repair. Managers seeking the best pallet safety tip may discover that it resides in switching to high-quality plastic pallets.
iGPS plastic pallets can help you avoid pallet-related accidents in warehouses. To learn more about our lighter, stronger, and safer shipping platforms, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.