BlogSupply Chain SafetyCost effective pallet management

When a pallet is emptied at your warehouse or distribution center, chances are good it’ll be used again. This means that pallets start to accumulate around the loading docks until enough pile up to make it worthwhile to ship them back up the supply chain. After all, a handful of pallets hardly justifies the fuel cost of a semi truck’s journey. The result of this system tends to be pallets piling up anywhere they will fit.

These stacks of pallets can be a safety hazard for your employees and for your business. The standard reusable wood block pallet is very heavy even when empty, between 65 – 75 pounds. A pallet stack toppling over onto an employee can cause serious injury. Wood pallets are also flammable, and care must be taken not only to ensure that they’re stacked in a stable manner, but also that they’re positioned away from ignition sources and that a working fire suppression system is in place. For warehouse employees, knowing how to stack empty pallets and store them safely is vital for their well-being and that of their coworkers, the warehouse, and, ultimately, the company.

How to Stack Empty Pallets Safely

Safe pallet stacking has a very basic prerequisite: a stack of pallets must start on a flat level surface. In order to prevent injury, handle pallets with lifting equipment. If it is necessary to lift pallets by hand, ensure personnel safely by following the proper procedures:

  1. At least two people should be designated to stack empty wood pallets when stacking by hand.
  2. Employees should use gloves and proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when handling pallets to prevent splinters and lacerations. Boots should be worn to protect the feet from crush injuries if a pallet falls or is dropped.
  3. Warehouse workers and anyone else lifting pallets should be familiar with the proper lifting procedures, i.e., lifting with the legs and not the back. Whenever possible, they should lift an edge of the pallet to the top of the stack first, and then slide it on top of the stack, keeping most of the weight on the floor and on other pallets.
  4. Employees should never attempt to stack pallets above about six feet or so. Forklifts or other machinery should be used for any pallet stacks that go higher.

Not only should pallets be stacked on a flat surface, they should be stacked evenly as well. Any pallet that sticks out or whose weight isn’t supported on all sides makes the stack unstable, increasing its risk of toppling over and falling on workers or causing product damage. Wood pallets naturally become damaged over time as they are handled by employees and machinery, and pallets with cracked or broken edge boards, stringers, or blocks are dangerous and should be sorted out to be discarded or repaired instead of being placed in the stack.  

Following your insurance company’s guidelines will help keep you and your property safe legally and physically.

Pallets should be stacked in accordance with either the International Fire Code (IFC/ICC) or the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) which have various conditions for facilities storing pallets, including regulations restricting pallet stack height and the distance of pallet stacks from buildings and property lines. Which code applies can vary by state. Insurance policy guidelines will be in compliance with these regulations and will likely go beyond them, so following your insurance company’s guidelines will help keep you and your property safe legally and physically.

How High Is Too High to Stack Pallets?

Empty pallets stacked too high.In the U.S., the statute regulating the height of a stack of empty pallets is vague. It is covered in Standard Number 1917.14 on marine terminals, and states, “Cargo, pallets, and other material stored in tiers shall be stacked in such a manner as to provide stability against sliding and collapse.” The IFC/ICC codes classify pallets of all types as high hazard, and dictate a pile of pallets no greater than 60 feet wide and 30 feet tall, according to section 3206.2. NFPA guideline states that idle pallet stacks shall not exceed 15 feet in height, or be more than 400 square feet. Insurance standards are more clear-cut and many companies turn to their policies to create pallet storage guidelines.

For insurance companies, the main concern around pallet stacking and storage is fire.

The guidelines provided by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company and West Bend Mutual Insurance are good examples. All have similar suggestions for idle pallet storage:

  • Floor storage: If wood pallets are stored on the warehouse floor they should only be stacked six feet high, in groups of four, and have at least eight feet of space between groups.
  • High stacks: If pallets are stacked higher than six feet inside the warehouse then they should be protected by an automatic fire sprinkler system in accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard 13.
  • Rack storage: Empty pallets should not be stored in pallet racks unless the racks are protected by an Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinkler system. The absence of such a system reduces a warehouse’s ability to maximize its storage space.

For insurance companies, the main concern around pallet stacking and storage is fire. Wood is a combustible material and as it dries out, it becomes easier to ignite. Wood pallets also tend to break down over time, splintering and creating frayed rough surfaces that make it easier for a fire source to ignite the pallets. A stack of used wood pallets sitting idle inside a warehouse is a serious potential fire hazard, and insurance company standards for pallet storage are aimed at preventing fires that can injure personnel or destroy a warehouse. The potential danger to employees and the cost of renovating or rebuilding a warehouse are staggering, and for these reasons, warehouse personnel should take the threat of fire seriously. Operations managers and logistics coordinators may even wish to consider alternative types of pallets to reduce this risk.

Only You Can Prevent Pallet Fires

Empty pallet stacks that contributed to a fire.Many warehouse managers turn to pallets made of alternative materials for enhanced fire safety. Some high-quality plastic pallets have been independently certified as having fire performance equal to or better than wood.

In addition, high-quality plastic pallets also make stacking and pallet handling safety easier to achieve, with ridges that make it easy for pallets to nest with each other. A plastic pallet is much lighter than a wood one– around 50 pounds compared to a wood block pallet’s weight of 65 – 75 pounds –and lacks a wood pallet’s dangerous nails and rough edges. Plastic pallets are more durable, resilient, and consistent in size than wood pallets, which makes them easier to stack into stable piles. With their smooth construction and easy-to-handle light weight, plastic pallets bring greater safety to your employees, warehouse, and warehouse equipment.

To switch to a light weight, easy-to-stack iGPS plastic pallet that can help keep your employees and warehouse safer, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.


Image 2: Flickr User Michael Coghlan