Whether they belong to your company’s internal pallet pool or are merely waiting to be disposed of, tall stacks of pallets are almost inevitable at warehouses and distribution centers. The location of these pallet stacks is also often haphazard, as employees pile pallets wherever they can in order to free up space. But idle shipping platforms are more than an inconvenience. Stacks of empty pallets can pose a toppling hazard to employees and a fire threat to the warehouse as a whole.
The wood fibers that most pallets are made of begin to fray when they are abraded by contact with packaging, concrete, or heavy machinery, and this fraying makes them easily ignited. Fire prevention is probably the single most important reason for properly storing idle pallets. Here’s what you need to know about both indoor and outdoor idle pallet storage.
Outdoor Idle Pallet Storage Guidelines
The first instinct of a warehouse supervisor planning their idle pallet storage might be to look to a government agency. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has as little to say about stacking pallets and fire prevention as it does about warehouse racking safety guidelines. It simply states that stacked materials should be made stable and that fire sprinklers must have 18 inches of clearance above the materials below. Clearer pallet storage guidance is available, but it doesn’t come from OSHA. Instead, detailed pallet storage safety guidelines come from the insurance companies that insure warehouses against loss.
While storing pallets outdoors may be the safest way to reduce fire hazards, it introduces other problems.
The guidelines these companies give are similar across the board and focus on three areas:
- Stable Stacking: Piles of pallets should be arranged in stable stacks with the broad horizontal side on the ground. Pallets should not rest on their edges (this ensures they don’t fall over).
- Good Repair: Damaged pallets need to be removed from the general pallet stack. They cannot remain on site indefinitely and should be disposed of promptly.
- Separated Storage: Pallet stacks should be located well away from other storage areas to reduce the chance of a fire spreading from the stacks to other storage or work areas. Most insurance companies do not give an exact distance and merely note that pallet stacks need to be well separated from propane and compressed gas storage areas.
It should also be noted that these criteria are not the only ones that may apply. Municipalities sometimes set their own rules, so when creating an outdoor idle pallet storage area you will need to consult with the local fire department.
While storing pallets outdoors may be the safest way to reduce fire hazards, it introduces other problems. Pallets stored outside are exposed to the elements and to local wildlife which can be a potential source of mold, mildew, and bacterial contamination. Companies that specialize in products like food and pharmaceuticals–which require careful environmental controls and safety considerations–will prefer to store their pallets indoors.
Indoor Idle Pallet Storage: Keeping Your Warehouse Safe
Indoors, the rules governing idle pallet storage are set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) under their standards for the installation of sprinkler systems. They state that the preferred indoor storage area for idle pallets is in an adjacent building or room separated from main storage areas by a non-combustible wall and protected entryways. A concrete or masonry wall with a steel door would fulfill these requirements. Steel columns in these rooms should be protected by a one-hour fire-rated covering and the walls should have a three-hour fire-resistance rating. An idle pallet storage room should have an NFPA 13 Standard sprinkler system; if the room is storing stacks of plastic pallets that exceed 12 feet in height then an ESFR sprinkler system may be required. If, by necessity, idle pallet storage is inside the main area of the main facility, the NFPA provides the following guidelines:
- Stack Limitations: Pallets placed on the floor shouldn’t exceed six feet in height for wood pallets and ten feet for plastic pallets.
- Sprinkler Requirements: If pallet storage is higher than six or ten feet (depending on the pallet material), the area must have an NFPA 13-compliant Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinkler system.
- Separation: Wood pallet stacks (in groups of fours) should be separated from each other by at least eight feet. In situations where that is not possible, the idle pallet storage area needs to be separated from commodities by at least 25 feet.
Pallet pooling does away with the need to arrange special transportation solely for pallets and keeps the idle pallets in your warehouse to a minimum.
Pallet storage takes up a lot of space, whether indoors or outdoors, and it also requires time. Your pallet stacks are almost certainly going to be disarranged at some point by employees moving pallets in and out of the storage area. Stacking pallets back into neat piles that meet insurance and city regulations will take up at least a portion of the working day. Moreover, creating cutoff rooms and outdoor storage areas that are safe, meet codes, and are situated in a convenient location requires a significant investment.
A pallet rental program that provides your warehouse or distribution center with only the pallets needed, when they’re needed, is likely a far more cost-effective pallet management strategy. Pallet pooling does away with the need to arrange special transportation solely for pallets and keeps the idle pallets in your warehouse to a minimum. This makes pallet pooling both a safer and more efficient choice than using single-use white wood pallets or managing an internal pallet pool. But not all pallet pooling providers are the same. Choose a pallet rental program that provides the most durable, hygienic, and cost-effective pallet.
The iGPS plastic pallet is more durable and sanitary than a wood pallet and doesn’t shed easily ignited wood dust and debris. To get started with a heavy duty pooled plastic pallet, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.