Employees working in warehouses and manufacturing plants are particularly prone to injuries. In fact, a survey report published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019 ranked manufacturing and warehousing among the top five private sectors reporting nonfatal work-related injuries and illnesses.
A typical reusable wood block pallet weighs 75 to 80 pounds and should ideally be lifted by two people, as recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Manually lifting heavy objects such as wood block pallets improperly can lead to shoulder and back injuries including muscle strain, disc injury, or even fracture. Because mishandled pallets can compromise the safety of workers, educating employees about how to properly lift a pallet is a crucial step in decreasing workplace injuries.
How to Properly Lift a Pallet
In warehouses, as well as manufacturing facility loading docks and storage areas, workers will bend many times throughout their shifts to stack or unstack empty pallets or inspect them. Bending while lifting puts additional stress on back muscles that support the weight of the upper body along with the weight lifted. Repeatedly bending forward and twisting at the waist to lift heavy wood pallets can sprain the lower back, spine, or shoulder muscles.
Squatting down or bending at hips and knees puts less stress on the back while lifting.
The answer to how to properly lift a pallet lies in a few ergonomic principles. Maintaining a correct posture, straight torso, and relaxed shoulders while lifting helps prevent the back and shoulder muscles from becoming strained. To minimize injuries while manually stacking a wood pallet or lifting a pallet from a stack, workers should practice smart lifting techniques such as:
- Using the feet as base support: Placing feet shoulder-width apart provides a wide base of support while lifting heavy loads and discourages back lifting.
- Keeping the upper back straight: A straight spine and a neutral posture help avoid back injuries. Using upper thighs and knees as support while lifting a pallet instead of bending forward reduces injury risks.
- Bending at hips and knees or squatting down: Squatting down or bending at hips and knees puts less stress on the back while lifting. When two workers are unstacking wood pallets, it is safest to hold a pallet at the corners and lower it down to the floor by bending the knees and keeping the feet apart.
- Holding the load closer to the body: It requires less effort to lift loads if they are kept close to the body at power zone height (mid-thigh to mid-chest). One technique that can help is to tip pallets to a standing position while keeping a corner or edge of the pallet on the floor to support some of the pallet’s weight before lifting the entire pallet.
While the tips above can help employees learn how to properly lift a pallet, before handling wood pallets it is important to ensure that:
- Pallets have been inspected and do not have sharp splinters, rough edges, or protruding nails.
- Pallets are not leaned on their sides and are stacked evenly no more than six feet high.
- Weight is distributed evenly to avoid injuries while lifting.
- Pallet platforms move freely and do not snag under load.
- Workers lifting pallets are using personal protective equipment (PPE) including gloves and steel-toed boots.
Safety issues with wood pallets, such as broken or split boards, protruding splinters, or missing fasteners can be easily identified during a pallet inspection. One way to streamline your pallet inspection process and reduce the opportunity for employee injury during pallet handling is to switch to a safer, more durable type of pallet.
Why Plastic Pallets Are Easier to Lift Than Wood Pallets
Plastic pallets are redefining shipping platforms worldwide. Unlike wood pallets, high-quality plastic pallets increase pallet handling safety as they are lighter, more durable, and sturdier than wood. Plastic pallets are easier and safer to lift compared to wood pallets owing to their:
- Lighter weight: High-quality plastic pallets weigh less than 50 pounds, making them around 35 percent lighter than wood block pallets. As a result, a worker can single-handedly move and stack them safely.
- Ergonomic design: Inadequate handholds make manual lifting of wood pallets more difficult and increase the risk of contact stress. Built-in handholds on plastic pallets ensure ergonomic efficiency and easy lifting.
- Uniform construction: Plastic pallets have uniform dimensions, rounded edges, and smooth surfaces. There are no risks of injury from splinters or protruding nails while handling plastic pallets.
Plastic shipping pallets provide a safer and more reliable alternative to wood.
The handling benefits of plastic pallets listed above also help to speed up throughput at warehouses and distribution centers by making loading and unloading easier. This ultimately increases efficiency in the supply chain, reducing overall costs.
While the way to properly lift a pallet is the same for both plastic and wood platforms, plastic shipping pallets provide a safer and more reliable alternative to wood. Switching to plastic pallets helps minimize warehouse injuries, lowering your total cost of business (TCOB) over time.
iGPS plastic rental pallets can increase the safety of your workers. To learn more about pallet pooling options, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.