2016 trial of a respected big box retailer following the death of a worker has raised fresh concerns over pallet safety. The worker died two weeks after he tripped on an empty pallet and hit his head. While this may be an isolated incident, it highlights the potential consequences of unsafe practices involving pallets.
With 10 billion pallets estimated to be in use around the world, says WSPS consultant Norm Kramer, their safe usage is an issue that goes beyond warehousing.* Without an effective pallet safety program, any operation that receives or ships goods on pallets could be putting workers at risk.
Norm recognizes that pallet users often face a number of safety challenges, including limited control over the condition of pallets entering their workplace. “Pallets may be damaged or substandard,” warns Norm. “These pallets may go unnoticed until a load sags or shifts.” If a substandard pallet is detected, stacking products on better quality pallets is time consuming and may disrupt the flow of work. Improperly placed or stored pallets are another concern, as shown by the big box tripping fatality.
Because of these challenges, says Norm, “it’s the employer’s responsibility to have a safety program in place, and assign competent personnel and resources to it.
Norm offers nine suggestions on how to improve pallet safety in your workplace.
- Create a pallet safety program that includes inspecting pallets, removing damaged pallets from use, and properly handling and storing pallets. Tap into the expertise and experience of the joint health and safety committee and employees who regularly handle pallets.
- Dedicate competent personnel and resources to develop and maintain the program. Show visible support for their efforts.
- Train supervisors and workers on all safe practices and procedures.
- Regularly review your pallet handling practices with an eye to making improvements. Train people on any changes.
- Implement a process to identify and remove damaged pallets from service, and restock loads on undamaged pallets. “Split, broken, or chipped wood, and loads that are sagging or listing may indicate structural damage,” notes Norm. “We often see damaged pallets when walking through workplaces. Most have been put aside, but sometimes they’re still in use.”
- Use the pallets for the purpose they were designed for. For instance, respect their load bearing limits, and use expendable pallets only once.
- Source pallets only from a reputable supplier. If you consistently receive damaged pallets, discuss with your supplier(s) how to prevent this.
- Identify the best locations for placing pallets with goods stored on them, as well as empty pallets. Eliminate blind spots and tripping hazards.
- Establish a zero tolerance policy. “Avoid a culture of complacency,” says Norm. “Don’t assume that just because nothing has gone wrong so far, nothing ever will.”
How WSPS can help
Here’s a sampling from our extensive assortment of warehouse safety resources:
- Watch Use Pallets to Safely Store Your Load, a 4-minute video that’s one of eight WSPS warehousing safety videos
- Plan to attend Warehouse Safety Conference 2018, February 21, 2018 in Mississauga. The program will include a session on pallet safety. Watch for more in an upcoming issue of WSPS eNews.
- WSPS consultants can provide a hand with any aspect of pallet safety, from integrating pallets into your workplace inspections to developing a comprehensive pallet safety program.
- We can also help with other health and safety aspects of storing and shipping goods - loading docks, lifting devices, racking, and more. Check out all our warehouse safety resources.
* Source: “World Pallets,” a 2014 study from The Freedonia Group, Inc.