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The humble pallet plays a vital role in the efficient moving and stacking of loads. They are everywhere, yet often taken for granted.

Here, the Fork lift Truck Association (FLTA) offers sound best practice advice.

Pallets play a fundamental role in the entire distribution process: without them it would break down. When used in conjunction with a fork lift truck, they form part of the machine’s lifting mechanism.

Despite this, they are often treated poorly and rarely checked and it is this neglect which makes them a real threat in the warehouse.

That said, the risk posed can be minimised by following some simple, good practice guidelines on usage and care that ensure your operations will be significantly safer, more efficient and productive.

Common pallet accidents

Pallets are heavy, and accidents involving unstable pallets or unsafe stacking – where goods or pallets are at risk of falling from height – are often fatal.

To appreciate the dangers of working with pallets, we should perhaps begin by looking at some of the most common and frequent pallet handling accidents. They are:

  • Continued use of damaged pallets
  • Use of pallets unsuited to particular load, handling or storage method (e.g. randomly using different types of pallets for which the original specification is unknown.)
  • Falling stacks caused by unsafe stacking or unstable pallets.
  • Mixing larger UK pallets with smaller European pallets in racking systems.
  • Poor pallet handling techniques

Relevant legislation

The use of work equipment involved in pallet handling is covered by the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER). This states that equipment must be “constructed or adapted as to be suitable for the purpose for which it is used or provided”, as well as meeting inspection and maintenance requirements.

Also, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires firms to produce risk assessments that are specific to the working environment and the equipment and loads in question. You must provide a risk assessment, and it must cover the hazards and risks associated with both moving and stacking pallets in your workplace.

Pallet care

As a general guide, the height of the load should not exceed the longest base dimension of the pallet. Improved security and stability of the load by shrink – or stretch – wrapping can minimise the possibility of movement of the goods being moved.

Damaged pallets are a common source of accidents. They’re a general warehouse hazard but are especially dangerous for fork lift truck operators and colleagues working in close proximity to lift trucks.

Pallet suitability and stacking

When workers pick pallets from a ‘mixed bag’ of different types, it’s important to understand that the vast majority have been designed for moving a specific class or type of goods and are intended to be handled and stored in a particular way.

For instance, a pallet designed to carry evenly distributed loads, like cartons of cornflakes, is unlikely to be suitable for transporting a concentrated load, such as an internal combustion engine.

When pallets are stacked, workers should consider the load on the bottom pallet and the capacity of the baseboards of each pallet when it comes to spreading the load.

This helps to ensure that the payload does not distort over time, making the stack unstable. Such distortion is called ‘creep deflection’ and can take place with various payloads, such as the deflection of plastics, powder settling in bags and the weakening of cardboard boxes due to moisture.

Remember: not just any pallet will do. The type, weight and distribution of the load in question, whether it is even or concentrated in a particular area, should directly affect the selection of an appropriate pallet. Importantly, the risks don’t just apply when working at height. While accidents to pallet truck operators are rarely fatal, they can result in life-changing injuries to the muscles and bones in the legs and feet.

Because of this, it’s important that workers of any truck – including hand-operated pallet or pump trucks are trained.

If moving pallets is part of your daily routine, you will almost certainly be using hand pallet trucks or electric powered trucks. Kent Pallet Trucks are a leading supplier of pallet trucks throughout the South East of England