It’s hard to imagine a working warehouse without pallets. Pallets are critical to the movement of products and as the base for unit loads in the supply chain, they play a key role in modern material handling. Because pallets work so seamlessly in many operations, however, they are easy to overlook. With so many other balls in the air for busy managers, pallets might seem like the least of their worries in ensuring warehouse safety. Nonetheless, facilities that use pallets should consider them in their site safety plan.
It’s just common sense. Warehouse operators are required to comply with health and safety regulations in their operations, including potential risks associated with equipment – including pallets. And even where a particular type of equipment is not specifically mentioned, employers have an obligation to provide a safe workplace through general duty clause requirements.
For example, the General Duty Clause of the OSHA ACT of 1970 states, in part, that each employer “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” The General Duty Clause is a “catch all” to ensure that employers maintain a safe workplace, even if a particular hazard is not stated.
The good news is that attention to some basics can help ensure that any risks associated with pallets in your facility are minimized. Here are some ideas for ensuring pallet handling safety in your facility.
Does your facility have an inbound pallet policy? An enforced inbound pallet policy can eliminate potential safety issues related to pallet performance or condition.
Many PalletOne customers have particular pallet specifications that must meet in shipping to their own customers. For example, FMCG companies typically have policies requiring inbound product to be boarded on Grade A GMA 48×40” pallets or rental pallets. Aside from offering new GMA pallets, PalletOne also supplies certified chemical industry CP pallets to customers requiring them for shipments to trading partners in that supply chain. Of course, a pallet policy must be enforced to ensure that it is effective. Inspection of inbound pallets helps ensure that substandard pallets do not enter the facility.
With more facilities reusing pallets internally in the wake of COVID-19 and ensuring supply challenges, it is imperative to avoid reusing damaged pallets. The Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) of Ontario recommends creating a routine to ensure that damaged pallets are taken out of service and removed for repair. Establish a procedure to repalletize goods from damaged pallets.
For empty pallets, some facilities sort them to remove compromised units before making them available to order pickers. In other facilities, order pickers will set aside damaged pallets as they remove them from a stack of unsorted pallets. In either case, ensure that stacks of damaged pallets are segregated and removed so that they do not inadvertently end up back in use before repair.
Available space is almost always at a premium in the warehouse. As such, the designated pedestrian walkway might look like the perfect place to temporarily place a pallet or to push pallet debris with a broom to get it out of the way. Unfortunately, such an approach inadvertently creates a workplace hazard. Pallets and debris in designated walkways put pedestrians at risk of trip and fall injury. Aside from keeping walkways clear, pallet debris should also be regularly removed from the warehouse floor. OSHA 1926.250(c) Housekeeping states that storage “areas shall be kept free from accumulation of materials that constitute hazards from tripping, fire, explosion, or pest harborage.”
Risks associated with manual pallet handling are reduced through the required use of gloves and safety shoes by pallet handers. Gloves provide protection from cuts and puncture wounds. Safety shoes help prevent foot injury in the case that a pallet falls hard against the foot, as well as preventing puncture wounds in the case of a worker stepping on a piece of wood with an exposed nail.
While it can be faster to lean an empty pallet against a wall or a pole, that pallet is highly unstable. It can come down with substantial force if tipped and result in lower-body injuries. Also, take care when stacking empty pallets to ensure stability. OSHA 1917.14 notes, “Cargo, pallets and other material stored in tiers shall be stacked in such a manner as to provide stability against sliding and collapse.”
Equipment such as forklifts, pallet dispensers and more recently, robots used for sorting, can eliminate the need for manual lifting of pallets. However, many employees are regularly required to pick up pallets. For heavier units in particular, encourage a team lift of empty pallets by two employees – one at each end of the pallet. For a solo pallet lift, keeping the unit close to the torso helps reduce the physical strain of the lift.
Never use a pallet as a lift platform. Use only approved platforms to elevate workers, and then only after workers have been trained and equipped with required fall protection equipment. Pallets are engineered to support heavy, uniformly distributed loads, but not people.
Finally, ensure that necessary training is given and documented, then followed with effective supervision to ensure that safe work practices related to pallet inspection and handling are consistently performed.
Pallets are the lifeblood of many supply chains. By establishing a pallet policy that addresses your pallet performance requirements, a process for removing damaged pallets, as well as other practices outlined above, you can ensure safe pallet operations for your facility.
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