Working Safely With Pallets

Tips for Safe Manual Handling

Stack of wooden pallets
Pallets should never be used as a man lift. Only use properly engineered lift platforms or other approved equipment. Rick LeBlanc, licensed to

Pallets are one of the most basic but important tools in the global supply chain. They can also be a hazard if you're not careful. Pallets used in supply chain operations can lead to injuries such as puncture wounds, sprained ankles, broken toes, or worse. If used for a nonapproved purpose, such as a man lift, the result could be tragic. With roughly 2 billion pallets circulating in the United States, it serves material handlers to take some basic precautionary steps to avoid injury.

Pallet safety can relate to pallets under load or working with empty pallets. Handling full pallets with a forklift involves other safety considerations (and employee certifications), and should be handled with care and in accordance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

14 Tips for Pallet Safety

Never Use Pallets as a Man Lift

Only use approved, engineered lift platforms for this purpose, after having received and signed off on necessary training. A pallet should never be used as a man lift. Pallets may be designed to hold 2,800 pounds or more, but this is for loads uniformly distributed, not for highly localized loads such as the feet of a worker.

Never Stand Empty Pallets on End

Empty pallets standing on end are unstable and can cause injury if they tip and land on a leg or foot.

Use Personal Protective Equipment When Handling

When handling pallets, the use of gloves is advised, as well as safety shoes to prevent injury if a pallet is dropped on a foot. Hearing protection may be prudent if pallets are being dropped. Some facilities mandate a soft landing when placing pallets on the floor to avoid ear-damaging noise.

Do Not Use a Damaged or Underrated Pallet

If pallets are damaged, inappropriate for the job, or if you are not sure, they should be removed from the workplace. Set aside damaged or substandard pallets for repair or recycling. If they end up getting used, damaged pallets can be a serious hazard—especially on a high shelf with a heavy load.

Always Clean up Pallet Debris

Broken pallet boards can cause slip and trip hazards, as well as instability for material handling equipment. Debris can also result in damage to material handling equipment wheels. 

Exercise Extreme Caution if Standing on a Pallet

A worker standing on a pallet can be injured if a deck board breaks, or if the worker’s foot gets caught between deck boards. Depending upon the design, some pallets of nine-leg design may be prone to tipping when empty. 

Use a Pick Hook to Reach the Back of a Pallet

One way to avoid stepping on a pallet is to use a pick hook to reach product on the back of a pallet and pull it forward. This prevents causing a pallet to tip from a weight imbalance on one side.

Take Care When Stepping Between Pallets

When pallets are positioned side by side in storage racks, workers may step between or on pallets to access products at the back of the pallet. Ankle or knee injury can result if the worker loses balance while stepping between pallets.

Manage the Risk of Manually Lifting Pallets

Pallets can vary greatly in weight—from 30 pounds to 70 pounds or more on average (not counting any load). They also come in sizes that are award for lifting solo. Lightweight pallets may be an opportunity for some applications, and these enable an easy lift for a single employee. However, heavier pallets are common. Employees should be encouraged to work together to jointly lift these, unless mechanized solutions such as a forklift are available.

Restrict the Height of Stacked Pallets

If workers are stacking or unstacking them manually, keep maximum stack height to no more than 4 feet to facilitate easier pallet handling. Have a forklift operator separate full stacks in half at the point of use.

Ensure That Pallets Will Slide Freely

When manually moving a wood pallet off of a stack, it is a good idea to ensure that it will slide freely by tipping the pallet slightly to ensure that the pallet is not snagged on the protruding nail of the pallet below. Better yet, ask a co-worker to assist in the lift.

Use Mechanized Equipment Where Available

Forklifts and automated pallet dispensers are powerful pieces of equipment designed to handle the weight of pallet stacks with ease. Use these whenever you can to avoid the risk of injury.

Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Pallet Closer

When lifting a pallet, keep it vertical and close to the torso to maintain a close center of balance. Holding the pallet out from you is a recipe for a fall or, at least, a sore back.

Enter Pallets With Care

When entering pallets of merchandise with a power jack, take care to ensure the stability of the load by entering squarely. Be cognizant that, when entering, you may be pushing the pallet forward, potentially into another worker who may be obscured behind your load. Some facilities mandate a warning honk to alert other workers before entering a unit load of merchandise.

The Bottom Line

Handling pallets is a daily practice in many workplaces. Where necessary pallet safety precautions are taken, a safe working environment is typically the result. Whether you're running a business or you're an employee somewhere that pallets are regularly used, be sure the proper procedures are taught and reinforced.