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A guide to safe pallet use

08 April 2016

The humble pallet plays a vital role in the efficient moving and stacking of loads; they are everywhere, yet they taken for granted. Here, the FLTA offers sound advice on pallet safety and best practice.

Without sound pallets, the entire distribution process would break down. Yet, despite their importance, pallets are poorly treated and rarely inspected. It is this combination of ubiquity and neglect that makes pallets potential killers.

That said, by following some simple, good practice guidelines on usage and care, materials handling operations can be made significantly safer, more efficient and productive.

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:

• Continuing to use a damaged pallet.

• Using a pallet which is unsuitable for a particular load, handling or storage method, e.g. randomly using different types of pallets for which the original specification is unknown.

• Falling stacks or pallets caused by unsafe stacking or unstable pallets.

• Mixing larger UK pallets with smaller European pallets in racking systems.

• Bad pallet handling techniques.

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 often the cause of pallet handling accidents. They pose a general hazard in the warehouse, but they are particularly dangerous for fork lift truck operators and those who work in close proximity to lift trucks.

When workers pick pallets from a ‘mixed bag’ of different types, one must understand that the vast majority of them 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 concentrated loads 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: pallets are not just pallets: the type, weight and distribution of the load in question, whether it is even or concentrated in a particular area, should directly affect the choice of pallet to be used. 

And risks don’t just apply when working at height. Accidents to operators of pallet trucks are rarely fatal, but they usually result in serious long-term injuries to the muscles and bones in the legs and feet, injuries which persist and can affect a person’s mobility for the rest of their lives. Workers must be trained in the safe use of even hand operated pallet trucks.

To receive sound advice on proper pallet handling and best practice, the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA) website – is one of the most authoritative sources of information and advice available.