Safety first in the warehouse
23 January 2013
Poorly chosen pallets can compromise safety in the warehouse and lead to unnecessary costs, says Jim Hardisty In the UK materials handling and logistics sector, there is an average of 43 injuries per week, 11 of them
In the UK materials handling and logistics sector, there is an average of 43 injuries per week, 11 of them serious. There are lots of safety hazards employees need to be aware of in the warehouse - handling and storing pallets being one of them.
Despite all the time and huge financial investment that goes into selecting the safest and most efficient racking, computer systems and handling equipment to run a successful logistics operation, some companies are compromising all their effort by using second-hand wooden pallets.
These second-hand wooden pallets, which are likely to have been used several times before, could be carrying any number of contaminants. But, contamination aside, how can you be sure that your second-hand wooden pallet is capable of bearing the weight of your goods? We believe you can't.
Spare a thought for pallet selection If you ask a technical operative in any modern warehouse what the capacity of the racking system is, he'll be able to define it based on the position of the pallet, the span of the beams and the drive-in bays; he'll know that the beams are designed to support a specific number of kilograms on so many pallets per bay, and that the end supports have been bolted down using a particular bolt with a defined length and thread. Ask the same technical operative what the capacity of the wooden pallet being used on the racking system is, and he won't be able to tell you as, whether new or reused, wooden pallets do not have guaranteed loading capacities.
The reason for this is that the strength of timber varies. Make 100 wooden pallets one month and test them and they might all have the same loading capacity, but make another 100 pallets a few months later and there is no telling how the capacity of these pallets might differ.
Know your pallet loading capacities Choosing pallets that have stated loading capacities, like plastic pallets, not only offers companies the reassurance that their products are being stored and handled in the safest possible way, but can also avoid costly incidents.
A major UK supermarket chain recently trialled plastic pallets in their automated storage system after a wooden pallet racked 10-racks high broke causing a pyramid effect that destroyed a huge volume of product and cost £2.5m to resolve. Thankfully, no one was injured but, had staff been present in the warehouse at the time, the incident could have been life-threatening.
Pallet safety The Health & Safety Executive's Guide to Health and Safety in Warehousing and Storage (HSG76) was written to help reduce injuries and ill health in warehouses in order to achieve the Government's injury reduction targets for UK workplaces. In defining the safe use of pallets, the guide states: "Flat timber pallets form an essential part of many mechanical handling systems in warehouses. Accidents directly attributable to these type of pallets usually arise from six main sources: poor design; poor construction; the use of a pallet which is unsuitable for a particular load; the continued use of a damaged pallet; bad handling; or the use of a pallet which is unsuitable for a particular racking system." By using plastic pallets, companies can eliminate virtually all of these safety hazards. Firstly, they are moulded under extreme pressure which produces a high quality product and ensures the consistent dimensional accuracy and loading capacity of each plastic pallet - particularly beneficial in automated systems, as they won't twist or get stuck.
Secondly, plastic pallets have three stated loading capacities - static, dynamic and racking. These capacities help operatives choose the right plastic pallet for a particular load so there is little risk of getting it wrong, unlike with wooden pallets.
Thirdly, plastic pallets are strong and durable and less vulnerable to damage than wooden pallets. In fact a standard plastic pallet has a lifespan of up to ten years, offering an excellent return on investment. Once a plastic pallet reaches the end of its working life, the plastic still lives on, as the pallet can be recycled and the plastic can be reground to produce new plastic products.
Finally, as plastic pallets have no nails, sharp edges or splinters and there is no risk of loose component parts breaking free under manual lifting conditions, they are far less likely to damage product packaging or cause injury to operatives.
Jim Hardisty is the managing director of Goplasticpallets.com