Don’t cut corners on safety when using pallet jacks

An increase in online shopping is putting pressure on warehouse workers. It’s important they know how to operate power pallet jacks safely. 

Photo of a worker using a powered pallet jack in a warehouse

Photo credit: iStock.com/LightFieldStudios

As online shopping rises in popularity, more companies are competing for their share of the market, promising lots of stock and quick delivery. At the same time, there is a labour shortage and employers are struggling to find enough new workers to meet demand. This puts a lot of pressure on existing workers.

In July 2019, a worker in a supermarket warehouse was operating an electric pallet jack with about 2,400 pounds on it. As the worker was reversing the pallet jack, the worker’s hand was caught in a pinch point.

A month earlier, a worker in a wholesale warehouse was operating a loaded centre-rider pallet jack. The load shifted while the worker’s arm was between the load and the backrest, and the worker’s wrist was pinched.

These incidents, which I found in WorkSafeBC’s online database of recent incidents, made me think about how to operate pallet trucks safely. To learn more, I reached out to John Gilder, general manager of the Canadian Materials Handling Distribution Society (CMHDS).

Don’t put safety in the backseat

John says that in many cases a power pallet jack is an “entry level” machine for warehouse workers. But even though pallet jacks require the least amount of skill, compared with other powered machines, it doesn’t mean training workers on how to use them safely is any less essential.

“Employers should take their time and allow workers to get used to the machines,” John says, adding that even when someone has been trained on other machines, like forklifts, they still need training on power pallet jacks. “You can’t assume that if operators are trained on one class of machine, they’re fine on all classes of machines. Even different models operate differently.”

A number of warehouses also have more products in stock, which means aisles are narrower. This makes a big difference in how much workers can manoeuvre when they’re on a pallet jack.

Says John: “A lot of companies are pushing for more productivity, but we don’t want them to put safety in the back seat.”

Safety considerations for operators

Operators must make sure the power pallet jack comes to a full stop before they get off. They also need to use the machine at a safe speed. Says John: “A safe speed is one that allows you to stop safely without getting thrown off the machine or losing the load.”

Here are some other tips for operators from Safe Operation of Lift Trucks from WorkSafeBC:

  • Inspect the machine thoroughly before starting your shift.
  • Move only when you are sure the load is stable.
  • Carry forks at the lowest possible position.

For more information on safely using power pallet jacks or any other lifting equipment, see Forklifts & materials-handling equipment on worksafebc.com.

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