Pallet Jack Safety Fails: An Infrequent But Serious Problem

Posted by Allison Myers

Risks lurking in the warehouse

pallet jack failsMaterial handling is inherently risky. Whether it be operating a forklift, loading pallets into a truck, or even pulling a pallet jack, the warehouse world is the source of a surprisingly high percentage of industrial accidents and injuries.

Forklift are traditionally thought of as one of the greatest dangers. Weight, power and speed all contribute to the risk. But consistent efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has raised awareness of risks of forklift operations - for operators and by standers. Operator training and safety requirements have reduced injuries, although there are still too many.

Surprisingly though, the pallet jack alternative, which is often perceived as the safer solution, can be risky. OSHA's stats on pallet jack safety tell an interesting tale. In fact they illustrate a critically important point - pallet jacks are involved in a number of serious injuries.

Alarming Pallet Jack Injury Statistics

OSHA reports that from 2002-2016 a total of 56 major injuries occurred involving pallet jacks. These included:

  • 25 fractures
  • four fatalities
  • eight amputations
Certainly as a percentage of total hours used, loads moved and miles traversed up and down warehouse aisles pallet jacks are safer than many other pieces of industrial equipment. But they should be even safer.

Steps to Ensure Safe Operation of Manual Pallet Jack

While pallet jack injuries may not be entirely avoidable, simple steps can be taken to ensure safe usage with minimal risk. Adaptalift, a Hyster reseller, offers simple guidelines to ensure safe operation of a pallet jack. These common sense measures include:

  1. Never place your feet under a machine 
  2. Always push the load, never pull, unless going down an incline
  3. When going down an incline go in reverse
  4. Be wary of pinch points to avoid hand injuries 

In addition to these simple steps, the California State Compensation Insurance Fund offers other tips for safe use of pallet jacks. They emphasize the risks around loading docks, inclines & slopes, lower back injuries and even weigh in on the the debate of whether to push or pull.

Improper Pallet Jack Usage

Basic common sense procedures and expectations are all that's needed to mitigate most pallet jack injury risks. For anyone that's been in a warehouse, though, you know that there's another element that contributes to injury risk. 

The fun and games are always a blast....until someone suddenly gets hurt. These YouTube videos illustrate the real risks of inattention and horseplay. 

Lift gates & loading docks

There's a reason the CA Fund mentions loading docks. Once your load starts to go, you're not going to stop it. 

Sparks are a bad sign

It's never good when your pallet jacks are throwing off sparks!

Pallet jack rodeo

Those ramps you have? You know the long sloping one and the loading dock plate? Do you know how creative some folks can be?

Life & Limb - Not fun and games

No method of materials handling is entirely without risk of injury. And the fact that a pallet jack is manually operated and has no power source, doesn't make it inherently safer than a forklift.

In fact the apparent ease of use and simple design of pallet jacks may encourage horseplay, as evidence by the videos above. Even when not being used explicitly for entertainment, they present opportunity for negligence and improper use which can result in broken bones, loss of limbs, or even a fatality.

Should you restrict use of pallet jacks to senior staff only? Probably not. But mindset is important. Make sure that managers and supervisors are aware the potential of injuries..

Pallet jack safety may be as simple as a couple common sense rules.

improving warehouse efficiency with lean loading dock operations

Image Credit: The Foot Guardian



This post was published on July 18, 2016 and updated on February 5, 2019.

Topics: Workplace Safety, Pallets

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