In warehouses and DC’s as well as throughout the supply chain, we often see are broken pallets. Handling, abuse and damage over time all contribute to broken pallets, but nothing more than forklift damage. Over 70% of damage on a pallet is caused by a forklift and on the leg of the pallet. Once we see a damaged leg, there tends to be cracking, loose boards (if on wood) and additional issues that typically point to the end of the pallets useful life.
Whether it’s in your warehouse or in transit, forklifts are one of the most common sources of accidents. Next to loading docks, more injuries occur on forklifts than anywhere else in the warehouse. In addition, damage from forklifts is the number one reason for pallet jack failures. In a busy warehouse, forklifts can drop pallets, run into them or pierce part of the stringers or deck board with the fork.
All this damage means that pallets need to be sorted, evaluated and even replaced. Sorting pallets takes time and labor, replacing pallets constantly is expensive, so preventing damage improves your bottom line. On top of that, damaged pallets still in circulation are likely to cause stoppages in the plant and distribution. Some buyers will even turn down products that arrive on damaged pallets because of the risk of contamination.
Most of the damage caused to pallets by forklifts happens for three reasons. The first reason is that the pallets you’re using aren’t the right fit for your forklifts or your product. Improperly trained forklift operators also damage pallets. Finally, your warehouse may be set up in such a way that pallet damage from forklifts is more likely.
Luckily, preventing pallet damage is an easy and inexpensive investment. A few simple changes can reduce the damage to your pallets — and your need for replacements.
1. Prevent Forklift Damage by Choosing Suitable Pallets
Preventing pallet forklift damage starts with choosing the right pallets. When picking a pallet, consider the size and weight of the product. It’s also important to think about how your company packages products when they’re shipped.
The most important part of choosing the right pallet is the size. Many people assume that a heavier duty pallet will make their products more stable. This isn’t true. Extra space between your product and the edge of the pallet compromises the integrity of the pallet. It’s easy for heavy-duty pallets to be loaded unevenly, resulting in pallet damage when they’re picked up or stacked.
The best pallets include a number of features to minimize damage from forklifts, too. Other elements to consider when choosing pallets include:
Look for Beveled Forklift Entrances
Look for a pallet with beveled edges to the forklift entrance. If forklift tines hit the side of the pallet instead of the entrance, the beveled edges will encourage the tines to slide into the entrance. This design places minimal pressure on the pallet.
Pallets with square edges don’t offer this benefit. When the forklift misses the pallet entrances, the outside stringers take all of the pressure from the impact. Over time, this compromises the pallet.
Choose Reinforced Pallet Legs and Decks
Preventing forklift damage to pallets is much easier when the pallet has strong blocks or stringers. These internal blocks or boards hold the wood pallet together. If a forklift damages these boards, your pallet won’t last much longer.
2. Train Operators to Reduce Forklift Damage to Pallets
Forklift operators are the most important component in preventing pallet damage from forklifts. When operators drive too fast, or are not trained well, pallets are regularly damaged during moves.
Proper training can reduce several different types of pallet damage. Placing and spreading forklift tines correctly reduces damage to stringers and the underside of boards. Well-trained forklift operators are also better at preventing impacts with pallet racks, or with the forklift itself.
Hiring licensed forklift operators from the get go ensures that your workers are trained to handle the machinery. However, it’s also helpful to offer ongoing training on how to reduce pallet damage. Emphasize safety and proper handling procedures. Consider creating an anonymous way to report forklift accidents. Creating a work culture that focuses on responsible forklift handling will prolong the life of your pallets and reduce other accidents.
Some pallet vendors provide training videos or online materials that teach forklift operators how to handle their pallets. If you need to use specialty or custom pallets, consider reaching out to the pallet manufacturer for training assistance.
Whether you use standard or custom pallets, emphasize the following pallet handling techniques when moving pallets with a forklift.
Lift Pallets Instead of Pushing or Training (an industry term) Them
Encourage forklift operators to lift a pallet from the ground before moving it to reduce the possibility of forklift damage to the pallet.
It’s common to see forklift operators pushing training, or bulldozing pallets across a warehouse floor with the forklift. This damages the bottom boards of the pallet. If the tines aren’t fully inserted, the stringers or blocks can be damaged as well. Bulldozing pallets will greatly reduce their lifespan, and potentially damage your workroom floor.
Workers usually push pallets with a forklift to save time. However, the tradeoff for time saved is more money spent on replacements. Although it takes a little longer to lift a pallet instead of bulldozing it, you’ll extend the lives of your pallets by reducing damage from the forklift.
Ensure that Pallets are Stacked Evenly
Another way to reduce pallet damage is to ensure that a stack of pallets is balanced before it’s lifted.
When forklift operators lift a stack of pallets, the bottom pallet bears the weight of all of the pallets above it. If the stack is well balanced, this usually isn’t a problem. Pallets have similar weight placed on them when they’re stacked on racks.
But pallets that are haphazardly stacked often cause damage to both the pallets and the product. In these stacks, the weight of the product and pallets is unevenly distributed. The outside edges of pallets lower in the stack often bear more weight than they can handle.
Encourage forklift operators to lift only evenly stacked pallets. Train operators to lift fewer pallets from the top of the stack if necessary. Since unevenly stacked pallets often fall off the forklift, you’ll save wear and tear on your pallets as well as damage to your product.
Train Forklift Operators Not to Shortfork
Encourage forklift operators to place forklift tines fully into the pallet before lifting.
Some operators try to save time by placing just the first half of the forklift tines into the pallet. Usually, this doesn’t actually save much time, and can result in considerable damage to your pallets. Encourage operators not to shortfork pallets while they’re moving them.
Shortforking means that the workers angle the forklift tines into the underside of the top of the pallet. When just part of the tines are in the pallet, the front of the pallet bears the weight of the entire load. The back half has no support from the forklift. In extreme cases, the tines can pierce the surface of the pallet.
When operators place forklift tines fully into the pallet, the weight of the pallet and its load is evenly distributed across the tines. This helps to stabilize your products and prevents damage to the inside of the pallet.
Slow Down Before Picking up a Pallet
Another way to prevent damage to pallets is to encourage forklift operators to slow down before entering the pallet.
It’s common for forklifts to slam into (or completely miss) pallets when operators move too fast in the warehouse. The corners of a pallet, as well as the forklift entrance, take the majority of the impact. Over time, this can damage the integrity of the pallet. Instead, train forklift operators to work more precisely and slowly. This will prevent both impacts and unnecessary bulldozing. It’ll also be beneficial if you’re moving delicate products.
Spread Forklift Tines Before Lifting
Finally, train forklift operators to spread forklift tines before they lift a pallet.
When workers group the forklift tines in the middle of a pallet, the center of the pallet bears all of the weight. This can cause products to shift and puts unnecessary pressure on the deck board. Over time, this will damage them, no matter the type or material.
Forklift operators should spread the tines as widely as possible before they pick up a pallet. When the tines are spread across a pallet, the weight of the load is evenly distributed. The products put less pressure on the joints, which means that the pallet will last for more trips.
3. Reduce Pallet Damage By Improving Your Warehouse Space
Most forklift damage happens within warehouse settings. Narrow aisles, clutter and other pallets all make it hard for forklift drivers to move around the warehouse. With these obstacles, it’s easy to see why pallet damage from forklifts is so common. A few simple changes in your warehouse can make a big difference.
Check Pallet Racks Regularly for Damage
One of the easiest ways to reduce forklift damage to pallets is to check your pallet racks regularly.
Improperly operated forklifts often damage pallet racks. The bottom five feet of a rack and its corners closest to an aisle are most likely to be damaged. That’s because forklift operators often run into the rack as they’re turning corners or beginning to lift a pallet.
A damaged pallet rack can cause additional wear to the pallets that are put on it. A loose nail or screw can rip into a nearby pallet, weakening it. Forklift operators may not always notice when a rack is bent. Bent columns and beams often damage pallets that are lifted into the affected area.
Regularly inspect your racks for damage. If you do see damage to your pallet racks, repair it quickly. This will not only protect your pallets, but it will also maintain the life of your racks.
Widen Aisles Between Pallet Racks
Widening the aisles or reducing clutter goes a long way towards helping forklift operators reduce accidents in the warehouse.
If you have the space to widen your aisles, this easy fix can prevent lots of impact damage to pallets, racks and products. Unfortunately, space in a warehouse is often at a premium. If you’re in this situation, consider widening only the aisles where the most accidents occur.
You can also cut down on accidents by getting rid of clutter in the warehouse. Forklift operators are less likely to damage pallets in a well-maintained warehouse. Navigating through clear aisles is usually much easier than maneuvering pallets around boxes or unusually shaped items.
Paint Forklift Tines
Painting forklift tines has multiple benefits. First, it improves visibility for the forklift operator. Brightly colored tines are easy to see and make it easier to navigate the forklift into pallets. If your warehouse has poor lighting or dark corners, painted forklift tines can help you overcome this problem.
Second, painted forklift tines allow you to track accidents and spot damage early. When a forklift damages a pallet, the paint will mark the area of impact. This provides an easy to see warning system that allows you to check for damage as soon as you see the sign of an impact.
If it’s possible, paint the tines of each forklift a different color. This will allow you to track which forklifts tend to have accidents and make it easier to determine which operators need additional training.
Take these simple changes to heart, and you’ll see your pallet expenses drop in no time, all while ensuring that your products safely arrive at their destinations.
Is it time to replace your pallets with something more reliable? Look at Prostack’s range of durable plastic pallets. Our pallets are designed to endure high trip loads and the wear and tear of a warehouse environment.
Contact the leader in reusable, recyclable plastic pallets — Polymer Solutions International Inc. — to find the right pallet to meet your needs. Get in touch with PSI at 610-325-7500, online or via our website live chat today.