We often see broken pallets in warehouses, distribution centers and other spots throughout the supply chain. Over time, handling, abuse and wear and tear contribute to broken pallets, but nothing more than forklift damage. Over 70% of damage on a pallet results from a forklift. Once we see a damaged pallet leg, there tends to be cracking, loose wooden boards and additional issues that typically point to the end of the pallet’s useful life.
Whether it’s in your warehouse or in transit, forklifts are among the most common causes of accidents. Next to loading docks, more injuries occur on forklifts than anywhere else in the warehouse. Damage from forklifts is also the leading 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 sorting, evaluating and even replacement. Sorting pallets takes time and labor, and continually replacing pallets 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.
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.
Common Causes of Forklift Damage to Pallets
Most forklift-related pallet damage happens for three reasons — the type of pallets you’re using, the forklift drivers and your warehouse layout.
- Pallets: The pallets you’re using may not be the right size, type or fit for your product or forklift. If your pallets are poorly stacked or oversized or undersized compared to your machine, the load will be imbalanced. This issue can cause pallets to fall while in operation or create a burden on the forklift.
- Drivers: Improperly trained forklift drivers also damage pallets. Operators must undergo both initial and ongoing training regarding forklift operation, safety protocols and warehouse-specific guidelines. These include knowing safe speeds, navigating turns and ways to keep other people and products safe.
- Warehouse: Your warehouse may not be the ideal environment for forklift operation and may even encourage pallet damage. For example, overhead clearances could be too low to safely forklift pallets, or a narrow aisle could cause pallets to fall from the forklift while in operation. The same is true of your existing warehouse protocols — if specific problems keep occurring, it may be time to reevaluate your processes.
One or more of these issues can create costly production pauses or damage that interferes with the rest of your supply chain. Read on to learn how to keep your pallets safe and promote more efficient operations.
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 essential to think about how your company packages products for shipping.
The most crucial part of choosing the right pallet is the size. Many people assume that a heavier-duty pallet will make their products more stable. That isn’t true. Extra space between your product and the pallet’s edge compromises the pallet’s integrity. Some people might load heavy-duty pallets unevenly, resulting in pallet damage when picked up or stacked.
The best pallets include several features to minimize damage from forklifts, too. Consider these other elements when choosing pallets.
Look for Beveled Forklift Entrances
Ideally, a pallet will have beveled edges. If forklift tines hit the pallet’s side instead of the entrance, the beveled edges will encourage the tines to slide in with ease. 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 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 crucial component in preventing pallet damage from forklifts. When operators drive too fast, or lack thorough training, pallets often get damaged during moves.
Proper training can reduce several different types of pallet damage. Correctly placing and spreading forklift tines 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 your workers have the necessary training to handle the machinery. However, it’s also helpful to offer ongoing education on how to reduce pallet damage. Emphasize safety and proper handling procedures. Consider offering an anonymous way to report forklift accidents. Fostering a work culture that focuses on responsible forklift handling will prolong your pallets’ lives 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. These activities damage the pallet’s bottom boards. If the forklift’s tines are only partially inserted, the stringers or blocks can take damage as well. Bulldozing pallets will significantly 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. Though it takes a little longer to lift a pallet instead of bulldozing it, you’ll extend your pallets’ lives by reducing forklift damage.
Ensure Pallets Are Evenly Stacked
Another way to reduce pallet damage is to balance a pallet stack before lifting it.
When forklift operators lift a stack of pallets, the bottom pallet bears the weight of all pallets above it. With a well-balanced stack, this usually isn’t a problem. Pallets have similar weight placed on them when stacked on racks.
But haphazardly stacked pallets often cause damage to both the pallets and the product. In these stacks, the weight of the product and pallets is uneven. 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 them 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 and 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 cut corners by inserting only the first half of the forklift tines into the pallet. Usually, this doesn’t 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 pallet’s top. When only 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 pallet’s surface.
When operators place forklift tines entirely into the pallet, they ensure an even distribution of the pallet’s weight and load across the tines. This practice helps stabilize your products and prevents damage to the inside of the pallet.
Slow Down Before Picking up a Pallet
Another way to prevent pallet damage is to encourage forklift operators to slow down before entering the pallet.
It’s common for forklifts to slam into or even miss pallets when operators move too fast in the warehouse. The pallet’s corners and the forklift entrance take the brunt of the impact. Over time, this can damage the pallets’ integrity. Instead, train forklift operators to work more precisely and slowly. These habits will prevent 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 pallet’s center bears all the weight. This unevenness 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. Spreading the forklift tines across a pallet will ensure an even weight distribution. The products put less pressure on the joints, which means 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 widespread. A few simple changes in your warehouse can make a significant difference.
Check Pallet Racks Regularly for Damage
One of the quickest 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 encounter harm. That’s because forklift operators might 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 it holds. A loose nail or screw can rip into a nearby pallet, weakening it. Forklift operators may not always notice a bent column or beam, but these problems often harm pallets lifted into the affected area.
Regularly inspect your racks for wear and tear. If you see any signs of weakness, repair them quickly. Doing so 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 toward helping forklift operators reduce accidents in the warehouse.
If you have the room to widen your aisles, this simple 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 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 unimpeded aisles is usually much less strenuous 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 stand out and make it easier to navigate the forklift into pallets. If your warehouse has inconsistent lighting or dark corners, painted 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 impact area. It provides an easy-to-see warning system that allows you to check for flaws as soon as you see signs of an impact.
If possible, paint each forklift tine a different color. Doing so will allow you to track which forklifts tend to have accidents and help you determine which operators need additional training.
Material Handling Solutions for Warehouses
Take these simple changes to heart, and you’ll see your pallet expenses drop in no time, all while ensuring your products arrive safely at their destinations.
Is it time to replace your pallets with something more reliable? Look at Prostack’s range of durable plastic pallets. We’ve designed our products 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.