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Safety Focus: Reducing the risk of injuries when loading and unloading pallets

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article image Rotolift's Roto Rack Roller was specifically designed to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries when dealing with pallets stored in racking
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So far in this series, we have dealt with the potential risk of injuries when stretchwrapping pallets ready for shipping, and when handling empty wooden pallets. One key area we have so far neglected is manually loading or unloading objects onto or from pallets.

While many of the solutions provided for handling empty wooden pallets are also applicable for this application, there are also several custom solutions that have been specifically developed to make it easier for workers to shift loads onto and from pallets, a task that inevitably requires greater load capacities than dealing with empty pallets alone.

WorkSafe Victoria notes that manually loading or unloading objects onto or from pallets is a common task in many industries. Often when this is undertaken, the pallet is located on the floor, which can involve frequent awkward postures when placing objects on the pallet or taking them off. The repetitive exerting force required to lift or lower objects is also problematic.

Handling items while in bent, reaching or twisted postures, then, can increase the risk of musculoskeletal injuries of the shoulder, lower back and knees. These injuries can occur suddenly when lifting heavy objects, particularly in awkward postures. They also occur over time through wear and tear on joints and other body components when doing this sort of work.

WorkSafe offers a number of solutions to this problem. When discussing equipment, WorkSafe suggests providing a scissor lift with a pallet ring turntable, such as those provided by Safetech .

Safetech's manual and automatic turntables feature safety bars or skirts to protect operators, and are available in capacities ranging from 100kg to in excess of 20 tonnes.

When it comes to systems of work around these kinds of lifts and pallet lifters, WorkSafe suggests:
  • ensuring that the pallet level is adjusted so that the handling of objects is set at waist height for each level of the pallet
  • ensuring that the pallet ring turntable can rotate through 360 degrees so that employees can keep the pallet load point in closest proximity to them
  • locating the pallet lifter in a position that allows adequate space for the employee to place items on the pallet without twisting; and
  • ensuring that the appropriate load-shifting equipment is used to remove the pallet from the lifter when full.
When loading or unloading objects onto pallets that are stored in pallet racking, pallet elevator manufacturer Rotolift has developed a unique solution specifically designed to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries.

The company's Roto Rack Roller is designed to allow workers to roll out a loaded pallet clear from the pallet storage rack, allowing for easier access and picking at a safe working height.

The mechanism bolts into standard storage pallet racking, and also features a failsafe locking system that requires two steps before the unit can be extended. Using the Roto Rack Roller, pallets can be extracted to a height of 1500mm.

A similar solution for standard warehouse applications is offered by Safetech with its Palift pallet leveller. This device resembles a scissor lift table in appearance, and automatically keeps the pallet or stillage load at the optimum working height when loading or unloading goods.

WorkSafe notes that the implementation of any such system requires the introduction of a traffic management system to ensure that pedestrians and vehicles do not come into contact with the machinery while in operation.

Further, maintenance and testing procedures should be put in place to ensure that the machinery is maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions, and all staff that use the equipment or work in the area should be trained in the safe operation of the machinery and in the systems of work for its safe use, including traffic management systems.

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