Safe Use of Pallet Jacks
There was a time when warehouse employees spent much of their day carrying large, cumbersome boxes and other bulky objects from one area to another. For the most part, they used their hands and arms to lug these items, or, possibly, some type of makeshift rolling device—and the process was every bit as burdensome as it sounds. Advances in machinery made life easier for warehouse personnel; one of these important innovations was the pallet jack, which is basically a type of forklift. This simple yet extremely useful device allows workers to transport heavy items across warehouse floors with minimal effort.
Pallet jacks come in a several types, including manual kinds, as well as electric-powered units, but the basic design is always the same: Two forks are positioned horizontal to the floor, allowing the operator to slide the jack under a pallet. Once the pallet has been secured on the jack, the operator can easily roll it to another location, using the tiller to steer, as necessary. Though pallet jacks are indeed very handy equipment to have around the warehouse, it’s important to ensure that workers know how to operate them safely. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some safety tips for pallet jack use.
Inspect the Pallet Jack
Before putting the pallet jack to work, the operator should take a few moments to look it over to confirm that nothing is amiss. All components of the jack should be operating well, including the tiller and (if featured on this particular unit) the weighing scale. There should be no cracks that might indicate serious damage to the equipment. Also, they should check out the wheels—otherwise the worker might not realize these aren’t working properly until he or she is pushing around a 1000-pound pallet. Malfunctioning wheels could cause the pallet to tip or become difficult to control. To prevent this, make sure that the wheels are free of cracks, flat spots, and excessive wear. Warehouse personnel should always feel free to report a possibly damaged or unsafe pallet jack to a supervisor.
Plan the Route
Before the worker begins the process of pushing an extremely heavy pallet through the warehouse aisles, he or she should first take a walk through the path where they intend to travel. The purpose of this is to ensure that no obstacles or other impediments might interfere with the journey of the jack. The worker should take note of any potential hazards along the path, such as ramps, steps, uneven surfaces, and narrow aisles, all of which must be navigated through with care. It’s also important to take note of floor conditions that could cause slips and falls; puddles or slick flooring should be avoided.
In addition to mapping out a safe route for the pallet jack, the worker should make certain that the equipment will not be overloaded. Pallet jacks can bear a lot of weight, but they also have limits that cannot be safely exceeded. Therefore, the worker should always be aware of the load capacity of the pallet jack used for a particular task. If it’s necessary to push a very large load that partially interferes with vision, the worker should have a co-worker to help guide the jack safely.
Operating the Pallet Jack
Now that the jack has been properly inspected, and all reasonable safety precautions have been made, it’s time to put it into action. In order to promote worker safety, it’s important that the operator observe certain principles while transporting materials around a warehouse. The following is not a complete list of rules that should be followed, but these are certainly among those that should be kept in mind:
- Always push the pallet jack—don’t pull it: When pulling a pallet jack, the operator can easily sustain a multitude of physical maladies, from strained muscles to sore backs. Furthermore, pulling the jack forces the operator to walk backward, which is a potential danger in itself. An operator who can’t see where they’re going can easily get hurt, either by walking into something or by accidentally allowing the jack to roll into themselves. When going down a ramp or incline, the operator (and anyone else in the area) should avoid being in the path of the jack.
- Ensure that the materials are evenly loaded onto the pallet jack: The materials should be carefully centered on the pallet; otherwise, the jack could become difficult to steer or even tilt over. Also, remember the old rule for lifting heavy objects: Lift with the legs, not the back.
- Push slowly: This helps the operator avoid problems in the event of an emergency. It’s easier to stop the jack or suddenly move it in another direction if it is rolling slowly. On a related note, the operator should gently push the jack into motion, not shove it in an attempt to get it rolling quickly.
- Use gloves: This will help prevent injury to the hands and make it easier to maintain a secure grip. Even with gloves, the operator should avoid putting their hands underneath the jack for any reason. It’s also a good idea to be aware of any “pinch points” on the jack that could harm the hands.
- Stay off the jack: People shouldn’t stand on the jack, and they definitely shouldn’t “ride” on the jack while it’s in motion. It goes without saying that people could easily get hurt in this manner.
Putting Away the Pallet Jack
When the operator is done with pallet jack, he or she shouldn’t leave the equipment just sitting out anywhere. The pallet jack should be stored in a dry area. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to inspect the jack at the end of the day to make sure that it has not sustained damage as a result of its recent use. Check the jack to see whether any of its components have become loose or damaged. If everything looks sound, place the pallet jack in a designed storage area, with the handle locked in a raised position.