by | General Liability, Property, Safety |

-That’s a Nod to Dr. Seuss, who is celebrated this month

There are a lot of things in life which are everywhere, so ubiquitous that we don’t even think about them:  a pillow, shopping bags, books, pens.  If one stops to think about these items, they aren’t as simple as we would think.  The wrong pillow can be a nightmare for an allergy sufferer or even a hazard to a baby.  Shopping bags can be a problem for the environment and a danger to wildlife or small children.  Books…well, it is hard to find something wrong with books, but too many can cause a shelf to crash and some titles have sparked epic conflicts.   A pen is never around when you need one and is known to cause the occasional ink explosion in a pocket.

In the industrial world, one of the ubiquitous items is the wood pallet.  They are needed by most any manufacturer, warehouser or logistics manager.  They come in different strengths, sizes, colors and degrees of wood treatment.   In fact, I have one partially cut down and on its side in my garage.  It stores skis and poles quite nicely.  Despite pallets being everywhere and necessary, have you considered the hazards they can pose?  If I had a top ten list of survey recommendations I have made over the past twenty years as a loss control professional, those involving pallets would be on there.

From a property standpoint, pallets can pose a significant fire challenge.  Rough edges and dry wood (particularly if a pallet has been reused several times) lend themselves to easy ignition.  The pallet construction allows oxygen to freely circulate to sustain a blaze.  Just like deer crossing a road, where there is one pallet, there are usually more.  A simple YouTube or Google search is quite convincing regarding the fire potential of wood pallets.  Here are some items to consider in order to protect your property and employees from pallet fires:

  • The National Fire Protection Association recommends limiting indoor storage of idle pallets (unless a heavy duty sprinkler protection system is in place) to four stacks of pallets, six feet in height in a single cluster.  Clusters must be separated by 8 feet of space or 25 feet of commodity.
  • Unless a specific fire suppression system is in place, idle pallets are not to be stored in racks.
  • Pallets should not be stored directly against a building’s exterior.  There are various schools of thought on this, depending on which code or enforcement body you are referencing, but keep them at least 50 to 100 feet from your building if they are outdoors.
  • Pallet fires grow quickly and burn hot!  It would generally be recommended that someone NOT try to douse this with an extinguisher or garden hose.
  • Avoid storing pallets in egress pathways for the safety of your occupants.

Although the danger from pallet fires is the first thing that comes to mind, there are also potential employee safety risks as well.  I am shocked at how often I see the word “pallet” in injury descriptions.  Here are some suggestions to avoid having a pallet cause or contribute to an employee injury:

  • In the interest of using all available tractor trailer space, warehouses with a picking operation may build very tall piles of pallets by hand.  The weight of commodity, coupled with reaching can make an employee more vulnerable to a repetitive motion or material handling injury.  If this resonates with you, consider speaking with your customer.  If there is a potential injury problem on your end, it exists on theirs too.
  • Haphazard disposal of pallets is a classic tripping exposure.  Have a designated space to properly store pallets in keeping with property and employee safety.
  • Pallets which are in constant circulation are bound to become damaged.  Splintered pieces of pallets found within a warehouse are tripping hazards.  I have seen these same pieces contribute to injuries when a forklift or pallet jack suddenly stops and then this piece acts as a sudden wheel chock.  The heavy load stops, but the body keeps moving, potentially leading to injury.  Make constant and regular housekeeping part of your safety culture.
  • Damaged pallets can compromise the security of a load.  If the load shifts or product spills, your employee or driver is now vulnerable to injury.  Picture a 5 gallon container of liquid or a Gaylord container of plastic pellets spilling onto a tractor trailer or warehouse floor.  Have a means for culling damaged pallets and getting them out of circulation.

And, let’s not underestimate the risk of cuts and splinters caused by damaged pallets.

The wooden pallet is one of those products that is so simple and humble, that it is genius – sort of like the sticky note.  Although the pallet is a modest invention, with a modern history starting in the 1920’s, it has become a major but silent piece of the economy.  The pallet continued to evolve symbiotically along with the increased use of the forklift, and its use grew exponentially during World War II.  Today, nearly any product you purchase or use has at some point taken a ride on a pallet.  Let’s give deference to this integral part of our modern world, and be sure to use them as safely as possible.


Acadia is pleased to share this material with its customers.  Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services.  This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.  Distribution of this information does not constitute an assumption by us of your obligations to provide a safe workplace. Maintaining a safe workplace in accordance with all laws is your responsibility. We make no representation or warranty that our activities or recommendations will place you in compliance with law, relieve you of potential liability or ensure your premises or operations are safe. We exercise no control over your premises or operations and have no responsibility or authority to implement loss prevention practices or procedures.

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