A lack of attention to pallet safety can prove costly. In December 2021, a South Carolina woman was awarded $10 million in medical expenses after a pallet-related injury. The lawsuit resulted from an incident that took place in June 2015. While shopping at a Walmart store, the claimant, April Jones, stepped on a rusty nail left on the floor next to some pallets. Retail staff should be mindful that pallets can present safety hazards.
According to Tapalian Law, “The nail punctured her shoe and became lodged in her foot. Despite seeking medical treatment, infection followed resulting in the amputation of her toe. Subsequently, the infection spread to Jones’ entire right foot, ultimately resulting in the amputation of her right leg just above the knee.”
Tapalian Law further notes:
A property owner, such as a retail store, is responsible for inspecting the condition of the property on a regular basis, making timely maintenance repairs and making every effort necessary to ensure a safe environment. If the owner fails to do so and is someone is injured on the property, the owner may be held liable for the person’s damages if found negligent.
The deployment of pallets has been transformational in reducing material handling labor and, no doubt, related injuries over the last 100 years. And while they have been an extraordinary innovation, the relationship between pallets and injury should never be taken for granted.
The retail and residential use of pallets was responsible for sending more than 30,000 people to the emergency rooms of U.S. hospitals over a recent five-year period, as reported in the February 2021 issue of the Journal of Safety Research and also discussed in this article. The research underscores the importance of safe usage on the sales floor and mindful handling at home.
The 35–44 age group experienced 5,481 hospital emergency department visits, most of any age group. About 3,000 children and youth under 18 years of age were injured and more than 4,000 persons 65 years of age or older suffered injuries. The elderly, in particular, were likely to suffer injuries from slip, trip and fall incidents. The lower extremities were the most commonly injured body parts. Accidents at retail stores accounted for injuries to 3,964 persons, or approximately 14% of all pallet-related injuries.
4 tips for pallet safety on the retail floor
Basic safety steps can improve pallet safety at home and at retail. While eliminating pallet usage from retail display would solve the problem, the study authors acknowledge that such a shift would be difficult and costly. Retailers use pallets for merchandising purposes because they make an inexpensive, convenient platform that can easily be moved by a pallet jack.
Brightly colored. The paper recommends that all floor-level pallets be covered or skirted with a brightly colored material to make them more visible and ensure never to leave empty pallets laying on the floor. Brightly colored pallets might offer a similar solution.
Fractional pallets for floor display. While not mentioned in the report, retailers can also consider using smaller footprint pallets such as half pallets and quarter pallets for display. These more compact formats enable a wider, unobstructed path for pedestrians as pallets cover less of the floor. Additionally, the design of displays with safety in mind, with features such as bin access doors, can reduce the need for awkward reaching across a pallet that could contribute to injury.
Minimum height requirement for floor display. Another law firm notes that retailers purposefully design shelf and retail displays to draw customer attention, and as a result, retailers should not expect them to be looking at their feet. For this reason, it advises retailers to ensure that all retail displays are at least three feet in height.
Monitor for safety. In the case cited in the introduction, the claimant stepped on what was believed to be a pallet nail. Operators should monitor for potential risks, such as floor debris, including wood splinters, and metal fasteners that might be generated as a result of pallet movement.
Other ideas include choosing a lighter display pallet that is easier to handle, as well as ensuring that there is an effective reverse logistics process in place. Custom display pallets designed for single use only can pose handling and disposal issues that can also potentially increase the risk of injury.
Bottom line, pallets on the retail floor are easy to overlook, thanks to the hard-working staff and eye-catching displays. Taking basic safety precautions, as outlined above, however, can make a positive difference.