- Pallet safety for home crafting and firewood usage starts with embracing professional safe handling practices such as creating and maintaining an organized workspace as well as wearing gloves, safety shoes, and eye protection.
- Retail display pallet safety can be enhanced by maintaining a higher display pallet, covering exposed pallet corners, or using small footprint pallets that allow better pedestrian access.
Thinking about finally home crafting that pallet wood wine rack? Think about safe handling practices and safety equipment before you start. Inattention to pallet safety can increase the risk to retail shoppers as well as to members of the general public using pallets for crafts or firewood, according to a new study. 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.
With over 500 million new wooden pallets produced in the United States every year, and over 2 billion in use at any given time in the country, pallets are indispensable components of domestic supply chains. But they present unique hazards when used by retailers and homeowners for unintended purposes, cautioned researcher Judd Michael, Penn State University Nationwide Insurance Professor of Agricultural Safety and Health.
The first-ever investigation of non-occupational injuries associated with unintentional contact with pallets yielded startling statistics, according to Michael. In a five-year span that commenced on Jan. 1, 2014, there were an estimated 30,493 people who visited hospital emergency rooms for pallet-related injuries.
Study authors Michael and Serap Gorucu of Florida State University analyzed data in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. That database is used for safety-related research, and similar studies using its data have examined injuries from products such as bunk beds to trampolines.
The database includes patient demographics, incident date, emergency room diagnosis, injury location, and patient disposition. Entries also include brief narratives describing incident scenarios. Analysts then extrapolate data from the sample to estimate injuries across the entire U.S. For this particular study, the data did not always reflect what type of material that pallets were made from, whether wood, plastic or corrugated, for example.
Pallet safety at home: increased frequency of injury noted, older people at greater risk of slip, trip, and fall events
One noteworthy trend from the study is that the yearly incidence of pallet injuries increased during the study period. “As a result of their ubiquity in retail environments and social media-driven trends in do-it-yourself (DIY) repurposing of pallets for residential uses,” the authors note, “there is increasing potential for injuries.”
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.
Around 22% of emergency room visits resulted from overexertion or related injury resulting from moving a pallet. Narrative evidence from hospital staff suggests that many at-home injuries were caused when the patient was attempting to repurpose a pallet to a use inconsistent with its original purposes, such as breaking it apart for a project or firewood.
With a discharge rate of 97% from emergency departments, the overall severity of injuries was relatively low. A small percentage of cases were severe enough to require hospitalization or transfer. A single accident-related fatality occurred during the study period.
Improving pallet safety for retail floor display
While eliminating pallet usage from retail display would solve the problem, the 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.
The paper recommends that all floor-level pallets be covered with a brightly colored material to make them more visible and ensure never to leave empty pallets laying on floors. 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 provide a wider, unobstructed path for pedestrians. 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.
One 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.
Improving pallet safety at home
While pallet safety at home could be best improved by restricting access to pallets, the authors recognize that this approach would be effectively impossible, given the widespread availability of used pallets that are of little or no value to businesses. As such, they recommend a focus on public education, perhaps using social media to warn people about pallet related hazards associated with craft and firewood activities. Noting that injury frequency is greatest during the warmer weather months, they suggest targeting messaging during that time of year.
The paper does not offer particular safety measures for home handling of pallets, but tried and tested safe handling practices used commercially should be seriously considered by residential users. The use of safety shoes, goggles, hearing protection, and gloves, as well as purpose-designed dismantling tools (handheld pry bars and saws, etc.), can help improve safety. An appropriate height workbench or table reduces the need to bend and reach. Another priority – ensure that workstation housekeeping is in order to eliminate the risk of nail puncture wounds as well as slip and trip hazards.
Whether keeping your customers safe or ensuring that your new wine rack project does not involve an unintended visit to the emergency department, take heed. The results of this study should serve as motivation to ensure retail safety and to more effectively communicate safe handling techniques for home use.
First published in January 2021, with updates.