Handling empty pallets

Manually handling empty pallets often results in injury. This guidance may help employers reduce risks to employees who manually handle empty pallets.


Use solutions with the least risk

Wooden pallets are the most common method for moving product and material. Handling empty pallets manually requires high force, poor postures and movements. Pallets are defined as large, bulky and awkward items (LBAs) and when wet can weigh more than 35 kg. The following solutions can help employers control risks to employees handling empty pallets. These solutions may help eliminate or reduce the risk of employees developing a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).

Solutions are listed in order, from those considered most effective to those considered less effective.

Employers should make sure employees use the handling solutions with the least risk, so far as reasonably practicable.

Solutions with reduced risks are an alternative only if least-risk methods are not reasonably practicable.

Employers should start implementing risk controls for the heaviest or highest-volume products first.

The following guidance also describes high-risk actions that can cause an MSD. Employers have a duty to eliminate or reduce the risk of MSDs so far as is reasonably practicable, and should make sure employees do not perform high-risk actions, if practicable.


So far as reasonably practicable, employers must consult with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) when identifying hazards and providing risk control measures. Consultation should include discussions about how employees will handle empty pallets, making sure that risk control measures do not create new hazards. WorkSafe has guidance on consultation, including consultation with HSRs.

Manually moving pallets

High-risk actions that can cause an MSD

  • Bending the back or neck more than 20 degrees, twisting, turning, grabbing, picking or wringing actions with the fingers, hands or arms, pushing pulling or dragging:
    • more than twice per minute for more than 30 minutes continuously or
    • more than 2 hours over the whole shift

    These actions may occur in the situations listed or in combination with other work activities.

  • Exerting high force while in an awkward posture.

Potential source of risk

  • Manual movement of pallets.

Handling solutions

Preferred solutions with the least risk

  • Install a mechanical pallet stacker.
  • Use forklifts, overhead cranes or other mechanical aid such as a wide straddle pallet mover and lifter.
Pallet jack being used to pull pallet out of pallet stacker
This mechanical pallet stacker eliminates the manual task of handling and stacking empty pallets.

Solutions with a reduced risk

  • Use hand pallet jacks.
  • Use lighter weight softwood or plastic pallets.
  • Use a hook to pull lighter weight pallets up to vertical then slide them instead of carrying.
  • Team handling.

Your legal duties


The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as reasonably practicable. An employer contravenes this duty if they fail to:

  • provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health
  • make arrangements for ensuring, so far as reasonably practicable, safety and the absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage or transport of plant or substances
  • maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, each workplace under the employer's management and control in a condition that is safe and without risks to health
  • provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, adequate facilities for the welfare of employees at any workplace under the management and control of the employer
  • provide information, instruction, training or supervision to employees of the employer as is necessary to enable those employees to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health

Employers also have an obligation to consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with employees and any HSRs on matters related to health and safety that directly affect them, or that are likely to directly affect them. This duty to consult also extends to independent contractors, including employees of the independent contractor, engaged by the employer in relation to matters over which the employer has control.


While at work, employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and the health and safety of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions in the workplace. Employees must also co-operate with their employer's actions to make the workplace safe and comply with the OHS Act and Regulations.

The WorkSafe website has guidance about the occupational health and safety (OHS) responsibilities of employers and employees.

Related pages

This information is from 'Manual handling in the food manufacturing industry: A guide for employers'. The complete guide is available in two formats.

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