Loading and unloading pallets

This guidance provides solutions which may help employers eliminate or reduce and control risks to employees whose work involves loading and unloading pallets.

The problem

Manually loading or unloading objects onto or from pallets is a common task in many industries. Pallets are often on the floor and employees have to bend, twist and reach and use force to load or unload them. These repetitive awkward postures and repeated use of force can place employees at risk of injury.

Legal duties

As an employer you have an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This obligation requires you to eliminate risks to health and safety so far as reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate those risks, you must reduce those risks, so far as reasonably practicable.

The risks

Employees who repeatedly handle items while in bent, reaching or twisted postures are at risk of injury. The injuries, known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), are most likely to affect the shoulders, lower back, abdomen and knees. MSDs can happen suddenly when lifting or lowering heavy objects. They are more likely to occur when employees are in awkward postures when they handle heavy objects. Wear and tear on joints and other parts of the body over time can also cause an MSD.

Frequent forward bending of the back more than 20 degrees is a risk.

Frequent forward bending of the back more than 20°.

Repetitive forward reaching more than 30cm is a risk.

Repetitive forward reaching more than 30cm from the body.

Repetitive twisting the back and reaching sideways is a risk.

Repetitive twisting of the back and reaching sideways.

Solutions

Equipment

  1. Provide a scissor-lift with a pallet-ring turntable.
  2. If the scissor-lift has pneumatic power, ensure the scissor mechanism has a guard on any shearing or crushing space.

Systems of work

  1. Ensure the pallet level is adjusted so employees handle objects at waist height for each level of the pallet.
  2. Make sure the pallet-ring turntable can rotate through 360 degrees. This ensures employees can keep the pallet load point as close as possible.
  3. Locate the pallet lifter where there is space for employees to place and remove items without twisting. The pallet should be at least one metre from objects on conveyors, tables or other surfaces. Employees can turn and step with the object, eliminating twisting and reaching movements.
  4. Ensure employees use appropriate load-shifting equipment to remove the pallet from the lifter.

Turntable with pneumatic scissor lift.

Turntable with pneumatic scissor lift.

Pneumatic scissor lift with accordion skirting.

Pneumatic scissor-lift with accordion safety skirting.

Access to the work area

  1. Put in place a traffic management system to separate load-shifting equipment from pedestrians. The system should stop vehicles or people coming into contact with the equipment or its operator.

Maintenance, examination and testing

  1. Develop and put in place maintenance procedures for the scissor-lift and turntable. Procedures should ensure the equipment's use, inspections and maintenance are in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Training and supervision

  1. Make sure all employees who use the scissor-lift or work in the area have received training in the equipment's use. Training should include:
    • safe operation of the machinery
    • systems of work for its safe use
    • traffic management systems
  2. Ensure employees understand hazards and risks in manual handling. Make sure they know why risk controls are necessary and why the company supplies and requires the use of controls.

Hazardous manual handling and MSDs

Manual handling is work where you have to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, hold or restrain something. It’s hazardous manual handling if it involves:

  • repeated, sustained or high force
  • sustained awkward posture
  • repetitive movements
  • exposure to sustained vibration
  • handling people or animals
  • loads that are unstable, unbalanced or hard to hold

Loading and unloading pallets involves hazardous manual handling. It can put employees at risk of an MSD. Employers have extra duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) relating to hazardous manual handling risks and MSDs. Details of those duties are in Part 3.1 of the OHS Regulations. WorkSafe also has guidance on hazardous manual handling.

To reduce the risk of MSDs, make sure:

  • your workplace has adequate room and facilities for employees to safely perform their tasks
  • safe systems of work, processes and procedures are in place
  • employees are using the correct equipment
  • employees receive appropriate information, instruction, training or supervision so they fully understand the safest ways to load and unload pallets

Identifying risks and risk controls

Employers must identify the risks and provide risk controls, so far as reasonably practicable. This must happen in consultation with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs). Consultation should include discussions about how employees will load and unload pallets, making sure the risk controls do not create new hazards. WorkSafe has guidance on consultation, including consultation with HSRs.