Transferring product between wooden and plastic pallets

This guidance may help employers control risks of injury to employees who transfer materials from wooden pallets to plastic pallets in the food manufacturing industry.


Use solutions with the least risk

In the food industry, it is a requirement that only non-wooden pallets be used in food production areas. As a result, employees often spend considerable time and effort relocating materials from wooden pallets to plastic pallets, and vice versa. The following solutions can help employers control risks to employees transferring materials between wooden pallets and plastic pallets. The 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 transfer materials from wooden pallets to plastic pallets, making sure that risk control measures do not create new hazards. WorkSafe has guidance on consultation, including consultation with HSRs.

Transfers between pallets on the ground

High-risk actions that can cause an MSD

  • Bending and twisting the back more than 20 degrees, lifting or lowering, exerting force while in an awkward posture:
    • 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.

  • Using high force lifting, lowering or carrying heavy loads.
  • Exerting high force while in an awkward position.

Potential source of risk

  • Pallets located on the ground.

Handling solutions

Preferred solutions with the least risk

  • Get product supplied on plastic pallets.
  • Use slip sheets to transfer product from pallet to pallet.
  • Install a pallet inverter, which transfers the product from one pallet to another.
  • Use an automated layer picker to transfer product.
  • Use a vacuum lifting device or manipulator.
A forklift with a push/pull attachment lifting a pallet
Forklift with push-pull attachment for slipsheeted pallets.
An image of an orange pallet inverter
A pallet inverter.
An image of a layer picker being used.
A layer picker.

Solution with a reduced risk

  • Place both pallets on scissor lifts and turntables to reduce height variations.
A man using a pallet lifter which has a turntable
Pallet lifter with a turntable.

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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