Pallet Jack Operation: Principles For Safe Use And Pallet Handling

If you are going to move pallets at a job site but don't have the room for a forklift or can't justify the funds for renting one, a pallet jack rental is a highly cost-effective alternative. They make moving heavy pallets of freight much less difficult and can be handled easily by a single worker. However, despite their simplicity and widespread use, workers still must practice safe working habits to prevent needless injuries and accidents. Below are several principles of safe pallet jack use and handling:

Pull pallet jacks whenever possible

The handle on a pallet jack is designed primarily for pulling, and though it is possible and even necessary to push a pallet jack on occasion, this is not an ideal practice for most situations. If you plan ahead before and while you are moving a load, you can eliminate the need to push the jack in all but a few circumstances. Pulling a pallet jack provides a couple of key safety benefits for users and bystanders, too:

  • Maintains maximum visibility - Pushing a pallet jack can obstruct operator vision due to the possibility of pallet-bound freight blocking the forward line of sight. By pulling a pallet jack, the operator has no obstructions to visibility, and there is much less chance of accidentally running over another object or striking an obstacle as a result.

  • Maintains maximum control - Pallet jacks are much more easily controlled when being pulled instead of being pushed. Pulling allows workers to lengthen the distance between the feet to the rear edge of the pallet, thus increasing stability. Pushing a pallet jack requires the use of awkward force on the handle, and attempting to steer the pallet becomes more difficult. This can lead to loss of control of a pallet's movement and accidents.

If you find yourself needing to push a pallet jack, ask a helper to spot your movements to ensure you don't accidentally strike someone or something during operation. Also, be sure to get assistance with pushing extraordinarily heavy pallets to prevent injuries such as muscle strains and sprains.

Position pallet jacks properly

Another important safety practice is to position pallet jacks beneath the pallets carefully. A pallet jack that is too far from center, particularly if the pallet's load isn't balanced, could cause the pallet to shift and make the load fall. That is why it is important to slide the pallet jack beneath the upper wooden deck of the pallet so the forks are centered from left-to-right, and it is also important that the forks form a 90-degree angle with the front edge of the pallet. Inserting the forks at an offset angle could leave the pallet unbalanced and interfere with the pallet jack's proper lifting function.

In addition to placement, be sure the pallet jack wheels are not trapped between the lower and upper wooden decks of the pallet. The wheels should be firmly in contact with the ground with no part resting on the wooden bottom of the pallet. If the wheels are inadvertently sandwiched between the wooden planks, the pallet could be damaged by the forks as they push the wood decks apart. This can literally destroy the pallet and also result in loads being pushed over to the side and falling to the ground.

Lift only what the pallet jack can safely handle

Pallet jacks are capable of lifting hundreds of pounds, but they do have a maximum weight capacity. It is unsafe to attempt to lift loads that exceed the weight limit of the jack, as the hydraulic mechanism can fail if pushed beyond its capabilities. A sudden collapse of the lifting forks can cause the load to shift or fall. In addition, a falling pallet can be heavy enough to crush your feet or another person's feet.

If you are unsure of the weight capacity of your pallet jack, then check the manufacturer's documentation that came with the pallet jack. If you are unable to locate the documentation, then contact the manufacturer directly to determine how much the unit can safely lift. Keep in mind that poorly maintained pallet jacks may effectively reduce the capacity of the device, as they can fail prematurely from misuse or abuse.

Contact a contractor equipment rental company for more advice on pallet jack safety.