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Identifying risks for walkie and pallet jack operators

Almost all pallet jack operators will be using the equipment on relatively flat, level ground, predominantly in a warehouse or store, but occasionally in a yard or on exposed docks. It’s important that operators understand the hazards and are aware of pedestrian safety, too. All operators must be competent and have completed an operator’s certificate in the last three years.

What hazards are in yards and open spaces?

Whenever heavy equipment is operated in a yard, the ideal situation is to have a lockable gate or some other control to prevent unauthorised people from coming into the area. If this isn’t available, cones and barriers can help.

When moving from outside operation where it might be wet or dusty, be aware that this wetness or dust will transfer to a smooth warehouse floor and make it very slippery – there’s the potential of slip and trip hazards causing injuries not just for the operator, but pedestrians, too.

Grates, potholes, manhole covers, cables and imperfections in the surface can snag a walkie, stopping it from moving and causing it to lean.

This walkie is beached – the drive wheel is over the grate which is low enough to mean that the body of the walkie is resting on the ground. This machine weighs over 300kg – getting it out of this situation without causing damage to the machine, or danger to the people involved, is difficult.

If the walkie is leaning, this might tip any goods it’s carrying off the top of the load; an abrupt stop may also cause this, as well as damaging the wheels.

Watch for spills on outside concrete; fluids can reduce grip or stop the walkie from turning.

If you are using an electric pallet jack with a mast, watch for overhead hazards such as awnings, roller doors, balconies, signage and trees. Note, however, that you should not be moving a walkie with the load raised!

Overhangs can be protected by barriers.

Corner protection protects the wall and also the overhanging window detail.


The weather provides additional challenges for operating a pallet jack. Cold weather makes operators more susceptible to injury and often means the ground is more slippery. Cold hands aren’t as dextrous. In hot weather, however, dehydration and sunburn can be an issue as pallet jack operators will be exerting themselves in some scenarios.

Be aware of changes in light levels if you are pushing a pallet jack inside after being in bright sunlight.

Warehouse hazards

Operators still need to be aware of what’s on the floor in a warehouse. This can include pipes, cables, potholes, debris and spilt fluid. They create a hazard for the machine as well as the potential for a twisted ankle. Extra care must be taken on the edge of loading docks.

Driving over the edge of the loading dock is a serious hazard

Operators must look out for other pedestrians, poles, barriers, racking, free-standing goods and poor lighting.

Not all pallet jacks have a horn, so shout out and eye contact are important, and care must be taken around blind corners.

Ramps provide a potential risk when transporting heavier loads; the operator must not lose control of the load.

For walkies with a mast, take care around roller doors and other low items.

Coolstore and freezer hazards

Operators can get hypothermia when working in a coolstore. Cold extremities don’t move as quickly, and cold hands aren’t as versatile.

The ground can be wet and slippery; pallet jacks have solid, smooth wheels which don’t disperse water.

Pallet jack wheels have no tread to disperse water

When moving between the coolstore and a warmer, more humid place, an operator’s glasses can fog up.

Machinery hazards

With non-powered pallet jacks, operators should understand safe manual handling and be aware that extremities can be crushed against solid objects.

With powered pallet jacks, operators must understand the machine’s operation, including any emergency stop procedures. Operators must be aware of any moving parts which could pinch or crush.

Warning labels advise of areas which are a danger to the operator

No maintenance should be undertaken on any machine without authorisation as it could result in an electric shock or other injury.

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Darren has written over 3000 articles about driving and vehicles, plus almost 500 vehicle reviews and numerous driving courses. Connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking the name above

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