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Types of pallet jack accidents, with examples

There are five main types of pallet jack operation that causes damage or injuries to freight or operators:

  1. Tipping
  2. Speed
  3. Vehicle impact
  4. Reckless driving
  5. Manual handling

The risks can be reduced by ensuring your team has had electric pallet jack training.

Incidents caused by tipping

A pallet jack has a stability triangle, just like a forklift. If the centre of gravity moves outside the stability triangle, either the pallet jack will start to tip, the goods will fall off, or both. The causes include:

  • Unbalanced load on the forks, e.g. the operator places too much weight on one side of the load without knowing where the centre of gravity is
  • A balanced load is disturbed by a change in direction or an unexpected force, for example, going over a weatherstrip, gutter or pothole, getting a wheel caught in a grate, etc. See also incidents involved with speed, reckless driving or vehicle impact
  • A live load – one which can move independently of its container, such as a liquid load in a chemical container – sloshes around and moves the centre of gravity outside the stability triangle
  • The load is too heavy for the rated capacity of the pallet jack or walkie at the height it’s being used
  • A load is incorrectly stacked on the forks and all or part of it falls off
  • The operator jumps off or falls off a ride-on walkie into the path of the falling machine or freight
  • A load can also be inadvertently tipped and knocked off a stack when operating at height with a high lift pallet truck or HLPT
  • A manual pallet jack runs off a dock or tail lift and the operator keeps hold rather than letting go (tail lift training is important to avoid these kinds of incidents).

Incidents caused by excess speed

Even a manual pallet jack can be capable of carrying 2500kg. The operator must manage the speed of the pallet jack as it takes energy to stop or turn it.

  • Turning too quickly creates too much centrifugal force – the pallet jack could skid and stop abruptly or could tip over
  • Impossible to stop in time, e.g. operator misjudges stopping distance or a pedestrian walks out in front of the walkie
  • As manual pallet jacks and some electric pallet jacks don’t have backwards tilt, stopping abruptly can cause the load to come off the forks.

Incidents caused by impacts

An electric pallet jack plus load can weigh over three tonnes, meaning impacts can cause a lot of damage, particularly where that inertia is concentrated in the tips of the forks.

  • Pedestrians can walk into the forks, which are a trip hazard at ground level, and a bodily hazard if left raised
  • The pallet jack is driven into a pedestrian or the operator, which can cause crush injuries
  • Pedestrians trip over a charging cable.

Incidents caused by reckless driving

Operators sometimes take risks and use machinery in ways in which it shouldn’t be used:

  • The operator rides on a pallet jack which isn’t intended to be ridden on
  • A passenger rides on the forks or some other place where people should not be carried
  • The operator puts a limb in a place it shouldn’t be, e.g. the mast mechanism

Manual handling

The operator often has to manually lift items on and off the pallet jack, and manual handling injuries are common in warehouses:

  • Poor bending and lifting technique
  • Trying to lift objects from a high rack without using steps
  • Lifting an object that’s too heavy for one person

Other potential dangers

Operators should avoid any type of mechanical or electrical fix of a pallet jack unless they are fully trained in how to repair them. Injuries can occur.

Examples of accidents resulting in injury or death

You can find more of these accidents here.

Employee was struck in the head by a falling pallet jack battery and is killed through blunt force trauma. The employee was trying to dislodge the pallet truck battery.

Employee fell backwards off a semitrailer while loading it at Avalon Transportation. The pallet jack rolled backwards off the semitrailer, landing on his torso and crushing him to death.

Employee fractured his leg in two places while riding on a pallet jack. He jumped off and his leg was caught between racking and the pallet jack.

Employee in Aldi, UK, fractured all toes on one foot, losing two to surgical amputation and his foot having to be restructured using pins. Aldi was fined £1m.

Tecomet was fined over £275,000 when a machine fell off a pallet jack and amputated an employee’s finger. The machine did not have channels to be lifted by the pallet jack and the operator had not been trained in its operation.

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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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