Ergonomics for Manual Palletizing Tasks
Without pallets, the supply chain as we know it falls apart. Whether they’re the latest RFID-embedded plastics or ancient shreds of wood that barely hang together, pallets are an essential part of the shipping process.
Unfortunately, working with pallets can increase the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace injuries related to pallet work include:
- Stress to the lower back from lifting heavy loads (wooden pallets can weigh between 40 and 70 pounds).
- Back injuries from bending to wrap pallets in plastic.
- Musculoskeletal disorders related to repetitive reaching during pallet-building.
- Splinter wounds caused by degraded wooden pallets.
- Repetitive motion stresses on soft tissues.
These types of injuries can have serious, lasting physical effects, and cause workers to miss days of work for recovery. In fact, musculoskeletal disorders of the type caused by manual palletizing are responsible for 34 percent of all lost work days—at an estimated cost of $20 billion per year in workers’ compensation.
Pallets aren’t going anywhere. The question, then, is how can we make working with them safer? There’s good news on this front: Relatively simple material handling equipment can significantly reduce the hazards associated with building, breaking down, and wrapping pallets in the shipping/receiving room.
(The same can be said for lifting and transporting pallets, both loaded and not, but these challenges are beyond the scope of the present article; here, we’d like to focus on safer handling of pallets during active palletizing tasks.)
Eliminating the Risks of Building Pallets
If you can’t remove an ergonomically risky task from warehouse processes, the best way to protect employees is to introduce an “engineering control.” That is, to change the task, removing the most hazardous movements involved.
Let’s review the specific biomechanical motions involved in breaking down a pallet manually:
- Workers must reach across the full length of the pallet to remove cartons at the further edge; with repitition, this task becomes an ergonomic hazard.
- As workers remove layers of cartons, they must continually bend deeper and deeper, also a risk factor for musculoskeletal disorders.
- Work quickly moves toward floor-level, leading to awkward postures.
- Each of these exposures combines to create an even greater risk of injury.
Note that each of these actions requires the worker to move toward the work rather than bringing the work toward the worker. A self-leveling lift table with a turntable top is all it takes to remove the ergonomic risks, boosting productivity and safety for all pallet-building and unpacking tasks.
The ergonomic power zone lies close to the worker’s body, between the waist and the shoulders. The challenge of ergonomic pallet-building is that the level of work necessarily changes; it moves lower with each layer of cartons removed, or higher with items added.
Self-leveling lift tables allow operators to set one level for the work. As weight is added or removed from the pallet, the table compensates to prevent bending and awkward postures. Meanwhile, a turntable surface allows operators to rotate the pallet while they work. This removes the risk associated with repetitive reaching. When the pallet is complete, the turntable allows the user to wrap the load in plastic without bending, stretching, or circling the unit.
Manual palletizing doesn’t have to lead to injuries—and it won’t, with the right self-leveling lift table on your side.
For more information on self-leveling lift tables and other ergonomic solutions, visit https://na.bhs1.com/products/warehouse-equipment-2/lift-tables/.
About BHS, Inc.
BHS, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of custom warehouse solutions and material handling equipment based in St. Louis, MO, USA. The company tailors its industry-leading products to customer specifications, focusing on enhancing ergonomics and productivity while providing a complete set of solutions for clients in a variety of industries. Please visit http://www.bhs1.com/ for more information.