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Protecting Forklift Loads & Pallets

Ways to reduce crushed or punctured loads when handling palletized product

Forklift Load Protection Inquiry

forklift loading pallets in warehouse rack

Companies spend a great deal of time and energy protecting people and assets in their warehousing operations, but one aspect of it that can be difficult is forklift load protection. Once a load is on the forklift, what can you do to reduce the chances of forklifts damaging your product?

The problem with forklift handling

More pallets are damaged by forklifts than all other sources of damage combined. The potential ways a forklift can damage its load break down into three categories:

  1. The forklift mast crushes the pallet or the load. When a forklift picks up a pallet, it can crack the boards or even damage the load. This damage not only destroys a pallet, it can harm the load. Even if the load isn’t damaged by the initial contact, damaged pallets are less stable and more likely to give way and harm the load, or contribute to a pallet rack collapse.
  2. The tines puncture the load or its container. This happens when forks aren’t correctly aligned. If they’re pushed into the load, they can puncture or crush it. If the pallet is on a rack, they can even push it off the rack, or push all or part of the load off.
  3. The load slips off forklift tines. This is particularly an issue when the forklift works in a cooler or freezer, outdoors or in wet environments. Once dropped, loads can be damaged or even strike a nearby worker.

Aside from the potentially severe costs of damaged inventory, replacing pallets can also be expensive and time consuming.

worker checking damage after a forklift tine strikes a pallet load in a warehouse

The causes

Why is this damage so common?

  • Training and education. Your drivers aren’t adequately trained to “softly” handle pallets. In busy operations, they’re in a hurry all the time, and enter the pallets too fast. Drivers must receive instruction on how to handle loads in ways that limit impact potential.
  • The pallets are wrong — either the wrong size or the wrong fit for your forklift type or the product you’re storing.
  • Your load isn’t right. Your load isn’t adequately wrapped, squared, balanced or built. Poorly made loads are much more likely to sustain damage.
  • Your warehouse and picking operations aren’t set up correctly. If your operation requires “over handling” of pallets, the chances of damage increase.

Whatever the reasons, you can find ways to counter them by aligning the right training, right pallets, good pallet building processes and warehouse operation.

Bumpers and guards

One of the easier ways to reduce the chances of damage is by installing forklift bumper pads that cushion the load and defend against these types of accidents. Bumpers don’t replace training, good load handling techniques and proper picking operations, but they do enhance them. They come in three types:

Forklift tine back bumpers

Tine back covers

These rubber bumpers absorb the impact of loads hitting the forklift tine backs during loading and transport, which reduces the likelihood of products and materials being dented or splintered. They protect the load by inserting a forgiving layer of rubber between the tine backs and the palletized product, meaning less contact with hard steel.

Anti-slip tine cover

Anti-slip tine covers

These treaded rubber fork covers have a “grippy” surface that helps keep loads from sliding off when the forklift turns or makes a quick stop. This is critical in wet, cold, outdoor or cooler applications where tines can be exposed to humidity and grow slick over time. They also help prevent load punctures, since the ends of the covers also wrap around the sharp edge of the forklift tine to blunt any impact with a pallet or load.

Forklift tine bumper for end of lift tines

The tine cap

Because bare metal tines are sharp, they can puncture, scratch or gouge palletized loads when they enter the pallet. These caps blunt the ends of the tines so that the damage is minimized in the event of an accident. They also help the driver see tine ends due to their bright yellow, high-visibility color. They come in 4″ and 5″ tine widths and are easy to install.

Finding ways to mitigate damage is an ongoing process

Drivers come and go, as do loads and pallets. Over the long term, standards, workflows, training and equipment implemented with damage reduction are the keys to reducing product and pallet damage.

More resources

Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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