Loading and unloading pallets of goods or produce are repetitive tasks that can easily lead to serious injury if the risks aren't removed.
What's the problem?
Pallets are usually placed on the ground and are loaded to the capacity of the truck or forklift that is used to move them. This can lead to serious strains and sprains from bending over, awkward positions, using force in a stretched position and lifting and manoeuvring above shoulder height.
Queensland statistics for the vegetable growing industry show that:
- 58 per cent of injuries are caused by sprains/strains
- deaths and serious injuries only account for three per cent of injuries
- 62 work days is the average time off work for sprain/strain injury
- the average cost of a sprain/strain claim in the vegetable growing industry is $9107
- the total cost to the Queensland vegetable growing industry for sprain/strain injuries is $4 726 503.
(Source: Queensland employee injury database. Data current as at May 2007.)
What are the risks?
- Manually loading pallets can lead to sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments, intervertebral discs and other structures in the back, wrists, arms and shoulders.
- Workers work in awkward postures below knee height and above shoulder height which exposes them to a high risk of having a sprain/strain injury.
- The task is commonly performed by the same one or two workers throughout the shift so the risk of injury is increased due to its repetitive and lengthy nature.
- Pallets are often stacked too high causing workers to handle loads in stretched and awkward positions, increasing the risk of injury.
- Steps, when provided for workers to stand on can create the new risk of falling or tripping.
- Steps are also too easy to 'forget' to use.
- Set-up of the work area is often cluttered with new pallets for loading put where they will fit instead of where it is safest for workers to access and use.
What is the solution?
The most effective solutions focus on eliminating the manual task or re-designing the work area or equipment. These could include:
- using automatic/robotic pallet stackers
- using adjustable pallet raisers
- using a platform structure around the pallet with a pallet on a hydraulic lifting system
- negotiating with clients and/or transport companies regarding the configuration of pallets (e.g. to reduce the height, or use half/split pallets)
- planning the location of this area with consideration to space, handling of product and access
- keeping walkways clear and in good condition
- removing spilt produce from floors and cleaning up spills immediately.