Risk & Legal Liability
Dr. Mark White, Director of the Pallet & Container Research Lab at VA Tech, told a crowd of pallet users recently that he estimates that litigation involving pallets has increased three to four times. White explains that the quality of the pallet that is used is directly related to the risk and liability that pallet users assume. The higher the quality of the pallet and the better it is maintained the lower the risk. White further cautions that pallet users should be very aware of the
dramatically increased liability that they are assuming when they use a low quality, badly designed, damaged or improperly repaired pallet. When a lawsuit involves pallets, lawyers go after everyone the shipper of the product on the pallet, the buyer of the pallet and the supplier of the product on the pallet…it’s the old “deep pockets” approach to litigation.
White explains that pallets are load-bearing structures. While in use, pallet components act as load-bearing beams.
Pallet failures result in:
- Reduced material handling efficiency and disrupted operations
- Product damage which adds unnecessary costs; and
- Most importantly, may cause personal injuries and tragically even death
Accidents are the result of either the:
- Wrong pallet being used
- The correct pallet is improperly used.
Typical pallet related accidents include:
- Stacked unit loads fall
- Pallets fail in storage racks, which is not only inconvenient and creates a mess but can also damage storage and material handling systems or even contribute to their failure or collapse.
- Pallets fail when elevated by forklift tines or forks
- Individuals step or stand on pallets you’re not supposed to do this
- Pallets are improperly handled
- Product falls off the pallet because either the coefficient of friction between the unit load and the surface of the pallet is not high enough to hold the unit load to the top of the pallet or temperature variation (these are both particularly problematic with plastic pallets); or vibration of the unit load during transport and movement causes the product to fall off.
TO MANAGE THIS RISK AND AVOID BEING FOUND NEGLIGENT IF A LAWSUIT OCCURS, WHITE EXPLAINS THE STEPS THAT PALLET USERS SHOULD TAKE TO PREVENT ACCIDENTS, MANAGE THESE RISKS AND TO LIMIT THEIR LIABILITY. THEY INCLUDE:
Select the right pallet to safely & properly do the job to begin with
Perform a pallet audit. Document all pallet loading, support and handling conditions at your facilities and at your customer’s facilities.
Develop and test models of various pallet prototypes. To do this either:
- Use the Pallet Design System© (PDS©) software for a CAD designed computer model of your pallet design. (Note: This is the quickest and easiest route to choose. PDS© is available exclusively through NWPCA and its member pallet suppliers); or
- Perform lab tests of the test pallets using either ASTM D1185 or ISO 8611.
- Follow up these tests with actual field trials of the successful prototypes to ensure that it meets your needs.
Create & draft a detailed pallet specification to match the “best” prototype that you’ve come up with. Most pallet failures occur at the connections so be sure to detail the nail/fastener specifications especially.
Implement a quality assurance program which assures you that:
The pallet you purchase and receive is the same one you specified so that you don’t get shortchanged…too much is riding on your pallets to accept anything less than what you specified & ordered.
Inspect pallets regularly during use in your operations
- Train your warehouse personnel & forklift drivers to inspect for damage to the pallet.
Use pallet suppliers who are:
- A graduate of the PDS© Pallet Design short course that is conducted by VA Tech’s Pallet Lab. Members of NWPCA …the Pallet Professionals®. If your pallet supplier isn’t a member, what does that tell you about their ability to keep up with the times so that they can provide you with the lowest cost solutions?