When we talk about powered industrial trucks (PITs), forklifts and order pickers generally dominate the conversation. But, there's another piece of equipment that is powerful and strong and deserves some attention: the powered pallet jack.
Powered pallet jacks are a type of PIT used to move pallets, often in tight spaces. Pallet jacks are battery powered and are one of two designs: either walk-behind or ride-on. There are different types of pallet jacks as well; such low lift or high lift.
While they may seem easy to use and harmless, pallet jacks are powerful, carry heavy loads, and if not operated and cared for properly, can cause injury and property damage. Just imagine a pallet jack rolling over someone's foot? Not a good outcome. Or a rider being tossed from a walkie-rider pallet jack? Or what about when the operator accidentally hits the control causing the pallet jack to lunge backward pinning him between the control arm and racking?
During a period from Jan. 1, 2015, to Oct. 31, 2016, OSHA received nearly 200 reports of severe injuries, i.e., hospitalization or amputation, related to pallet jack operation—of both powered and manual equipment. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the injuries were to the feet and legs as a result of the pallet jack running over the operator or pinning the operator against a fixed object resulting in amputation or fractured bones.
However, the greatest percentage of amputations involved the fingers and hands. Without adequate hand guards on the pallet jack's handle, hands/fingers can be caught between objects such as racks, pallets, tables, and other equipment. Problems can be further magnified when other material handling equipment is in use. For example, in one incident, an employee was working with an electric pallet jack while another receiving associate had a forklift. When the employee went to move the electric pallet jack, the handle was turned in such a way that when it moved, it moved backwards and smashed her left-hand pinky into the forklift battery. Her pinky fingertip had to be surgically amputated.
These and other hazards are why OSHA requires, in 1910.178(l), that operators of powered pallet jacks be trained, evaluated, and certified. And, just like a forklift operator, pallet jack operators must be re-evaluated at least once every three years.
In addition, pallet jacks must be inspected prior to use each shift, looking at such things as the forks, tires, backrest, hand guard, control arm, belly button switch, battery and cables, controls, brakes, and horn.