Wooden Shipping Pallets are Killing People

In lieu of OSHA data, Change the Pallet makes the case against the human costs of wooden shipping pallets

Portland, Oregon, December 15, 2017 – An Alabama jury awarded $7.5 million last month to a man who broke his hip at a Walmart store after his foot became stuck in a wood pallet. News outlets from Fox to Washington Post reported on the story with headlines reminiscent of the famous McDonald's hot coffee burn lawsuits of times gone by. 

But the fact is, wood pallet-related injuries are common, they are often serious, they sometimes result in death, and they are costing Walmart and other American retailers (and their investors) tens of millions of dollars each year.

Earlier this year, for example, an employee at a Walmart in Florida was killed while moving a stack of empty pallets. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the accident occurred when two pallets fell off the top of the stack while the victim was pushing it, struck her forehead and killed her. Each pallet weighed about 60 pounds. 

Sound like an anomaly? A similar accident occurred at a Restaurant Depot in 2015 when three pallets fell off a stack and landed on an employee. The accident reportedly caused head trauma and a fractured skull and facial bones; injuries to which the victim eventually succumbed. In 2016, an employee at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company was crushed between a stack of heavy wood pallets and a wall, causing death.

This list goes on. In fact, simply typing “pallet” in the “Fatality and Catastrophe Investigation Summaries” page of the OSHA website will result in a list of hundreds of instances of pallet-related deaths and injuries, complete with descriptions such as “Employee Crushes Hand During Removal Of Jammed Pallet” and “Employee Is Struck By Falling Lumber Pallet And Is Killed.” As common as severe injuries may be, however, they are far outnumbered by those injuries resulting from overexertion and strain. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “In 2015, musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s), such as sprains or strains resulting from overexertion in lifting, accounted for 31 percent (356,910 cases) of the total cases for all workers.” BLS does not report how many of these cases are related to wood pallets, but with 10 billion palletized shipments per year – and wood pallets weighing between 35-70 pounds each - it is reasonable to conclude that the number of pallet-related “MSD’s” is quite significant.

In 2016, IKEA Portland, OR store manager Alessandra Zini testified before the Oregon state legislature on the “public good” benefits of corrugated pallets vs. wood, reaching the same conclusion on pallet injuries. Ms. Zini stated that: “[corrugated pallets] helped to significantly reduce back injuries in our store…I can for sure say that injuries coming from twisting the back are the ones that dropped the most (about 50-percent in these four years vs. about 30-percent as a total injuries decrease).” [sic]

“What makes this all so troubling,” says Adam Pener, Executive Director at Change the Pallet, “is that these aren’t just accidents, they’re preventable accidents. No one dies when a cardboard pallet falls on them. Remove heavy wooden shipping pallets from the equation, and you remove all accidents and human costs associated with them.”

It’s good to see the press finally reporting on wood pallets; we believe, however, it’s past time for journalists to drill down on the true cost of 500 million wood pallets entering the U.S. market each year, notably with respect to the health and safety of American workers and, as a jury in Alabama determined, retail consumers.

Change the Pallet is a project of The Forward Edge Initiative, an Oregon-based nonprofit. They educate and advocate for a national shift from wood to corrugated pallets, with the goal of protecting American workers, eliminating shipping pounds, reducing carbon emissions massively, and saving consumers and taxpayers billions of dollars. Change the Pallet is honored to be recognized as a "Knowledgeable Partner" of the prestigious Connect4Climate, and was recently featured in an ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability article.

Erica AllisonComment