One of the most popular pieces of equipment used in the UK is the simple pallet truck. They are often referred to as pump trucks, lift trucks, stillage trucks and probably a multitude of other names but in essence they all do the same job in lifting pallets for ease of movement and transportation
Pallet trucks are used in just about every type of industry in the country and in virtually any location where pallets are stored or moved around. They are relatively cheap to purchase and maintain plus they can become a vital component to good pallet management. All in all, a very simple item of equipment to use, either operated by hand or by a very user friendly electric powered battery control.
There are five main types of pallet truck
- Basic hand pallet trucks that are operated by a handle pump operation using the hydraulic ram. The load can be lifted up to a height of approximately 200mm and trucks come in a variety of sizes ranging from 1000kg up to 5000kg with the 2000 and 2500kg machines being the most popular. There are a variety of wheeling options to choose from and this needs some careful consideration that we will come on to look at a little later. There are also a variety of fork size options available to suit different types of pallets.
- Specialist hand pallet trucks that include galvanised or stainless steel versions for operation in corrosive environments or where hygiene and cold store conditions prevail. Low profile pallet trucks are also popular where a lowered desired height is required for moving pallets with a low ground clearance or for moving products that are not palletised but have a fork clearance under their base. Rough terrain pallet trucks also give the option of being able to travel over more difficult ground or uneven floor surfaces like building sites and grassy areas.
- High lift pallet trucks give the option of being able to lift the load to a high point – usually up to 800mm above ground. This is particularly useful if you are unloading/loading by hand and would like to carry this operation out at a more ergonomic height.
- Electric pallet trucks (often referred to as a ‘walkie’ ) offer the facility to raise the load electrically and on some models to transport the pallets electrically over a given distance. This is particularly useful if you are repeatedly carrying out this type of operation or where regularly heavy loads are being moved.
- Weigh scale pallet trucks offer the ability to not only move and transport the load, but to weigh it as well. Very useful if you need to check the weight of goods being unloaded or are selling a load based on unit weights.
A full range of pallet trucks can be seen here.
Choosing which type of pallet truck You need there are several key considerations to apply to your eventual choice. These can be summarised as follows:
- The capacity of the truck required – you should know the average weight of the loads that you will be lifting and moving. You should also know the minimum and maximum weights as well.
- The place of operation and what considerations will need to be given to use in wet conditions, chemical wash-downs or hygiene areas. Also note the floor or surface conditions that the truck will operate over and this will help you decide on the type of wheels you choose:
> Nylon wheels have a low rolling and steering resistance and also protect against wear.
> Polyurethane wheels have low running noise, along with a lower steering effort.
> Solid rubber tyres are very quiet in use and also give the best traction to floor surfaces.
> Forks that are fitted with load rollers: single load wheels are for most uses and suitable for Euro pallets, whereas tandem load wheels are best on uneven floors and for use with perimeter-based pallets.
> Entry wheels at the fork tips help pallet entry easier and also help reduce the wear to the forks.
- The turning circle of the truck may be important in tight areas of operation so it is best to check this as well.
- How many hours of usage a day/week will the truck get – ‘value versus use’ will help you decide on whether you would like to purchase a low cost pallet truck or a more rugged and long lasting version.
- Consider the specialist trucks – is there a need to have a low profile model, high lift operation or rough terrain model.
- Choosing the right fork size is also vitally important.
If most of the pallets you are using come from the UK they will normally be the standard size of 1000mm x 1200mm. The best fork size to use is the 685mm wide x 1000/150mm long.
If Euro pallets are being used sometimes they can be the 800mm x 1200mm size and the best fork size for those are 540mm wide as opposed to 680mm.
The printing and publishing industries use a very small pallet that requires a 450mm wide fork size with 1000/1150mm length.
Any other sized pallet may need the use of a longer fork size.
Training staff to use pallet trucks
All of these types of pallet trucks are fairly easy to operate but staff should be trained to understand how the machine works and how it can be safely used in all situations. Careless use can easily cause accidents, injury or damage to the goods. See the video.
The use of particularly electric pallet trucks does require some degree of skill. The manual models are obviously easier to move around the place of operation, but the operator needs to remember that more time is required to bring the manual version to a full stop, whereas the electric pallet truck can move quite quickly away from a point and be brought to a stop abruptly.
Companies intending to lift and move pallets should always refer to good guide practices and familiarise their staff with manual handling regulations. This is invaluable in promoting good working practises and will help staff understand why such an item of equipment is being provided in their workplace.
A safety notice for the use of a pallet truck is a good idea to pin up in areas where lifting and movement of pallets are taking place.
The upkeep and service of your pallet truck
Long life and durability can all be affected by whether good maintenance of your truck is out into practice. The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 - LOLER places a responsibility on employers to provide the required levels of maintenance and service for lifting equipment, so a good and effective service procedure should always be employed to look after your pallet truck.
There are different levels of service available that will help you to look after your pallet truck, giving you peace of mind knowing that your equipment is fully functional and safe to use.
The recent introduction of ‘Thorough Examinations’ for pallet trucks, stackers and fork lift trucks will also be a service that can become part of your normal mandatory procedures.