Pallets are used in a variety of industries and promote the transportation and storage of goods and products. However, when they are not in use (idle), pallets can create a significant fire hazard, particularly if they are stored incorrectly.
Not only are most pallets made of combustible materials like wood or plastic, but they can also render a sprinkler system ineffective if they are stacked too high. This is because, in the event of a fire, more water is needed to reach pallets at the bottom of the stack. Furthermore, stacked wood pallets can act as a chimney or flue that promotes the rapid spread of fire.
To help businesses manage fire risks associated with idle pallets, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has specific guidance related to idle pallet storage—NFPA 1: Fire Code and NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems. This Risk Insights provides a general overview of these requirements, helping organizations to mitigate exposures in their warehouse and storage areas.
Again, the NFPA has specific rules related to the storage of idle pallets. These requirements can effectively be broken down into three categories—outdoor, indoor and general storage considerations.
Outdoor Storage Considerations
Due to the risk of fire, the NFPA suggests that idle pallets be stored outside whenever possible. This can help businesses prevent storage facilities from igniting and control fires more easily should they occur.
However, even when stored outdoors, idle pallets create substantial fire hazards. As such, businesses should consider the following when it comes to outdoor idle pallet storage:
- Avoid stacking pallets more than 15 feet high.
- Ensure that, in total, your stacks of pallets do not cover more than 400 square feet of space. For example, for a standard 4-by-4-foot pallet, you should have no more than 25 stacks.
- Keep piles at least 8 feet from property lines. Additionally, stacks should be separated by at least 8 feet of space.
- Protect outdoor storage locations from unauthorized access. Ensure pallet storage areas are clean and well-maintained.
Furthermore, pallets should be kept away from buildings, as a fire could cause the structure to burn, endangering workers, customers and the public. The charts below detail how far outdoor pallet stacks should be kept from a structure per the NFPA:
Distance between idle pallet storage and any other yard storage.
Distance between idle pallet storage and building.
|Masonry w/ no openings|
|Masonry w/ wired glass in openings, outside sprinklers and 1-hour doors|
|Masonry w/ wired or plain glass, outside sprinklers and 3/4-hour doors|
|Wood or metal w/ outside sprinklers|
|Wood, metal or other|
Indoor Storage Considerations
While outdoor storage is the preferred method for managing fire risks, idle pallets may be kept indoors if certain requirements are met. Specifically, idle pallets stored inside must be protected by a sprinkler system in accordance with NFPA 13.
In addition, there are specific indoor storage considerations to keep in mind for both wood and plastic pallets:
- Wood pallets—Unless a special sprinkler system—like a control-mode specific application (CMSA) or early suppression, fast response (ESFR)—is used, you should never stack pallets higher than 6 feet. In addition, these stacks should be kept in groupings of no more than four and must be at least 8 feet apart from other pallets. Moreover, groupings of pallets should be kept at least 25 feet away from commodity storage.
- Plastic pallets—In general, if your plastic pallets present the same level of fire risk as your wood pallets, you can store them both similarly. However, pallets stored in cutoff rooms (rooms located within a main building that have at least one outside wall) that are 12 feet in height should be protected by an automatic sprinkler system designed in accordance with NFPA 13. Steel columns in cutoff rooms should also be protected by a one-hour, fire-rated covering.
Generally, idle pallets should not to be kept in racks, as this renders sprinkler systems ineffective.
General Storage Considerations
To further mitigate fire hazards, there are some general storage considerations to keep in mind. Above all, it’s important to arrange pallets in stable piles and in an orderly fashion—pallets should always be stored in a flat manner and not on an edge.
When not in use, pallets should have their own designated area and must be kept separate from other types of storage. These storage areas should not block a means of egress and should be kept away from a building’s structural supports.
If and when pallets are damaged, stop using them, scrapping them as necessary.
Continued Workplace Safety
While proper idle pallet storage can help reduce fire exposures in your workplace, there’s always more you can do to safeguard your employees, customers and business. For more risk management strategies, contact us today.
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