Warehouse working: Taking the strain

4 April 2023

Warehouses rely on manpower to get things done, but behind every warehouse worker is lifting materials handling equipment helping make operations safer and more efficient, writes Maria Highland.

According to UK national regulator Health and Safety Executive, two-thirds of reportable injuries in the workplace are caused by incorrect lifting and handling.

In line with this, tasks carried out in the warehouse often require repetitive movements such as lifting, pushing and pulling heavy loads as well as bending, stretching, reaching or twisting.

Therefore, worker safety is of upmost importance for warehouse operators that want to create more efficient operations and boost profits.

According to Unidex, a US manufacturer of ergonomic material handling solutions, “handling heavy loads can be among the most strenuous tasks faced by manufacturing and material handling employees, demanding both strength and precision to effectively move components for processing.

“Some components are too big or bulky to move with manual labour, and some can be moved only with substantial effort, which puts employees at risk of both acute and overuse injuries,” it says on its website.

“Lift tables provide a simple, portable and effective solution to these challenges.”

Lift tables are reliable, durable and easy to use, and ideal for taking the pressure off workers when it comes to lifting heavy objects in a warehouse. They use hydraulic or pneumatic cylinders to raise and lower components weighing hundreds of kilograms. “In doing so, these tables streamline the material handling process while protecting employees from overexertion and injury,” Unidex explains.

“Lift tables can lift heavier loads than a human being, and they can lift manageable loads faster than a manual team could. The result is a faster and cheaper production process,” it says.

Likewise, lift tables are sturdy and have a simple design, often operated using an intuitive leaver or are self-levelling. Due to this, they require little to no training to operate and require minimal maintenance, resulting in no downtime and won’t slow operators down.

For example, recycled packaging supplier DS Smith invested in two bespoke static scissor lifts with auto-levelling adjustment and protective bellow skirts from Advanced Handling for the production line at its Belper facility in Derbyshire, UK.

DS Smith wanted to maintain high levels of health and safety and productivity. The auto-levelling feature ensured that staff did not need to bend and reach far when loading the pallets, while the protective bellow skirts further improved safety. Because employees did not need to reach far, they did not tire as quickly and were able to work more safely and efficiently.

Lift tables are versatile and mobile, and there are a variety available to meet specific warehouse needs, such as floorlevel lift tables or high duty-cycle lift tables.

Floor-level lift tables can be loaded by hand or pallet truck. By being lower to the ground, they eliminate the need for any additional equipment such as ramps or pits. High duty-cycle lift tables allow for longer maintenance intervals – ideal for applications that involve oversized or non-uniform loads that can cause uneven wear in standard lifts.

While lift tables are good for handling heavy loads, many may look to pallet positioners when it comes to loading pallets.

According to Sarah Fronczak, eCommerce account manager at systems integrator Bastian Solutions, a pallet positioner is “an extremely helpful yet simple device designed to make loading and unloading pallets more efficient by automatically lowering or raising its platform as boxes are added or removed from pallets. Additionally, a turntable allows for nearside loading and unloading to make the entire process faster and more ergonomic,” Fronczak says in a blog.

Pallet positioners reduce the risk of workplace injury as the pallet can be set to an ergonomic lifting height while the turntable allows the operator to be located at a central location. This allows pallets to be loaded or unloaded faster as the loading position is within arm’s reach at all times and the operator does not need to physically move around the pallet.

For warehouses that use open bottom containers or pallets, mobile skid lifts enable pallets to be loaded and transported using a single unit, which can save space and time.

Much like a lift table or pallet positioner, mobile skid lifts provide easy mobility and help raise pallets to a convenient working height, making loading or unloading pallets more ergonomic, reducing the risk of injury.


Another key benefit of lifting material handling equipment is that it is good middle ground for working with heavy loads without having to call in more expensive equipment like forklifts. It is also suitable for smaller warehouses that don’t have the space.

For example, a stacker is a great option as they take up less space and can be manual, battery-powered or semi-electric. Stackers can be used for loading and unloading heavy goods and moving them around. Due to their size, they are easier to manoeuvre in smaller spaces. Additionally, workers do not require a licence to operate a stacker, making them more accessible.

However, as warehouses expand or diversify, regular equipment may no longer have the range to accommodate goods. In such situations warehouse operators may consider making a greater investment and look to implement a material lift, also known as a vertical reciprocating conveyor (VRC).

Material lifts enable greater utilisation of space, minimise potential injuries that come from lifting heavy weights and are convenient, plus can be customised to meet warehouse needs.

Where there may be “limitations, risks and costs associated with ladders, forklifts and pallet jacks”, points out Autoquip in a blog, “a custom material lift, designed with your warehouse and workflow in mind, is a game changer both from a financial and operational perspective.”

“Known for their consistent performance, durability and small footprint, VRCs are the solution of choice for warehouses looking to improve customer service and increase production,” it explains.

 Material lifts can be integrated with existing equipment to streamline operations. They are also a more spacesaving alternative to conveyor belts and can carry more weight each run.

Likewise, with a smaller footprint, material lifts are ideal for warehouses looking to work across multiple floors or add mezzanines to increase inventory and make use of the existing space.

“Creating a more organised facility ensures that products can be easily stored and retrieved, saving time and money,” Autoquip explains.

“By increasing your inventory and maximising your existing square footage, you can serve more customers while generating more revenue,” it adds.

For example, cabinets and carcasses manufacturer Getley UK turned to Advance Handling to install a goods lift to help relieve a backlog of pallets in the goods-in area as they waited to be transported to the mezzanine floor with a forklift.

To speed up the process, Advanced Handling installed a custom goods lift with a 1,000kg capacity and platform suitable for lilting Getley’s Euro pallets. The lift featured through-loading entrance and exit points, enabling the pallet to be pushed straight off once the lift has locked into position on the mezzanine floor.

To save extra room, the lift had bi-parting doors, which require less room to open and close than a single gate.

Getley UK also requested one-touch controls, making it even more operatorfriendly and to reduce any potential health and safety risks. The lift also features interlocking gates to block access during operation, and an emergency stop button on each floor.

As a result, Getley can transport deliveries directly to the mezzanine floor without a forklift and its goods-in area is clear, enabling more productive operations and improving health and safety.

Two-thirds of reportable injuries in the workplace are caused by incorrect lifting and handling
Mobile pallet lifts enable pallets to be loaded and transported using a single unit
Custom goods lifts are convenient, save space and reduce health and safety risks associated with heavy lifting
Lift tables can safely raise and lower heavy loads, reducing the strain on manual workers
Advanced Handling custom goods lift has a 1,000kg capacity and bi-parting doors