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
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
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
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.
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:
—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.
—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
If and when pallets are damaged, stop using them, scrapping them as
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
Robertson Insurance & Risk Management today.