Plastic Pallet Users Face Tougher Standards
Facilities that store loads on reinforced polypropylene and polyethylene now have a higher fire classification and will be subject to more stringent requirements.

Warehouses that utilize reinforced polypropylene and polyethylene plastic pallets now have to meet stricter requirements. During its annual meeting in May, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) endorsed changes to the NFPA 13 standards, which define the fire ratings of these plastic pallets and form the basis for most state fire code laws.

Because plastic pallets are considered a more serious threat to warehouses than wooden pallets, the NFPA has always been stricter on warehouses storing loads on plastic. It had previously required a one-class upgrade in fire protection from that defined for storage on wooden pallets. Under the new regulations, a two-class upgrade is now mandatory for users of reinforced polypropylene and polyethylene plastic pallets. Unreinforced plastic pallets still require a one-class upgrade over wooden counterparts.

The new standards were approved because of the higher risk posed by reinforced plastic pallets. In contrast, unreinforced plastic pallets melt fairly easily in a fire and often suppress flames. "The reinforced pallets hold their structure and integrity longer," says Christian Dubay, a fire protection engineer with NFPA. "This allows air gaps to remain longer within the pallet, which fuels the flames and creates a more intense fire." In addition, plastics generate toxins in much greater concentrations than corrugated and wood.

Not everyone is subject to the standards. Facilities that are protected by sprinkler systems with an Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) 17 rating or higher do not have to follow the upgrade rule. The new standards also do not affect pallets that qualify for a lower rating through specific testing data, such as that provided by Underwriters Laboratories. Some plastic pallet makers have already secured exemptions for products that substantially improve fire resistance.

Barring a successful appeal of the new requirements, state and federal agencies will start adopting the new standards this month. Those who use plastic pallets should consult local authorities to find out when these new rules will be implemented.