Material Handling: What You Need to Know to Move Those Heavy Loads Safely

Dec. 1, 2010
Choosing the best material handling product doesn't have to be a back-breaking job. Use these pointers to get a move on your decision.

You're in the market for a material handling product, something that can help your employees move those loads quickly and safely. You surf the Web and flip through catalogs, but how do you start to narrow your choices? The same way best-in-class manufacturers create innovative products — through research, testing and knowledge.


The R&D behind a material handling product starts in the field — it's how engineers “get smart” about the consumer and an industry need.

“As a manufacturer, it's important to research the end users and gain knowledge into the marketplace. It's about listening to the needs of the customer,” said Scott Singleton, global business team leader — material handling at Rubbermaid Commercial Products (RCP). “We go directly to our end users and get their take on what would work for them and what wouldn't. We listen, watch, ask and listen some more,” he explained. “Once you know your customer, that's when you're in the position to identify any unmet needs that may affect productivity, efficiency and ease-of-use.”

As the purchaser or end user, ensure you are in the know before making that final purchasing decision. When choosing or purchasing material handling equipment, take a look at your environment. Conduct a mental audit of your needs — this will help you narrow your choices and help you determine whether you need a multi-purpose or application-specific piece of equipment. Ask yourself the following questions:

Will my equipment be used primarily indoor or outdoor?

Where will it be used — office, manufacturing, construction or public area?

What type of floor surface will it be used on — carpet, tile, concrete, asphalt, dirt or gravel?

What are the items that need to be moved (dimensions, weight, fragility)?

Are there any special considerations such as sensitivity to noise, exposure to chemicals or saltwater, contact with food and/or industry regulation (NSF, FDA, Joint Commission, etc.)?


When it comes to testing material handling products, it's all about finding a product that can endure the harshest environments under heavy loads. The product also must be rugged, durable and tested tough from static loads, fatigue and impact/drop tests to cycling/wear tests.

Let's face it, the majority of material handling products last a long time and usually aren't replaced until completely rendered useless. However, older, non-functional products and heavier payloads mean end users are faced with a number of frustrations:

  • Difficulty pushing and maneuvering;
  • Keeping small items (tools/parts) organized;
  • Keeping contents in place during transport;
  • Accommodating oversized items; and
  • Insufficient weight load capacity.

In recent years, little to no innovation has been made within material handling aside from the power assist category. In the industry today, the importance of ergonomics in manual equipment largely has been ignored — very few manufacturers address safety when developing a new product. Instead, many manufacturers worry about weight-load capacity and tout how much weight the piece of equipment can hold. The question is: Can you safely use the product? It may hold the load, but you certainly can't move it or maneuver the load safely without causing injury.

Before finalizing a purchasing decision, it is important to consider if the material handling solutions meet the “new standard” of testing excellence. According to Rubbermaid Commercial Products, the “new standard” includes five benefits to ensure safe transportation of heavy goods:

  1. Ergonomics — These design features provide optimum hand placement to avoid slumping over as you transport your load, which can cause muscle fatigue.

  2. Maneuverability — This coincides with ergonomics. Push-height improvements that offer better wrist and forearm alignment give the end user greater leverage to maneuver heavy workloads while saving backs. Handle design can make or break maneuverability. Look for products with an integrated variable grip-height handle. These types of handles are designed to reduce muscle strain regardless of height, which improves workers' safety.

  3. Productivity — The easier it is to move that load, the less time you spend going back and forth and more time on other tasks.

  4. Durability — A durable, rugged platform deck ultimately means a lower overall cost-of-ownership over the service life of a product. Over time, wood and metal structures can splinter, warp, rot and rust, which can create another set of safety issues for an end user. Rubbermaid Duramold decks, for example, are formed from a precision-engineered resin and metal composite structure that is lighter than typical metal and wood products without sacrificing strength. These decks allow end users to put their effort into moving their payload, not their truck.

  5. Organization — Built-in features such as pre-cut holes, storage compartments and molded-in tie points for straps/bungees are great not only to keep items organized, but also to help to keep secure loads in place.


Partnerships are everything — know what you're buying and from whom. When looking to purchase material handling equipment, it's always smart to go with an industry-leading manufacturer you can trust — one you can count on for breakthrough innovations and with a history of long-lasting products that can meet your most demanding needs. Those material handling manufacturers are the ones that have invested the time in research and testing to not just develop a product, but a set of solutions to help you succeed while on the job.

Jenn Schneider is a member of the material handling marketing team at Rubbermaid Commercial Products LLC.

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