Material Handling Guide

The Plastic Pipe Institute provides complete guidelines and safety information on how pipe and fittings should be handled in their Material Handling Guide.


Polyethylene pipe and fittings have been used safely in thousands of applications. Still, there are precautions that should be adhered to when handling any product, and polyethylene pipe and fittings are no exception.

This material handling guide covers a wide range of safety issues regarding the handling, loading and installation of polyethylene pipe and fittings. Job site safety, storage guidelines, unloading guidelines, heat fusion joining and installation guidelines are just a few of the important topics covered in this guide.

As valuable as this guide may be, it does not purport to address all of the product applications or construction practices that could be used, nor all of the safety practices necessary to protect persons and property. It is the responsibility of the users of this guide and the installers of polyethylene piping systems to establish appropriate safety and health practices and to determine the applicability of regulatory limitations before any use or installation.

Personal Protective Equipment

When handling pipe and other materials, the first step to protect yourself from injury is to wear adequate personal protective equipment. Personal protective equipment such as hard hats and steel-toed safety shoes help prevent injuries from heavy falling objects and rolling pipe.

Hard hats should be worn when loading or unloading PE pipe and fittings in storage areas, pipe yards and other areas where overhead hazards and low overhead clearance exist. At job sites, hard hats not only protect your head, but also give motorists an eyelevel warning of your presence. As a general rule, steel-toed safety shoes should be worn at all times. They are especially important if there is any possibility that falling objects could land on your feet or when using pneumatic tools such as pavement breakers and tampers.

Work gloves help prevent cuts and bruises from sharp or rough edges on pipe, fusion equipment and other objects. When moving or lifting boxes, pipe drums and other heavy items, place your hands carefully to avoid getting them pinched or caught.

Wear high-visibility vests when working at or near a public street or highway or when working at night. This reduces your chance of being hit by a vehicle passing the job site.

Job Site Safety

Numerous hazards exist on the job site. While no summary of safe working practices can cover all aspects of safety, there are a number of important guidelines that should be followed.

Before work begins at the job site, the potential hazards should be identified. Check the work site for hazards created by unguarded machinery, chemicals and fuels, heat, excessive noise, nearby equipment, buried pipes and /or power lines. Many hazards are difficult to identify. Materials, equipment, and the work environment should all be considered. Specific plans should be made to minimize such hazards. Documenting these plans and posting them in a public place may be beneficial to those involved in the operations.

Field personnel should avoid working alone or arrange for periodic safety contacts. If injured, a co-worker can assist you or call for emergency medical service.

Loading, Unloading, and Transporting PE Pipe and Fittings

The truck must be parked on level ground. The parking brake (hand brake) should be set and the wheels chocked. It is preferred that the truck be shut off and left in gear. The location of the driver should be known at all times.

Power Lifting Equipment

A wide variety of Power Lifting Equipment is available. When operated properly, Power Lifting Equipment can be used safely to load, unload and transport pipe. The selection of the right type of equipment will depend on a number of factors including project requirements, availability, preference, cost and terrain. Most pipe producers use large and small forklifts in their yards. Smaller forklifts accommodate the tight corners encountered around stacked piles. Most distribution yards also use forklifts to load and offload pipe. However, job site requirements are extremely variable, and equipment selection will vary as well.

Guidelines for Palletized/Non-palletized Coils

Trailer must be level before straps or bands are removed and the coils unloaded. Do not push, pull or roll coils off of the truck. Never stand behind, under or around the load as it is being unloaded. Do not remove straps until sling is secured. If coils are in silos do not push or pull the silo pack off the end of the truck with a lift truck. Chocks should never be removed before unloading the truck. Before lifting, load should be centered and forks positioned at the widest position under the load for correct stability. When carrying loads large enough to block view, travel in reverse with load close to the ground. Carry all loads close to the ground. When traveling on grade with a load, travel with counterweight in the direction of travel. Use extra caution in uneven areas of pavement and reduce speed to cross the areas safely. Forklift safety rules are to be observed during all phases of the unloading process. Never leave forklift running unattended.

Guidelines for Straight Lengths

Loading Bundles to a Flatbed Trailer

Hard-side bundles should be offset "wood-on-pipe" during transportation. A transport strapping policy should establish minimum requirements regarding the number of truckers" straps used by all transportation providers to secure bundles. The policy should also contain conditions regarding the tightening of straps after a carrier leaves a manufacturing facility.

Unloading Bundles from a Flat-Bed Trailer

People not involved in the unloading process should remain clear of the unloading area. There should be adequate space on both sides of the trailer.

The truck must be parked on level ground. The parking brake should be set and the wheels chocked.

Only after checking that the load has not shifted should the truck driver remove the nylon straps securing the load to the trailer. Caution should be taken when straightening shifted loads before unloading.

Bundles should be unloaded with fork trucks or cranes equipped with spreader bars with at least three wide web slings. The equipment should be sufficiently rated to safely handle the load.

Bundles may be stacked and individually strapped to the truck. In such a case, the bulk packs should be unloaded one at a time from the top, taking care to remove only the straps over the pack being unloaded.

When using fork trucks, the bundles should be picked up one at a time under their midpoint. For load stability, the forks should be as far apart as possible. Forks should have sufficient length to safely support the bundles.

The forks should enter the load slowly to reduce the possibility of pipe damage caused by scraping or gouging. The potential for damage can be further reduced if steel forks are covered by protective material.

If a crane with a single sling is used to unload the bundles, the lengths should be handled at their midpoints using wide web slings. If multiple slings or a spreader bar equipped with wide web slings are used, the equipment manufacturer"s recommended capabilities, methods, and procedures should be used.

Steel bands used on bundles should not be removed until the bundles have been transported to the storage area and secured in a stable and safe manner.

Finally, never stand on a load of pipe. Standing on the load is extremely dangerous. Do not roll or drop pipe off the truck. Do not use backhoes, end loaders, or other material handling equipment to push or pull the load off the trailer. This is dangerous to unloading personnel and may damage pipe.

Unloading Loads from a Flat-bed Trailer

People not involved in the unloading of the trailer should remain clear of the unloading area. The operator must have adequate room on both sides of the trailer.

When unloading with a forklift, a second truck (or some other means) should be placed on the opposite side to the unloading equipment to prevent pipe from being pushed from the truck.

Indoor/Outdoor Storage

Since black HDPE pipe generally contains greater than 2% carbon black, it will resist damage from sunlight. Colored products are compounded with antioxidants, thermal stabilizers and UV stabilizers. These UV stabilizers will eventually be depleted; therefore, non-black products should remain in unprotected outdoor storage for no more than two years. Black products with stripes are generally suitable for unprotected outdoor storage and service.

Expansion and contraction caused by uneven heating in the sun may cause the pipe to bow if not restrained by racks. This does not damage the pipe but may be inconvenient when the pipe is taken out of storage for installation.

Installation Safety Guidelines

Job site safety begins with personal safety as outlined in section 2 of this guide. Personal protective equipment, hazard identification, and emergency preparation are essential safety elements at the installation site.

Ice, snow and rain are not harmful to polyethylene components but may make the job site more troublesome for handling equipment and personnel. Unsure footing and traction require greater care and caution to prevent damage or injury. Inclement weather can make pipe surfaces slippery. It is generally a good idea not to walk on PE pipe, but this is especially true when your footing is unsure.