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Forklift Safety – Ensuring What is Supposed to Go Up Does Not Go Forward Instead

By Gary Garofano, Risk and Safety Manager, Hire Dynamics

Each year, workers in the United States are involved in almost 100,000 forklift-related accidents. With an estimated 855,900 forklifts in the country, that translates to approximately one injury reported for every nine forklifts in operation. The most common incidents are collisions, falls, tip-overs and struck-by situations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that approximately 70 percent of these incidents could be prevented with proper safety policies and training. So, what should employers and employees consider regarding forklift safety?

Safety Training is Paramount

While driving a forklift may seem like driving a car, forklift equipment is typically three times heavier than an average car. Greater damage to people and property can happen when a forklift incident occurs, so safety training is the most important aspect of a forklift safety policy.

A robust safety onboarding process should include a combination of classroom and practical training before an employee starts working with equipment. A new employee may have forklift operating experience, but that doesn’t mean that he or she has good experience or knowledge of the particular equipment used on a job site. There are many different forklift manufacturers and models which are used for different purposes. So, what makes the forks go up on one model may make the lift move forward on another. OSHA laws and regulations require employers to train and evaluate operators on the specific type of lift they will be using at each job site.

From a practical training standpoint, new employees should be tested by their potential employer on each piece of equipment they will operate to evaluate their skill and competency level. If they are going to be moving material in and out of storage racks, loading /unloading trucks, or replenishing assembly lines,  then potential employers need to watch them do that and evaluate them objectively.

Explain Site-Specific Hazards and Rules

One of the biggest injuries related to forklifts is being struck by the actual equipment or by falling material. Forklift safety training should point out the site-specific potential hazards that may not be obvious to new employees. It should address these questions:

  1. Are there areas in the facility that have overhead obstructions that the mast of the lift may strike?
  2. What obstacles in the facility might require an operator to re-route or navigate around them which could lead to “chancing it” or squeezing around something, thus risking damage to property or injury to themselves or coworkers?
  3. Is there a traffic flow pattern that needs to be discussed?
  4. How many lifts are allowed in an aisle way at a time?
  5. What do the rules say to do when someone on foot or another lift approaches a person operating a forklift?
  6. Where are the congested or high-traffic areas?
  7. Where do most incidents occur and why?

Take pictures of your warehouse or create an in-house video that shows what it looks like. Then, take operators to the site floor and point out where overhead obstructions are and where they are most likely to encounter congestion. Explain the safety rules that address these hazards.  For example–many companies have a three-foot rule that prevents other operators from entering an area in which a forklift is operating. Or, they may have a “Safety Halo,” a virtual two-ring zone around a forklift inside of which a certain set of safety rules applies.

Forklift safety training should also teach operators how to answer the following questions:

  1. What do I do if I inspect my lift and find that there is a safety issue with the equipment?
  2. What if my equipment develops mechanical problems during my shift?
  3. If I’m loading or unloading tractor-trailers, what methods have been put in place to prevent the driver from pulling off with me in the back of the truck?
  4. How high do I stack material?

Teaching operators the site expectations, hazards and rules goes a long way to ensure forklift safety.

Retrain Operators and Capture Near Misses

OSHA requires that forklift operators be retrained at least every three years, so that should be built into a training policy at a minimum. The policy should also include the retraining process for employees who have been operating in an unsafe manner, who have been involved in an accident or who have had near misses. Finally, it should encourage employees to report unsafe behavior they may witness and explain how those incidents will be recorded and addressed before they lead to an injury or property damage.

Remember to Train Pedestrians

Pedestrian awareness training is also extremely important. Employees working around forklifts should understand how they are supposed to be operated and how to recognize unsafe operating behaviors. They should also know what to do to keep themselves safe. Typical pedestrian forklift area safety rules include:

  1. Avoid standing between two forklifts or in front of a fixed object when walking by or working near forklifts.
  2. Walk in the open away from racks or stock. Wear bright clothing that is a different color than the material being handled.
  3. Know designated safe walk paths.
  4. Understand where the blind spots are for the forklifts in operation.
  5. Know what to do or whom to tell when someone is operating a forklift unsafely.

Forklift Safety Best Practices Benefit Everyone

Both employers and employees benefit from thinking about and practicing forklift safety best practices. Employers who are onboarding talent need to evaluate skills and train for site-specific equipment and hazards. Employees who are starting a new assignment or job need to understand how to prevent accidents and injuries. By working together, employers and employees can help ensure a safe working environment. For a free safety consultation, reach out to your local Hire Dynamics representative or call Gary directly at 404-790-7899.

© 2019 Hire Dynamics, LLC

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