Although they are extremely useful in moving heavy, bulky items, Forklifts do come with some significant dangers. It is estimated that nearly 100 people are injured in forklift accidents every day, amounting to more than 60,000 forklift incidents every year. Fortunately, OSHA believes that 70% of these accidents are preventable.
Workers use industrial trucks and forklifts to carry, push, pull, lift and stack material. They come in a variety of vehicle types that are categorized by class, as identified by OSHA, and range from electric and combustion-enginepowered rider trucks to powered hand carts and tractors. They can be ridden or controlled by a walking operator. OSHA CFR 29 1910.178 addresses forklift operation and establishes minimum safety and training requirements pertaining to their use.
The hazards associated with forklifts vary by vehicle class, the nature of the work and environmental factors. However, common hazards include tip-over, collisions with pedestrians or objects, dropping or losing loads and carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
Operating a forklift safely and effectively requires preparation and focus. It is imperative that all operators are properly trained and certified.
Before using the vehicle, operators must complete a thorough inspection to ensure proper maintenance. OSHA requires daily forklift examinations. If a forklift is used on a recurring basis, it must also be examined after each shift.
For all forklift types, several items should be evaluated: fluid levels, hydraulic hoses, mast chains, tires, finger guards, operator compartment, seat belt and fork condition.
For an electric forklift, operators should also inspect cables, connectors, battery restraints, electrolyte levels and hood latch. For internal combustion forklifts, operators should check engine oil, brake reservoir, engine coolant, air filter, radiator, hood latch and belts and hoses. If any items are in disrepair, they must be removed from service and reported to a supervisor.
Prior to starting a forklift, the operator must ensure a clear pathway. The vehicle’s horn can be used to alert anyone in the way. In the event the driver has an obstructed view, they should use a spotter. The operator must also be aware of potential blind spots.
Operators are required to always look in the direction of travel, even when backing up. Ground guides, rear-view mirrors, spotters or other aids may increase visibility. Always yield the right-of-way and allow plenty of room for pedestrians. Do not assume they can hear a back-up alarm. Most people have no idea how quickly forklifts move.
OSHA requires operators to observe all traffic regulations, including adhering to authorized employer speed limits, maintaining a safe distance and always keeping the truck under control. Be cautious when changing directions to avoid the risk of tip-over and collisions. It is important to come to a complete stop prior to changing directions and use a horn or warning light to warn pedestrians when backing up.
Operators must avoid approaching loads too fast and turning too quickly. Loads should be approached slowly and carefully. Never raise or lower the forks unless the vehicle is stopped and the brake is set. Before raising the load, it is imperative to ensure there is sufficient overhead clearance. Adhere to manufacturer load limits.
Upgrade and downgrade
Loaded forklifts must be driven forward up a ramp with the load upgrade and in reverse with the load upgrade when going down. However, unloaded trucks should be driven with the forks downgrade. Operators need to maintain a safe distance from the edge of the ramp and should avoid traveling on ramps with slopes or other conditions that exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations. Never attempt to turn while on a gradient.
Additionally, forklift operators must exercise caution on loading docks. Stay away from the edge of the dock and be cognizant of tail swing. Physical barriers such as ramps, raised concrete staging areas, heavy-gauge safety chains, protective guard rails or a warning track of yellow paint on the floor around the dock help mark the safe areas.
Finally, forklifts with internal combustion engines can cause high levels of CO in enclosed work areas. OSHA has permissible exposure limits for CO. Therefore, CO detectors should be used and employees should be trained to identify the symptoms and warning signs of excessive exposure on themselves and co-workers.
If you would like more information on forklift safety, visit www.osha.gov.
About The Author
O’CONNOR is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm. Reach him at [email protected].