Forklift Safety August 06 2013

Forklifts can be both a very valuable asset in a warehouse or a huge safety concern (if you do not have the proper training and equipment for your needs). Obviously the forklift is a great way to move heavy loads and to place them high on storage racks. But did you know that forklift problems ranked seventh in OSHA’s top safety citations in 2011 and 2012.

Forklifts tip over, they hit and run over workers and their drivers, and people stand on the forks. All of these safety issues have resulted in many injuries including deaths. When not properly driving and handling forklifts they can also damage other equipment that can render it unsafe.

It’s really not the forklift’s fault when there’s an injury: all forklift injuries are preventable. Following are 10 things every company with a forklift needs to know and put into practice.

1. Training. Most fatalities and injuries could have been prevented if the operator had been properly trained, this should include a combination of formal instruction, practical training, and evaluation of the operator’s skill level using the forklift in the workplace. Every three years each operator must be evaluated and recertified. If there are any issues with the operator such as, any accidents, unsafe operation, or changes to the work environment or model of forklift used, refresher training must be taken.

2. Age. Federal law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from operating a forklift.

3. Not all forklifts are created equal. Many accidents could be avoided if the proper model had been purchased for your type of environment and workplace in the first place. For example, if your needs demands that load sizes vary, then it will be safer for you to buy a forklift with more capacity than you currently need. That way you know that your operators will not lift loads beyond the forklift’s capacity.

4. Plugged or unplugged? Electric forklifts are great for indoor environments, because they create no emissions and are quieter than other models. They also tend to last longer and need fewer repairs.  Gas-powered models are for outdoor use and have more power, and are much faster.

5. Tires. Not all forklift tires are created equal, either. If you work mostly indoors, solid rubber cushion tires work best. If your forklift works in uneven or outdoor terrain, pneumatic tires are best. If your worksite has a high puncture hazard, solid pneumatic tires are best.

6. Accessories. It’s common for workers to stand on forklift forks, to be elevated to pull inventory or do some other work. This cannot be tolerated in the workplace, as numerous deaths have occurred by well-meaning employees trying to save time.

If your workers need to be elevated then a work platform that is designed to hold a worker or two and fit on standard forklift forks is a great accessory to have. All workers on such platforms should use fall protection equipment to ensure their safety.

7. Safety devices. Many forklift deaths and injuries result when a worker can’t hear the forklift. Backup alarms with an audible beep are great to warn pedestrians. Seatbelts save lives when forklifts get overturned.

8. Go with the flow. Imagine what would happen if our highways had no lines or lane markers. Without proper floor marking, your facility can be just as lethal. Use floor marking tape, and other floor safety signs to direct forklift and pedestrians as part of your safety plan.

9. Maintenance. Maintaining your forklifts is critical to the safety of the operators as well as everyone one else. Forklifts are heavy machines and if workers try to repair them onsite they could end up getting hurt or even crushed. Batteries of electric forklifts include dangerous acid and gas. If you choose to have your workers maintain the batteries, have them wear goggles resistant to acid and a face shield, rubber gloves, and a rubber apron.

10. Know your forklift. If a load is raised too high it becomes unstable. Picking up the load with the tip of the forks, tilting the load forward, tilting a raised load too far back, carrying a wide load, and forklift movement can all cause the center of gravity to move outside of the “stability triangle” that ensures a stable lift.