Forklift Safety Tips

Along with the obvious fun and healthy competition, events like the forklift rodeos are a key demonstration of  just how difficult it is to properly operate these machines under challenging circumstances. Although the rodeos are just for entertainment, the reality is that forklift, pallet jacks, scissor lift, and all machine operation and worker safety always have  be at the forefront of workers’ minds. It’s unfortunate how often we have to read about forklift accidents in the news, including a recent incident involving a running back for  University of Michigan, Drake Johnson being run over while stretching on the floor of his training facility. The driver said he was “moving a large cabinet and was traveling with the cabinet about eye level. He stopped at the large garage door and a co-worker opened the door for him.” Most likely a simple oversight, but Johnson was lucky to not to be more seriously or even fatally injured.

This type of example is a rare occurrence considering the person injured doesn’t even work in a warehouse, but the safety risk for everyday warehouse workers is very real. It’s not just the equipment operator’s responsibility to ensure safety, but everyone on the warehouse floor plays a critical role. If you’re a warehouse or operations manager, here are some standard and precautionary steps you can implement to help reduce risk.

  1. Formal instruction. Whether the facility is huge or just run by a mom and pop operation, OSHA requires all forklift operation to receive formal instruction and training in the form of videos, lectures, written materials and more. Operators must be trained on:
  • Vehicle capacity and stability
  • Operating instructions
  • Vehicle inspection and maintenance requirements
  • Load manipulation, stacking and unstacking
  • Pedestrian traffic in areas where the vehicle will be operated
  • Operating in narrow aisles and restricted places
  • The requirements of OSHA’s forklift standard

It is the employer’s responsibility to make sure that only operators with proper experience are put to work.

  1. Practical training. More than just hitting the books, your drivers need training through demonstrations and practical exercises. They need to be able to identify the conditions of the new or used forklifts they will be operating, navigate turns, and learn how to ensure their load is secure. Through the OSHA certification process, there is a hands-on training step where operators have to navigate through obstacle courses and demonstrate the proper use of controls to lower and lift materials. The Hands-on training must consist of a minimum of 8 hours for High lifts and a minimum of 4 hours for low lifts.
  1. Evaluation in the workplace. This is another recommendation courtesy of OSHA. Although annual training of operators, OSHA recommends, “ each powered industrial truck operator’s performance is required to be conducted after initial training, after refresher training, and at least once every three years.” It goes on to specify that there’s not a specific frequency of refresher training but it must be provided when:
  • The operator has been observed to operate the vehicle in an unsafe manner.
  • The operator has been involved in an accident or near-miss incident.
  • The operator has received an evaluation that reveals that the operator is not operating the truck safely.
  • The operator is assigned to drive a different type of truck.
  • A condition in the workplace changes in a manner that could affect safety operation of the truck.
  1. Involve the entire workforce. Although non-operators do not have to go through the meticulous OSHA training process, it’s important for them to be aware of the dangers of these machines and to always be aware of their surroundings, especially when the forklifts are in use. It certainly doesn’t hurt to go above and beyond the standard requirements. Teach them to observe all signs and listen for any horns.
  1. Safety Products. Make sure your facility is properly outfitted with safety products like checklist sheets, safety posters, lights, and mirrors. Set a date in your calendar to check this inventory every other week. You don’t want to realize you’re missing something after an incident has occurred.

This topic seemed appropriate considering the upcoming  National Forklift Safety Day on June 14! Sponsored by the Industrial Truck Association, this day is supposed to serve as a focal point for manufacturers to highlight the safe use of forklifts and the importance of operator training.

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(Operations Manager)

Chris Charles is a 27 year veteran of operations and logistics. Experience included commercial property management and project management for an international shipping company in Maryland.

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