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Forklift accidents rank in the top 10 of all OSHA citations. OSHA estimates that over 1 million forklifts are used in workplaces across America which shows how crucial forklift operator training is to worker safety.
Forklift accidents are expensive, with serious injuries or fatalities, and damage to goods and machines, which is why forklift operator safety training is crucial to any workplace environment.
A lot of forklifts are set up like your basic automobile, with a steering wheel, a foot pedal to accelerate, and four wheels. But there are major differences. For one, a forklift uses its rear wheels for steering, allowing the forklift to turn in a much tighter radius than a car. This rear wheel steering also causes the tail end of the forklift to swing much wider than a car to accomplish tighter corners.
Another major difference between a forklift and a car is in the stability of the vehicle. A forklift has just three points of stability—the front wheels and the center of the rear axle—while a car has four points of stability. This means that a forklift can tip over much easier than a car, and statistics show that to be a common occurrence with forklift incidents.
A forklift cannot stop, turn, or accelerate as quickly or as solidly as a car, especially when carrying a load. Forklifts also weigh much more than an average car, up to two to three times as much or more, which is why the chance of tipping over is such a dangerous one.
Forklift operator safety training is critical for a safe workplace. In addition, safe workplace conditions like rough surfaces, obstructions, and closed environments can present hazardous conditions that must be addressed. Most forklifts are not designed to handle rough working surfaces like a car. The extreme weight and limited stability of forklifts dramatically reduces the ability to handle rough surfaces, especially when loaded.
Scenarios that Present Adversity for Forklift Operators and Forklift Safety
Rough Driving Conditions
- Surfaces with holes, loose gravel, or slick spots, such as oil, grease and water spills;
- Weather conditions, such as rain, ice, and snow can create hazardous areas for outdoor work;
- Forklift operators should avoid these conditions;
- Forklift operators should also report and/or take corrective action to eliminate them.
Forklift operators must also be aware of the strength of the floor they are drive on. The surface must be able to easily withstand the combined weight of the forklift and load. Make certain before driving the forklift onto any surface that it will support the combined weight of vehicle and load. Forklift operators never want to test surface strength the hard way, and increase the probability of an accident. Operators should ask a manager or supervisor, if they have questions, about any working surface for proper forklift safety.
Forklift operators can reduce or eliminate the chances of colliding with an obstruction by keeping aware of the work environment. Obstructions can be pipes, beams, doors or anything else that can strike a load or mast from above or the side. Scan in all directions—above and around, not just forward and backward—before moving out. Look for signs posting clearance levels.
Operating internal combustion forklifts powered by diesel or gasoline will create a hazard in a closed environment. They discharge carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas. Propane powered lifts are also considered an internal combustion lift, but may be operated indoors as long as the area is adequately ventilated.
Avoid working in enclosed spaces that are not ventilated or improperly ventilated. Symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide include headaches, nausea, dizziness, and some sleepiness for drivers and other workers. Exposure to high concentrations can be deadly. If workers are experiencing these symptoms, they need to get to fresh air immediately. Battery-powered forklifts provide a solution to the situation, since they emit no hazardous fumes.
Tragically, one of the most common accidents in the workplace is a pedestrian being struck by a forklift. These accidents can be avoided through constant awareness to pedestrian traffic and right-of-ways, keeping the forklift under control, maintaining maximum visibility, and the appropriate use of audible or visual devices for safe operation.
Sounding the horn when approaching corners may alert pedestrians to the presence of a forklift vehicle, but forklift operators are never to assume that pedestrians are aware of their presence simply because of any beeping tones or flashing lights—employees with auditory or visual impairments cannot recognize these caution signs.
When traveling with a load that restricts the view, forklift operators must take measures to maintain maximum visibility. Traveling in reverse is the safest course when the forward view is blocked. Operators must always face the direction they are traveling in. If visibility is limited, they should use a spotter to assist in maneuvering.
Keeping a Forklit's Lift Under Control
- The tremendous weight of the forklift simply won’t allow for stopping ‘on a dime’.
- Forklifts require more time and distance to brake.
- Keep speeds down in case a pedestrian does get close to the forklift.
- Never drive up to anyone standing in front of a fixed object.
- Never allow anyone to have any part of their body underneath the load. Ever.
5 Things You Need To Know About Forklift Safety
Distraction is extremely dangerous.
When you’re distracted you’re not paying full attention to your task. When that task is operating heavy machinery, distraction can be fatal. It takes less than a second for an accident to happen. If you are operating a forklift it’s imperative that you avoid distractions… meaning no looking at paperwork, daydreaming about what you’re having for dinner, making phone calls, or checking out what your co-workers are looking at behind you. Keep your focus on the task at hand until you are completely done operating the forklift.
Complacency is just as dangerous.
Complacency is just as dangerous as distraction. The dictionary defines complacency as “self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” Don’t think just because you’ve driven a forklift hundreds of times that you’re immune to accidents. Even if you’re driving the machinery properly, you can’t control everything that happens around you. Another forklift may cut you off, a load of materials may fall in your path, your brakes may fail… you need to be alert and ready to react if something out of your control occurs. Always be aware of your surroundings and the machinery you are operating.
Both operators and non-operator workers need safety training.
Employers need to train both forklift operators and individuals who will be in the same vicinity as those forklifts. Both operators and their co-workers need to know safety protocol to avoid causing or being involved in an accident.
Refresher trainings are just as important as initial trainings.
In addition, forklift operators need to be provided not only with initial training, but continual refresher trainings as well. Refresher trainings will help keep safety at the forefront of operator’s minds, update workers in new safety and vehicle operating procedures and help keep workers from becoming complacent.
Operators need training for forklifts of differing brands and models.
Another important training issue, and one that may be overlooked, is newly-purchased forklift trainings. Whenever a new forklift is purchased employers must deliver training on its use since various brands and models of machinery function differently. Just because a worker knows how to operate one forklift doesn’t mean they will know how to operate another. Components such as pedals, switches and steering can vary from one type of forklift to the next.