Forklift Safety - Who's Responsible?

Pedestrians, drivers, turns out, everyone has a role

Manager in forklift aisle

Above: distracted workers in forklift aisles can come to tragic consequences

Powered industrial equipment has greatly improved productivity in manufacturing, warehouse and distribution operations. Forklifts and hand trucks allow one employee to do the work of several in moving large quantities of materials and handling awkward loads. Storage space usage has improved due to palletizing and the ability to stack materials higher, utilizing more of the storage cube.

While all these benefits have improved materials handling, the potential for serious injury and death has also increased. The sheer mass of a forklift can be equivalent to a full-size sedan, and although speeds are relatively low, because of that dense mass, the potential for accidents is a serious issue in the workplace. Fortunately, the frequency of accidents is fairly low - but when an accident does occur, it can have devastating results.

Because of this potential for accidents and injuries in the workplace, it is important to institute safety measures regarding forklift operation and employee safety. As you implement these safety measures, you will find that forklift safety is not just the operator's responsibility. It also includes pedestrians entering and working in forklift traffic zones.

Operator responsibilities begin with equipment inspections

All forklift operators in your facility should be required to follow some basic safety steps including doing a maintenance inspection each day.

This inspection should include:

  • Forklifts are often visually impeded as they drive with a loadChecking battery charge for full charge on electric trucks, or full fuel levels on LP, gas or diesel equipment
  • Check engine fluid levels and check for fluid leaks
  • Check tires for cuts and defects
  • Check steering
  • Make sure all indicator lights are working and that horn and reverse beeper is operational
  • Check brakes and clutch functions
  • Check all lift controls for safe operation
  • Make sure all operator safety devices are in place such as overhead guards, fire extinguisher, rearview mirrors
  • Change truck operational status to "maintenance needed" if there are any unusual engine sounds or faulty operations and remove truck from use

In addition to the daily safety checklist, operators are responsible for observing all facility safety rules regarding truck speed, right-of-way standards, and using defensive driving measures at all times. The operator has prime responsibility for preventing accidents and injuries at all times.

Driving lift trucks defensively in the workplace

5 essentials to defensive driving that contribute to reducing the potential for accidents:

  • Knowledge - Understanding the nature of the equipment being used including operational hazards and safety measures to avoid those hazards
  • Alertness - Inattention leads to accidents more than any other cause. Stay focused on the job at hand and avoid distractions while operating equipment by observing all safety rules and being aware of safety strategies such as motion detection systems, traffic lights, wide angle mirrors and pedestrian crossing gates
  • Foresight - Think ahead by checking load distribution before moving anywhere; think about the route to be taken and potential safety hazards along that route
  • Judgment - Good judgment involves the ability to assess a situation, consider various options, and use common sense to arrive at the correct solution that avoids accidents while appropriately delivering materials to their destination
  • Skill - Learn to correctly operate the equipment you are assigned to and do not deviate from that correct operation; repeating a correct action develops a habit of safety

Pedestrians play an important role in safety

Pedestrians may not completely understand their role in forklift safety. They may be unaware of forklift routes in a facility, the types of equipment used in the facility, and may disregard safety rules involving pedestrians. Each of these elements contributes to the number of collisions annually between pedestrians and forklifts, as seen in data from accident analysis.

Some important pedestrian safety measures include:

  • Awareness of the types of materials handling equipment being used, what they sound like and the routes they typically take in order to avoid stepping into the path of an oncoming vehicle
  • Yielding the right of way to moving equipment, including observing crossing gates, motion detection alarms such as flashing light or sirens, and checking aisle mirrors before entering an intersection or traffic path
  • Never distracting an equipment operator from his focus through horseplay, like jumping onto the lift truck for a ride

Forklift safety is a team effort

Correctly operating a forklift truck is only half of the equation that leads to safety in the workplace. The other half of the equation is pedestrian awareness and observation of all safety rules. Make sure all workers understand their responsibility in forklift safety. When both operators and pedestrians work together to increase safety, the health and well-being of all is safe guarded, and the workplace is a better environment for all.