Make Yourself Visible Around Fork Trucks

Safety begins with awareness

You've heard it before, "Boy, that was a near miss!" But when you're around forklifts, you should be thinking, "Boy, that was a near fatality!" because the danger of working around forklifts is so high risk. Reduce that risk by making yourself visible to forklift drivers anytime you're working within their travel zone.

Above: video on pedestrians avoiding forklift accidents.

A few things to know about forklifts

Forklifts weren't originally designed to transport loads, only to lift and lower them. For this reason, forklifts traditionally have very limited fields of clear vision. Most of the time, a driver's field of vision is obstructed by the mast structure of the lift, by the load itself, or by dusty, or misty driving conditions. Additionally, drivers are often focused on load stability and making sure it arrives in one piece.

So it's your job to make yourself visible to drivers.

How to be more visible

Follow basic rules of engagement and be aware of the driver's visual limitations.

  1. Make eye-to-eye contact with the forklift driver before proceeding into his traffic path. Confirm the driver sees you by waiting until he acknowledges your eye contact in some way. Once you receive that acknowledgment, try to stay within the driver's field of vision until you are clear of his path. That means crossing far enough in front of him that you aren't hidden from his view by the fork mechanism or the load. He needs to know you have cleared his path before he can safely proceed.
  2. Understand equipment limitations by knowing that forklifts have long stopping distances because of their weight and size. They also have limited maneuverability when driven in reverse, due mainly to the position the driver must operate from when in reverse. Also be aware of vision limitations due to the size of the load, the position of the lift mechanism, the mast thickness, and how clean the windscreen is.
  3. Understand that turning forklifts present special dangers due to the wide arc the outer edge of the load travels in and the speed that edge travels at. Forklifts do not turn like cars. The turning radius is much sharper and parts of the forklift will jut outside the turning arc as the forklift moves. Forklifts may not be equipped with horns to warn they are approaching an intersection, and backup beepers may not be operable.
  4. Never assume a driver can see you. Stay in marked pedestrian lanes and crosswalks to prevent being hit by a forklift. Obey traffic signals such as traffic lights or motion detector systems. Check the view in wide angle mirrors mounted at aisle ends and blind corners to see oncoming traffic. Adhere to pedestrian safety gate usage – never take shortcuts or climb through guard rails.
  5. Yield the right of way unless you are sure the driver has seen you and stopped the forklift so you can cross. Remember that even if the fork lift manages to stop, his load may not. Keep a safe distance from any forklift and expect one to appear anytime you approach a blind intersection. Stop, look and listen before proceeding.
  6. Wear high visibility clothing to make it easier for the forklift driver to see you. Reflective strips or brightly colored clothing makes you stand out from the background, especially in low light. Always wear a hard hat when working in lift and load zones. Loads can become unbalanced and fall unexpectedly.

By following each of these common sense rules, you will make yourself more visible to forklift drivers and avoid becoming a "near-fatality".