Forklifts and other forms of Powered Industrial Trucks (PIT’s) are an essential part of most industrial and supply chain operations. However, statistics indicate they also present a very significant hazard to people occupying the same workspace. Forklift-related injuries tend to be much more severe or even fatal, due to the size and power of the vehicles involved.
Numerous deaths and tens of thousands of serious accidents related to lift truck operation are reported in North America every year. This includes a wide variety of industries, but it’s manufacturing and construction that lead the way in these statistics. Every single day pedestrians are struck by moving lift trucks, but the vast majority of injuries and fatalities (42%) occur when operators are crushed while attempting to jump from a tipping vehicle. With good training and the maintenance of strict safety guidelines however, these numbers can be greatly minimized within your own operation.
There are many types of powered industrial trucks, and each presents different operating hazards. For example, a counterbalanced high-lift rider truck is more likely than a motorized hand truck to be involved in a falling load accident because of it’s weight and lift-height capacity.
Workplace type and conditions are also factors in the hazards commonly associated with these vehicles. Retail operations for instance, would have greater obvious risk to pedestrians, while construction jobsites have the added risk of uneven or slippery driving surfaces. Beyond that, workers can also be injured when lift trucks are accidentally driven off loading docks, the vehicle falls between a dock and an unsecured trailer, they are struck by a lift truck, or are hit by falling loads from above.
Training & Maintenance
Studies show that many of these accidents could have been prevented with better training for operators and pedestrian workers alike. With training, accident prevention can be improved, in addition to the reduction in severity for those accidents that do still happen.
All training, operational supervision and maintenance should be conducted by qualified personnel only, with the criteria being based on regional Occupational Health & Safety regulations and vehicle manufacturer specifications. Some specifics include:
- Having firmly established and well-communicated company safety policies and procedures in-place
- Both written and practical vehicle testing being conducted
- Specific training for each type of powered lift truck an operator may use
- Site-specific training to account for attachments, surfaces, ramps, hazardous areas, visibility and pedestrian traffic
- All operators being over 18 years of age
- Refresher training being conducted if an operator is observed being unsafe, in the event of an unsatisfactory evaluation, or if there are changes in vehicle type or workplace conditions
- Both pre-shift and regularly scheduled vehicle maintenance being diligently conducted
- Comprehensive documentation of all training and maintenance activities per specified guidelines
For further reference, compliance and guideline links may be found at: http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/sawo/pubs/fs_forklift.php
There are many different types of lift trucks available, in addition to a variety of specific industry applications. Here is a listing of some fundamental safety principles that would apply to most.
- Never use a powered lift truck for anything other than its intended use
- Never exceed the load weight capacity on any vehicle
- Be sure that all loads are secure, centered and evenly distributed
- Always keep loads as low as possible while driving. A lower centre-of-gravity helps to prevent tipping. Also keep forks low without a load to prevent a more serious accident in the event of a collision with a pedestrian.
- Use provided seat belts and harnesses at all times
- Always wear required PPE such as hard hats, safety footwear, vests or other items as directed
- Never operate a PIT if you are seriously ill (dizzy or drowsy) or under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Be aware of, and account for, uneven or slick surface conditions in the work area
- Stop at corners or aisle intersections to check for route clearance and also make use of mounted convex mirrors to improve visibility
- Where possible, keep truck and pedestrian traffic separate and create distinct zones or lanes with high-visibility floor paint
- Install warning and safety signs for both operators and pedestrians to highlight areas of caution etc.
- Never leave a running vehicle unattended. Forks and loads should also be at their lowest level when the machine is turned off.
- Always operate vehicles at a safe speed
- When creating a facility floor plan, be sure to account for safe vehicle turning capacities and operator visibility
- Where necessary, use qualified spotters/attendants to work with the vehicle operator to ensure optimal safety for load transfers and pedestrian traffic. Block aisles where working or create safe-zones around the vehicle to help avoid accidental injury.
- Use only specified equipment and procedures for lifting personnel. Never cheat to save time.
- Always be aware of clearance heights and widths for loads, ramp angle hazards and dock plate capacities before you operate
- Never attempt to jump down from a tipping vehicle. It is far safer to stay strapped into your seat and within the safety cage.
- Where possible, utilize laser, infrared or microwave scanner units on vehicles to warn drivers and pedestrians of collision hazards
- Establish designated vehicle fuelling and re-charging stations and follow all prescribed safety protocol
- Never engage in any stunt driving activities or horseplay with powered vehicles