22 Keys to Safe Forklift Operation

Every year more than 20,000 forklift-related injuries occur in U.S. workplaces. According to OSHA, most forklift accidents can be attributed to lack of safe operating procedures, lack of safety rule enforcement, and insufficient or inadequate training.

Many employees are injured when forklifts are inadvertently driven off loading docks or fall between docks and an unsecured trailer. Other workers are hurt when they are struck by a forklift, or when they fall while standing on elevated pallets and tines (something that they shouldn’t be doing).

Most incidents also involve property damage, including damage to overhead sprinklers, racking, pipes, walls, and machinery.

You can prevent the accidents, injuries, and damage if you make sure forklift operators comply with these 22 keys to safe forklift operation.

1. Never drive trucks up to anyone standing in front of a bench or other fixed object.

2. Don’t let anyone stand or pass under the elevated portion of any truck, whether loaded or empty.

3. Do not permit unauthorized personnel to ride on forklifts. A safe place to ride must be provided where riding of trucks is authorized.

4. Never place arms or legs between the uprights of the mast or outside the running lines of the truck.

5. When left unattended, lower the truck’s forks, place controls in neutral, shut off power, and set the brakes. Block the wheels if the truck is parked on an incline.

6. Maintain a safe distance from the edge of ramps or platforms while on any elevated dock, platform, or freight car.

7. Make sure there is a sufficient amount of headroom under overhead installations, lights, pipes, or sprinkler systems.

8. Use an overhead guard to protect against falling objects.

9. Observe all traffic regulations.

10. Yield to all emergency vehicles.

11. Cross railroad tracks diagonally whenever possible.

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12. Drivers must slow down and sound horn at cross-aisles where vision is obstructed.
13. Ascend or descend grades slowly.
14. When ascending or descending grades in excess of 10 percent, drive trucks with the load upgrade.
15. Do not permit any stunt driving or horseplay.
16. Require drivers to slow down for wet and slippery floors.
17. Make sure dockboards and bridgeplates have been properly secured before they are driven over.
18. Approach elevators slowly, and then enter them squarely after the elevator car is properly leveled. Once on the elevator, neutralize the controls, shut off the power, and set the brakes.
19. With motorized hand trucks, enter elevators or other confined areas with the load-end forward.
20. Only handle stable loads, and never exceed the loaded capacity of the truck.
21. Take all defective or unsafe forklifts out of service.
22. Never fill fuel tanks while the engine is running.

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Seat Belts

Seat belts are another key to safe forklift operation. A significant number of forklift-related injuries and fatalities every year involve tipovers in which operators were not properly secured to their seat.

Although OSHA doesn’t specifically require the use or installation of seat belts on forklifts, if a forklift is equipped with operator restraint devices, including seat belts, you must require operators to use them. Also note that 29 CFR 1910.178(q)(6) prohibits removing seat belts from powered industrial trucks.

Furthermore, OSHA says that if you have been notified by a forklift manufacturer, consensus standard, or industry association of forklift tipover hazards and made aware of an operator restraint system retrofit program, then the agency could cite you under Section 5(a)(1) if you haven’t taken advantage of the program.

If you have forklifts that are not currently equipped with operator restraint systems, strongly consider contacting the manufacturer for advice on obtaining and installing such devices to prevent operator injuries in the event of a tipover.

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