Motorized forklifts are an essential tool for unloading and loading trucks and otherwise moving heavy inventory. But forklifts—also called powered industrial trucks—can be highly hazardous for a wide range of reasons. National Forklift Safety Day, an observance sponsored by the Industrial Truck Association, took place this week.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) notes that each year nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 are seriously injured in forklift-related incidents. Forklift overturns are the leading cause of fatalities and represent about 25 percent of all forklift-related deaths. Foot injuries are the most prevalent of nonfatal incidents.
“NIOSH investigations of forklift-related deaths indicate that many workers and employers may not be aware of the risks of operating or working near forklifts and are not following the procedures set forth in OSHA’s standards, consensus standards, or equipment manufacturer’s guidelines,” says NIOSH.
OSHA has developed standards for powered industrial trucks (such as low- and high-lift trucks and forklift trucks) at 29 CFR 1910.178 and for forklifts used in the construction industry at 29 CFR 1926.600; 1926.602. Requirements include:
- Operator training. The standard includes specific training requirements for truck operation, loading, seat belts, overhead protective structures, alarms, and maintenance of industrial trucks. Refresher training is required if the operator is observed operating the truck in an unsafe manner, is involved in an accident or near miss, or is assigned a different type of truck.
- Maintenance. Forklifts must be examined before being placed in service. They may not be placed in service if the examination shows any condition adversely affecting the safety of the vehicle. Examinations must occur at least daily.
- Operation. Specific requirements apply to operating on grade, safe driving speed, slowing down at aisle intersections, where the operator must look when driving, and personnel not authorized to be on the forklift when it is being operated.
In its Worker Safety Series: Warehousing, OSHA offers the following guidelines for forklift safety:
- Forklift operators are competent to operate a vehicle safely as demonstrated by successful completion of training and evaluation conducted and certified by persons with the knowledge, training, and experience to train operators and evaluate their performance.
- The training program content includes all truck-related topics, workplace-related topics, and the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.178 for safe truck operation.
- Refresher training and evaluation is conducted whenever an operator has been observed operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner or has been involved in an accident or a near-miss incident.
- Refresher training and evaluation is conducted whenever an operator is assigned to drive a different type of truck or whenever a condition in the workplace changes in a manner that could affect safe operation of the truck.
- Evaluations of each operator’s performance are conducted at least once every 3 years.
- Load-engaging means are fully lowered, with controls neutralized, power shut off, and brakes set when a forklift is left unattended.
- Operators maintain a safe distance from the edge of ramps or platforms while using forklifts on any elevated dock, platform, or freight car.
- There is sufficient headroom for the forklift and operator under overhead installations, lights, pipes, sprinkler systems, etc.
- Overhead guards are provided in good condition to protect forklift operators from falling objects.
- Operators observe all traffic regulations, including authorized plant speed limits.
- Drivers are required to look in the direction of and keep a clear view of the path of travel.
- Operators run their trucks at a speed that will permit the vehicle to stop in a safe manner.
- Dockboards (bridge plates) are properly secured when loading or unloading from dock to truck.
- Stunt driving and horseplay are prohibited.
- All loads are stable, safely arranged, and fit within the rated capacity of the truck.
- Operators fill fuel tanks only when the engine is not running.
- Replacement parts of trucks are equivalent in terms of safety with those used in the original design.
- Trucks are examined for safety before being placed into service, and unsafe or defective trucks are removed from service.