Back to Basics, Equipment and Machinery Safety, Forklifts

Back to Basics: Forklift and Powered Industrial Truck Safety

Back to Basics is a weekly feature that highlights important but possibly overlooked information that any EHS professional should know. This week, we examine forklift hazards and OSHA’s standards for forklift and powered industrial truck safety.

Forklifts and powered industrial trucks are used to move materials and to raise, lower, and remove large objects from pallets, boxes, crates, and other containers, according to OSHA. They are used in many different industries and can either be ridden by the operator or controlled by a walking operator.

Forklift hazards

There are many types of powered industrial trucks, and different trucks are more prone to specific hazards depending on the type, says OSHA. Other risk factors include workplace type and conditions. OSHA says many workers get injured around forklifts when:

  • Lift trucks are inadvertently driven off loading docks
  • Lifts fall between docks and an unsecured trailed
  • Workers are struck by a lift truck
  • Workers fall while on elevated pallets and tines

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) outlines its recommendations for preventing injuries and deaths of workers operating and working near forklifts, along with the warning that workers may be struck or crushed by the machine or load being handled.

OSHA’s standards

The general requirements for forklifts and powered industrial trucks are outlined in Subpart N of OSHA’s standards. OSHA states that all new powered industrial trucks acquired and used by an employer must meet the design and construction requirements found in the “American National Standard for Powered Industrial Trucks, Part II, ANSI B56.1-1969.” All approved trucks must have a label or some other identifying mark that indicates they are approved by the testing laboratory. All modifications and additions that affect capacity and safe operation must be approved, and plates, tags, or decals must be changed accordingly.

There are 11 different designations for powered industrial trucks that determine the kind of work that they can be used for. Employers must not allow the use of power-operated industrial trucks in atmospheres that contain hazardous concentrations of acetylene, butadiene, ethylene oxide, hydrogen propylene oxide, acetaldehyde, cyclopropane, diethyl ether, ethylene, isoprene, or unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH). These trucks should also not be used in atmospheres with hazardous amounts of metal dust, carbon black, coal, or coke dust unless they are approved or have the appropriate enclosures on fuses, switches, motor controllers, and circuit breakers.

Forklift operation

OSHA states that forklifts must not be driven up to anyone standing in front of a bench or other fixed object, and no one should be allowed to stand or pass under the elevated portion of any truck, whether loaded or empty. Employers should prohibit unauthorized personnel from riding on powered industrial trucks, and arms or legs from being placed between the uprights of the mast or outside the running lines of the truck.

If the forklift is left unattended, the load engaging means must be fully lowered, controls must be neutralized, the power must be shut off, and the brakes should be set. If the truck is parked on an incline, the wheels should be blocked as well. This applies for when the forklift operator has dismounted and is within 25 feet of the truck with it still in their view. Be sure to maintain a safe distance from the edge of ramps or platforms while on any elevated dock, platform, or freight car.

OSHA recommends setting the brakes and using wheel blocks to prevent movement of the trucks, trailers, or railroad cars while loading or unloading materials. Employers must make sure there is sufficient headroom under overhead installations, lights, pipes, and sprinkler systems, and that an overhead guard is used as protection against falling objects.

Powered industrial trucks must be examined before being placed in service at least daily, and if they are used on a round-the-clock basis, they should be examined after each shift. Anytime a forklift needs a repair or is found to be defective or unsafe in any way, it should be taken out of service until it has been restored to safe operating conditions. Fuel tanks must not be filled while the engine is running, and no forklift should be operated with a leak in the fuel system. If the forklift needs electrical system repairs, make sure to disconnect the battery beforehand.

Training requirements

Employers are responsible for making sure that each forklift operator is competent to operate a powered industrial truck safely, and they must show that by completing the proper training and evaluation, says OSHA. Trainees should only be allowed to operate a forklift or powered industrial truck where they will not endanger other employees or trainees, and under the direct supervision of people who have the knowledge, training, and experience to train operators and evaluate their competence.

Training must consist of a combination of formal instruction, practical training, and evaluation of the operator’s performance in the workplace. Formal instruction includes lectures, discussions, interactive computer learning, video, and written materials, and practical training includes demonstrations performed by the trainer and practical exercises that the trainee participates in.

Employers need to make sure that training consists of:

  • Operating instructions, warnings, and precautions
  • The differences between the truck and the automobile
  • Truck controls and instrumentation
  • Engine and motor operation
  • Steering and maneuvering
  • Visibility, including restrictions due to loading
  • Fork and attachment adaptation, operation, and limitations
  • Vehicle capacity and stability
  • Vehicle inspection and maintenance
  • Refueling and charging of batteries
  • Operating limitations

Any other instructions, warning, or precautions listen in the operator’s manual must also be covered in training, along with workplace-related topics like the surface conditions where the vehicle will be operated, load manipulation, stacking and unstacking, and hazardous locations where operation will occur. Refresher training and evaluation must be conducted if the operator is observed partaking in unsafe practices, is involved in an accident or near miss, failed their evaluation, is assigned to a new type of truck, or a condition in the workplace has changed that affects safe operations.

Employers must certify that each operator has been trained and evaluated, and the certification should include the name of the operator, the date of training, the date of evaluation, and the identity of the trainer and evaluator. Forklift operators must be evaluated once every three years to ensure they are performing their jobs safely.

For the full OSHA standard regarding forklifts and powered industrial trucks, click here.