Do forklift drivers face a safety obstacle course?

by on July 14, 2011 · 2 Comments POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network
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You know that forklift accidents remain a clear and present hazard at most companies that use this kind of equipment.

It only takes a moment of inattention for a forklift driver to get into trouble – and a lot longer to clean up the ensuing mess.

Easily-avoided accidents
Some recent examples:

  • A forklift driver passing through a narrow aisle misgauged how much space he had, and scraped against a stack of materials. That knocked the stack over.
  • An inattentive forklift driver cut a natural-gas line, requiring evacuation of his entire facility for several hours, and
  • A forklift driver didn’t anticipate pedestrian traffic in a warehouse, and ran over a worker’s foot.

To avoid accidents such as these, ask yourself these questions:

1. Are we asking too much of forklift drivers?
Narrow aisles, cramped areas, high-traffic corridors, and facility-related hazards all demand high-level skills for forklift drivers to safely navigate. If possible, make it easy on the drivers.

Consider following a forklift driver on his or her regular rounds to see if there are ways to remove unnecessary obstacles. Especially look for:

  • Areas covered with debris, discarded materials, or materials, tools and equipment “temporarily” placed in a forklift driver’s path. Especially watch for any items temporarily placed around a blind corner.
  • Unnecessarily low clearances. If drivers must lower loads to get under an overhead obstacle, then raise them to get over others, you’re asking drivers to run an obstacle course. Sooner or later, they’re going to hit something and make a mess.
  • High traffic areas. This includes foot traffic and other drivers. In areas where you have mixed foot traffic and forklifts, it may be very difficult to anticipate an accident. In several recent cases, drivers have avoided a pedestrian, only to back up into another forklift (or stack of pallets). If possible, keep workers and pedestrians separate. If not possible, review your training to make sure people keep up their awareness of your site-specific hazards.
  • Exposed utility lines. Any utility lines should be “hardened” so that workers won’t risk the entire facility with one mistake.

2. Are we sharing enough info about hazards?
One of the best ways to reduce the “obstacle course” is to regularly discuss obstacles. Otherwise, workers may assume the company knows about (and tolerates) the various hazards.

Some safety directors conduct regular forklift safety meetings to make sure workers are sharing info on hazards.

One plant manager we know uses quarterly meetings. That’s frequent enough to regularly address the topic, but not too often to overshadow other safety duties. Specific topics to consider:

  • driving in reverse when visibility is limited
  • sounding the horn when going through doorways or around corners, and
  • driving at appropriate speeds (which may be lower than posted limits).

At these meetings, workers can share their best practices for handling individual obstacles, safe driving practices, and recommendations for improvement.

It also keeps them up-to-date about new hazards that may have cropped up between meetings.

3. Are people trained in the trucks they’re actually using?
One recent forklift accident occurred because a driver used an older model of forklift than he was used to driving. It turned out the hand brake was on the opposite side of the vehicle.

In the moment the driver took to re-orient himself and grab the brake with his other hand, his forklift slid down a ramp and injured a pedestrian.

If you have multiple types of forklifts and multiple models, it pays to familiarize workers on all those they will actually use on the shop floor.

Caution: You can assign drivers to specific forklifts only – the ones they are trained on. But you can bet there will a time they will be pressured to use an unfamiliar lift.

4. Are a lot of the loads bulky?
If workers must use reverse frequently because of blocked views, they are more likely to develop neck and back problems.

You have two choices to reduce the chances of injury:

  • Find ways to reduce the bulkiness of the load compared to size of the lift, e.g., use bigger lifts or smaller loads.
  • Find ways to reduce the chances of the ergo injury itself – neck strengthening exercises, training workers not to always turn the same direction (when possible), and rotate drivers’ duties (also when possible) to reduce the number of backward-turn repetitions.

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2 Comments on This Post

  1. Janelle Rosmis
    September 13, 2011 - 7:06 pm

    Try approaching your safety manager to look into a system from Alert Safety Products.  Our company just installed one and the results were overwhelming so now our safety managers from the North America region are all coming in to see the product “in action”, and Im sure most of our facilities will purchase a system for their problem areas.  

  2. Janelle Rosmis
    September 13, 2011 - 7:06 pm

    Try approaching your safety manager to look into a system from Alert Safety Products.  Our company just installed one and the results were overwhelming so now our safety managers from the North America region are all coming in to see the product “in action”, and Im sure most of our facilities will purchase a system for their problem areas.  

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