John J. Meola: The ‘Hidden’ Top 10 Forklift Safety Issues

Safety First
- 4 Jul 2013 ( #623 )
4 min read
The author is John J. Meola, CSP, ARM. He is a safety consultant with Invincia Insurance in Richmond, Virginia, with over 30 years' experience in risk management, industrial and construction safety.
We'll give you credit for doing all the groundwork: having a safety program, doing the training, inspecting, controlling, etc. But here are some 'under the radar' safety issues commonly resulting in forklift accidents.

10. Whenever possible, use intelligent plant and warehouse layout to avoid fixed obstacles in or near travel paths. Install protection or warning tape around columns and critical rack elements.Install redundant rack stabilisers. Clearly designate travel paths. Implement pedestrian controls in traffic areas.

9. Electric machines run silently. Install low-volume travel alarms. Warn pedestrians to LOOK where they're going. Doorways, corners and transition areas are notoriously problematic.

8. Unintended movement of machines - caught in or between. This is a danger to people on the ground around the machine, including the operators when they are out of the seat for whatever reason. Be sure the parking brake is easy to engage (there is usually a tension adjustment) and holds the forklift securely, even when carrying a capacity load. When possible, enforce the rule of NO STOPPING ON GRADES/RAMPS/SLOPES, etc. Horror stories abound (see News #621 on a double fatality in Dallas).

7. Machine upset - off the dock, over the curb, turn too fast, load too high, etc. You'll appreciate having a roll cage and seatbelt policy. This is mercifully a rare occurrence, but nonetheless severe enough to pay extra attention. STRIPE the edges of your dock with warning lines for awareness. In other words, "Mind The Gap"!!

6. Defective equipment: "You want me to inspect it how often?" Inspections are most important when a forklift is in use for more than one shift or has multiple operators, or it's got some age on it. New rigs have easy-to-check gauges, lights and indicators; older units take more effort. At least check your brake fluid reservoir and parking brake. New forklifts are designed for longer maintenance intervals with highly reliable critical systems - notably braking systems. And they're easy to inspect, as long as you can read a gauge or wink at an idiot light. Managers should be looking for telltale oil patches in the parking areas and along travel routes. Engine oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid and antifreeze are perfect for creating skating rink conditions, not to mention disabling your forklift.

5. Normally operating at or near the capacity of the machine. This is generally ok if you can somehow keep the loads down low. But when you're trying to stack heavy loads or place them in a high rack position, it's time to upsize the unit ...or buy more insurance.

4. Using the machine as a crane or for other-than-intended purposes, such as hoisting Jethro up on the forks; use of lifting jibs and exotic attachments. You have better odds in Las Vegas than trying to hoist people on forks, so this should be a bedrock prohibition. At least use a proper lifting cage, but it's a shaky practice to start with.

3. The Human Element: operators' spatial judgment, hand-eye co-ordination, reflexes, hearing acuity and eyesight, lighting in warehouse, transition areas, emerging from dark warehouse into bright sun, temporary glare blindness. Also in this category: wearing dark glasses while driving indoors! Remember, this is not a fashion show! The human eye needs LIGHT to see properly.

2. Distractions - let's face it, driving a forklift all day can be downright boring. Let's charge up the iTunes! Perfect recipe for collisions!

And the Number ONE entirely preventable all-time leading cause of injury to your operator (drum roll please ...): Slip & Fall while getting ON and OFF THE MACHINE. This is the 800 lb. gorilla in the living room. Considering all the ways there are to get hurt with a forklift, this one is often overlooked and entirely preventable. Despite the fact that the resulting injury is usually minor, it is, in fact, the all-time leader for forklift operators. Sprained ankles, twisted knees, neck/shoulder/arm/hand/leg and foot injuries are daily occurrences. Rule Number One - NEVER JUMP off a lift (or from any height)!

Remedies include enforcing the use of Three Point Stance, proper footwear, housekeeping (oil, grease, antifreeze, debris, etc.), correctly positioned hand and foot holds, use of high-grip gloves and foot-grip surface treatment, and TALKING IT UP AT THE SAFETY MEETING!
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