Terry Troutman has been in the forklift industry for 30 years. He is currently marketing director of Speedshield-USA, a division of Automotion Controls Systems, of Melbourne, Australia. He previously spent 12 years marketing Hoist Liftrucks worldwide through dealers and major accounts.
In 2005, the US Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) found powered industrial trucks were the sixth biggest workplace hazard.
Violations of OSHA standards involving forklifts moved up two spots from 2004's number eight ranking.
Employers must ensure only trained operators drive forklifts and that operators receive on-going training. Otherwise employers face liability when a workplace incident occurs. In most cases, courts and juries award large judgements against businesses for non-compliance with OSHA regulations.
According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, about 100 workers die and 20,000 are injured due to forklift incidents each year. Reported causes for fatalities were tip-overs (22 per cent), pedestrians struck by forklifts (20 per cent), drivers or employees crushed by forklifts (16 per cent) and drivers falling from forklifts (nine per cent).
The following tips can help employers avoid workplace incidents and huge pay-outs.
1. Only allow trained drivers to drive forklifts
Untrained forklift drivers must not be allowed access to forklifts. Forklifts should be equipped with magnetic ID card readers requiring a specific individual's ID be used. Keys must not be left in key switches of forklifts and pass codes (when used) must not be shared among employees.
2. Train operators properly
Operators should be trained to use the right forklifts to lift loads. Sometimes they pick up a larger load than a forklift was designed to safely handle. Overloading is a major contributor to damage to forklifts and loads and increases the potential for tip-overs.
3. Remember the basics
It is important to set the parking brake before leaving the seat. An audible warning activated by a seat switch could notify an operator to activate the brake. Automatic shut-down after an operator leaves the seat, even for a few seconds, can prevent incidents and improve fuel economy. Some forklift manufacturers offer these features but, because they are not mandatory, they are not available on all models.
4. Check your checklist
A daily check sheet that details safety and maintenance inspections to be performed before a forklift is used is a good idea. Most companies have them. Accidents or forklift repair problems happen when procedures are not completed. Before each shift or operator change, check your checklist has been completed.
5. Make it pedestrian safe
In heavy pedestrian traffic areas, speed restrictions must be set. Plant visitors may be unfamiliar with forklift traffic. Forklift speed reductions can greatly promote workplace safety. Speed should be restricted near open loading areas or blind intersections.
6. Tip-overs and collisions
If all forklifts were forced to slow down at busy intersections, collisions could be averted. When making sharp turns or carrying an elevated forklift, slowing down would help prevent tip-overs and product damage.
7. Don't overlook small incidents
When forklifts hit stationary objects, injury or damage follows. Most times, such incidents go unreported because the injury or damage is "small". However, it is difficult to determine who is responsible, and hence prevent repeated carelessness, without knowing when an incident occurred and who was driving at the time.
Safety is everyone's responsibility, but risk management is necessary before incidents occur. Good safety precautions reduce employers' risk, reduce damage and loss, and can increase net profits.