Local News story

Drive pedestrians to forklift operator training

Tuesday, 17 November 2009 ( #437 ) - NORTH AMERICA
By Tom Andel, contributing editor

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), "pedestrians struck by lift trucks" is the leading type of forklift-related fatality. Although the overall workplace fatality rate declined in 2008, it's more a matter of a lower headcount than a reduced body count. US unemployment is now above 10%.

There's a good reason forklift-pedestrian accidents are still common: employee churn.

Many companies have thinned down to skeleton crews in their plants and warehouses, and are finding it hard to take the time necessary for proper forklift operator training. Once employees are trained, they often move elsewhere in the organisation-or outside it. Cross-training is a common strategy to spread a thin workforce still thinner.

Powered industrial truck infractions are among OSHA's most common citations. There were more that 1,450 between October, 2008 and September, 2009, representing a total of more than $818,000 in penalties. Citations involving training were issued 90 times, for a total $118,000 in penalties.

Waiting to happen

When it comes to forklift operator training, one type of worker is often left out of class: pedestrians. Jim Shephard, president of Shephard's Industrial Training Systems of Memphis, TN, tells Forkliftaction.com News that unaware pedestrians are fatalities waiting to happen. He often provides expert testimony when such cases go to court.

"In one case in California, we were able to prove it was a pedestrian's neglect that got him killed," Shephard says. "The last three or four accidents I got involved in were where a pedestrian got in front of a forklift driver on his blind side."

Shephard maintains that employers spend more time training their operators than they do their workers on foot. That's why, he believes, there aren't as many operators dying from turnovers these days as there are pedestrians getting run over.

What's to know?

Shephard recommends starting any operator training program with general safety, and including everyone who works in the same environment as forklifts. Subject matter should include awareness of the operator's field of vision (including blind sides) as well as load behaviour (including centres of gravity).

"The problem with pedestrians is they are focused on other things and don't understand what the operator can't see," Shephard explains. "They don't understand the stopping distance of a powered industrial truck, unstable loads, turning radius of a truck, the swing zone or the signage."

In addition to paying attention to those details, pedestrians would do well to heed the following tips OSHA lists on its website

* Remember, forklifts are designed to stop slowly to minimise load damage and maintain stability.
* Stand clear of forklifts in operation.
* Use pedestrian walkways, or stay to one side of the equipment aisle.
* Never ride on a forklift, unless designed for riders.
* Never pass under an elevated load.

OSHA also has tips for operators driving near pedestrians:

* Slow down, stop and sound horn at intersections, corners, and wherever your vision is obstructed.
* When provided, use flashing warning light or backup alarms when travelling in reverse.
* Do not move the truck if you do not have a clear view of travel.
* Use a spotter for blind spots.
* Always look in the direction of travel.
* Keep a clear view.
* Start, stop, travel, steer and brake smoothly.
* Signal to pedestrians to stand clear.
* Do not allow anyone to stand or pass under the load or lifting mechanism.
* When possible, make eye contact with pedestrians or other forklift operators.

These tips should live beyond training sessions. They should be part of on-the-job training-before each shift begins, ideally. That can be nothing more than a "safety talk".

"Operators can bring up one item that was taught to them during their training sessions," Shephard recommends. "Establish safety meeting topics for the next 12 months."

For example, some situations in the workplace are inherently dangerous and should be brought to everyone's attention. Topics like restricting pedestrian traffic at intersections and changing LP gas tanks lend themselves to general discussion.

Topics can be matched to the season. In the summer, proper air circulation would be appropriate, while in the winter or around the holidays, emphasis could be on staying focused and on task. Whatever the topics, make it personal to everyone on the shift.

"When I see a crew come in, I want to see the whites of their eyes every day before they go out on the floor," Shephard concludes. "If you want people to be safe, you have to commit to it-on a daily basis."
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