Across the U.S. nearly 1 million forklifts are used to transport materials every day, load trucks and keep the supply chain moving forward, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These trucks are used in nearly every warehouse and by companies in every sector.
Many view forklifts as a "necessary evil" because, while they are critical to the business, they come with inherent risks that must be addressed. Statistics show that a high number of injuries and fatalities occur every year, so employee safety is a fundamental concern. When you combine the potential impact to both operators and pedestrians with the costs tied to claims and fines, safety becomes a significant consideration.
The following forklift safety procedures may seem like common sense, but have they been implemented and continuously enforced within your facility?
1. Always conduct workplace forklift evaluations
Before people begin to drive a car, they need driver's licenses. Similarly, before people begin to drive a forklift, they need training, a valid license to do so and a workplace evaluation.
It is illegal to operate a forklift without first satisfying these requirements, and it is the employer's responsibility to ensure that every single forklift operator complies.
2. Inspect forklifts daily
OSHA requires businesses to inspect their forklifts at least once a day. Here's a quick checklist for your inspections:
- Test the brakes, lights, horn and steering wheel.
- Check oil levels and air pressure in the tires.
- Look for fluid on the ground under or around the forklift.
- Inspect the forks. Don't use them if they're bent, warped, cracked or misshapen.
- Check that the mirrors, seat and all internal controls are working and in the right positions.
- Once you're confident that everything is in acceptable condition, carefully climb into the cab, buckle your seatbelt and start the truck.
If your facility is not ensuring that every operator runs through the OSHA checklist prior to starting the forklift, you could face steep fines.
3. Protect pedestrians and operators
Many plants and warehouses are filled with tall shelves that create narrow corridors and blind corners. Workers need to walk and drive their forklifts down these aisles daily, and a moment of carelessness or a lack of attention can cause serious problems. Devices like mirrors, floor markings, barriers and light signals, like those you'd see at a traffic intersection, all make traveling through a warehouse safer.
Yet forklift operators must also take safety into their own hands. They should receive training that reiterates the importance of, for example, slowing down when approaching a blind intersection and sounding their horns as a way to alert co-workers who might be rounding the corner. Take the time to review expectations for forklift operators, and be sure to establish a system that address instances when the proper protocol isn't followed.
4. Don't operate a forklift in poor conditions
There are some conditions under which you should never use a lift truck. If the ground is slippery, uneven or loose, it could be too dangerous for a forklift driver. It's too easy for tires to lose traction on these surfaces, increasing the possibility of a crash or the truck tipping over. This is not only dangerous to the driver but also anyone nearby. If there's a load involved, the risks escalate even more.
Visibility is also highly important. If you can't see where you're going, stop driving. You never know who or what might be in your path. If driving in reverse provides significantly improved visibility, then do so. The only exception to this rule is if the driver is on a ramp. Always drive forward when moving up and down ramps.
Your employees must understand these points and know where and when to report any forklift misuse or areas where driving forklifts would be too risky. By encouraging feedback on the state of your facility, you can actively improve the work environment for your employees.