The Forklift is an incredibly useful piece of equipment, used throughout many industries to enhance productivity, speed up processes and protect the health and safety of employees. But they can also be extremely dangerous, with thousands of forklift accidents every year resulting in sometimes serious injuries, and usually caused by improper and unsafe operation or lack of training for the operatives.
Below are a few tips that will help you keep your workplace safe and ensure you get the most from your equipment and employees.
1. Know the Stats
It’s important to know the dangers that come with using forklifts on loading docks and in warehouses. Keep these statistics in mind while training workers and safely operating forklifts.
- Overturned forklifts are the leading cause of deaths involving forklifts; they account for 22% of all forklift-related fatalities
- Workers on foot struck by forklifts account for 20% of all forklift-related fatalities
- Victims crushed by forklifts account for 16% of all fatalities and falls from forklifts account for 9% of all forklift fatalities
2. Know the Classes
These are classifications of six commonly-used types of forklifts, as recognized by OSHA, along with different types of trucks unique to each class.
- Electric Motor Rider Trucks (such as rider-type counterbalanced forklifts and sit-down, three-wheel electric trucks)
- Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks (such as high lift straddle trucks and platform side loaders)
- Electric Motor Hand Trucks or Hand/Rider Trucks (such as low lift pallet trucks and high lift straddle trucks)
- Internal Combustion Engine Trucks with Solid/Cushion Tires (such as counterbalanced fork trucks with cushion tires)
- Internal Combustion Engine Trucks with Pneumatic Tires (such as counterbalanced fork trucks with pneumatic tires)
- Electrical and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors (such as sit-down riders)
- Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks (such as vertical mast type forklifts, variable reach type forklifts, and truck trailer mounted)
Download a full list here
3. Know the Common Hazards
Here’s a quick look at a few common hazards associated with forklifts.
- Unsecured loads may fall, crushing pedestrians or drivers.
- Forklifts may tip over, due to excessive speed or imbalanced loads
- Workers may fall if they stand on the forks
- Drivers may not see pedestrians, leading to collisions and fatal accidents
- Improper or missing floor marking may lead to accidents between forklifts and pedestrians
4. Know the Requirements
Before any employee takes control of a forklift, ensure they’re trained in accordance with CCOHS requirements.
- Employers must have a training program that incorporates general principles of safe operation, the types of vehicle(s) used, any hazards created by using forklifts and powered industrial trucks, and CCOHS general safety requirements.
- Trained forklift operators must know how to do the job safely, as demonstrated in a workplace evaluation.
- Employers must provide formal and practical training. This may include using some combination of lecture, video, software training, written material, demonstrations, and practical exercise.
- Employers must certify that operators have received all necessary training and evaluate each operator at least once every three years.
- Employers must evaluate the operator’s performance and deem the employee competent to operate a powered industrial truck prior to operating the truck.
5. Know What to Watch For
Employees and employers should work together to ensure a forklift is safe to use before getting behind the wheel. Follow these steps before using a forklift.
- Perform a daily inspection of all forklifts in use
- Examine the tires and oil levels
- Check for water, oil, or radiator leaks
- Ensure forks are straight and not cracked
- Test brakes, lights, the horn, and the steering wheel
- Look for obstructions, uneven surfaces, overhead obstacles, and other potential hazards
6. Stay Safe While Using A Forklift
Workers should do the following while behind the wheel to protect themselves and co-workers:
- Make sure the load is balanced and fully secure to prevent a forklift from tipping over
- Ensure both forks are as far under the load as possible before lifting
- Drive with the load as low as safely possible
- Pay attention to posted speed limits and warning signs
- Always look in the direction you’re traveling; if a load blocks the view ahead, travel in reverse
- Steer clear of areas where forklifts are prohibited or restricted
- Keep an eye out for signs, floor marking, and other warnings for pedestrians and forklifts
- Use the horn at intersections and in areas where pedestrians may be present
Travelling on an Incline
Keep the forks pointed downhill without a load, and pointed uphill with a load. Do not attempt to turn the lift truck until it’s on level ground.
Support the load by the front wheels and turn with the rear wheels. Do not turn the steering wheel sharply when travelling fast. If the lift truck is overloaded, steering will be difficult. Do not exceed load limits, and do not add a counterweight as an attempt to improve steering.
7. Keep An Eye Out Around Your Facility
Even if you’re not operating a forklift, you can take steps to keep workers safe. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Post forklift safety signs, aisle markers, and forklift procedure labels—using pre-made signs, custom labels, or a combination of the two
- Implement a floor marking system in your facility
- Ensure safety signs are at all intersections where pedestrians and vehicles intersect
- Use steering wheel covers and padlocks when necessary
- Use proper lockout/tagout equipment to prevent forklifts from inadvertently starting up
8. Safe Loading
It’s important to know the recommended load limit of the forklift (shown on the data plate) and the capacity of the fork, and to never exceed these limits.
Position the load according to the recommended load center. Do not add extra weight to counterbalance an overload. Keep the load close to the front wheels to keep the lift truck stable.
When inserting the fork, keep the mast of the forklift in an upright position before inserting the fork into a pallet. Level the fork before inserting it.
Raising the Load
Do not raise or lower the fork unless the lift truck is stopped and braked. Avoid lifting a load that extends above the load backrest if there’s any risk of the load, or part of it, sliding back toward the operator. Check for adequate overhead clearance before raising a load, and maintain a safe working distance from overhead power lines. Lift the load straight up, then tilt back slightly. Watch that the load doesn’t catch on adjacent loads or obstructions. Don’t back up until the forks are free.
When a load is raised, the lift truck is less stable. The operator must stay on the forklift when the load is in a raised position. Don’t allow anyone to stand or walk under the elevated part of the forklift, whether it’s loaded or unloaded.
Ensure that forks are level and high enough to go into the pallet, and that they go all the way under the load. Forks must be the proper width to provide even weight distribution.
Avoid trying to move or adjust any part of the load, the forklift or the surroundings when on the forklift. Do not use pallets elevated by forklifts as an improvised working platform.
9. Develop a Visual Communication System
Here are a few tips for successful visual communication, which can alert operators and pedestrians to hazards caused by forklifts:
- Use “Stop” signs, speed limit signs, and other traffic control devices
- Implement way finding to improve the flow of traffic, keep pedestrians away from forklift paths, and direct forklifts along safe routes
- Point out loading docks, shelves for inventory, and other important places within a warehouse
- Post signs at junctions to warn pedestrians and forklift operators to stop and look for hazards
- Display checklists and inspection requirements where forklifts are stored
10. At the End of a Shift
Once the task is completed or the operative’s shift ends, the forklift should be returned to the designated area and parked safely in the authorized space.
Operatives should never change mid-shift, or in an unauthorized zone, without the new operative being given the time to check the vehicle and adjust the controls, seat and mirrors to suit them, in a safe and designated area.
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