Industrial warehouses can be a danger-prone environment. Working with complex machinery can open workers up to major risk, which is only increased with the addition of uncontrolled traffic and the desire to maximize productivity.
Powered industrial trucks—usually referred to as “forklifts” or “lift trucks”—are used to move, raise, lower, or remove large objects on pallets or in boxes and crates. Forklifts can be ridden by the operator or controlled remotely by a walking operator.
Most forklift accidents are attributed to one of three causes: tip-overs, irresponsible driving, and pedestrian accidents.
The following steps will help managers and workers decrease the risk of workplace injury or death.
If the forklift starts to tip over, never try to jump off the truck. Jumping off the truck during tip-over is the No. 1 cause of serious forklift-related injuries, as a forklift weighs several tons and can do major damage to an employee.
There are certain steps to take to reduce the risk of tip-overs, including:
- Lower the forks and tilt them back to keep the load stable while operating the machine
- Reduce speed before turning
- Keep loads low and tilt the mast back for stability (trucks are prone to tip if heavy loads are angled one way or another)
- Do not load forks beyond the capacity of the truck
- Do not move unstable loads
- Move oddly shaped loads carefully and slowly
Don’t Tolerate Horseplay or Irresponsible Drivers:
Supervisors must make it clear to employees that horseplay is not allowed in or around the forklift. Driving a forklift irresponsibly opens up everyone in the warehouse to a safety risk, and forklifts are heavy and unstable enough already.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established certain rules and regulations in regards to forklifts and safe working conditions. Visit the OSHA website for more information about how employees and supervisors can create a healthy work environment.
Be Mindful of Pedestrians and Workers:
Pedestrians always have the right of way—even in an industrial warehouse. It is the responsibility of the forklift operator to ensure pedestrians in the surrounding area are well clear of the machinery.
Forklift operators should always honk the horn at intersections and blind spots to ensure everyone is aware of the machine’s presence. Employees should not be near the forklift unless he or she is an authorized forklift operator (even if the machine is stationary).
Employees should avoid walking underneath raised forks and an operator should never lift a load that requires someone else to position or hold the load during transit; this greatly increases the risk of injury and puts workers in unnecessary danger.
Data from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration shows there are roughly 85 forklift-related fatalities every year, plus 34,900 injuries. Behaviors that contribute to forklift accidents include:
- Riding with the load elevated
- Riding or giving rides on the forklift or load
- Traveling at excessive speeds
- Horseplay, stunt driving, or jerky and erratic driving
- Inadequate maintenance and servicing of the forklift
- Improper turning, braking, accelerating, backing up, or parking
- Poor communication in shared spaces or during shared tasks
Other factors within the warehouse can contribute to forklift accidents, including production factors like speed or stress; lack of training or improper training of forklift operators; lack of appropriate tools, attachments, or accessories; and disrepair of machinery.