Based on reports from the National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities Surveillance System, 100 people die each year because of forklift accidents. A forklift injury can be serious or even fatal so it’s essential that you know and follow the safety precautions of this machine. Prevention is key in avoiding serious injury.
15 Forklift Safety Tips to Prevent Virginia Work Injury (taken from BigRentz Inc.)
1. Get Forklift Certification
Since many accidents are due to poor training, it is recommended that only those who have been trained and licensed in accordance with OSHA standards be responsible for operating a forklift. Employers should evaluate their employees’ performance at least once every three years and supplement training with lectures, videos, software training, and demonstrations.
2. Wear Proper Clothing
Forklift operators should be dressed with the appropriate safety equipment, including safety shoes, hard hats, and a high-visibility jacket. Make sure to tuck away loose clothing to prevent it from getting caught on the forklift.
3. Know the Forklift Class
OSHA recognizes many different forklift types and classifications. Since each type has its own structure, weight limit, traveling speed, turning radius, and usage, it’s important to know your equipment in order to follow the best safety practices.
4. Inspect the Equipment Daily
Forklifts should be thoroughly inspected before every use. Daily checks with the shift supervisor are recommended to identify and log any problems or defects. Any equipment that requires repair should never be operated. Some of the recommended checks include:
- Test operating controls such as brakes, lights, horn, and steering wheel
- Check mast and overhead guard for damage
- Examine tire and fluid levels (hydraulic, brake, engine, fuel, and coolant)
- Check for water, oil, or radiator leaks
- Ensure the forks are in good condition (e.g. straight, no cracks, no distortion)
- Look for potential hazards
5. Maintain 360° Visibility
Keep forks low to the ground to provide clear forward visibility. If the load restricts your visibility, operate the equipment in reverse. Always ensure you have a good view of the rack when you are positioning the load. Additional best practices defined by OSHA are:
- Always make eye contact with pedestrians and other workers
- Always look in the direction of travel
- Use rear-view mirrors to boost visibility
- Use headlights if working at night, outdoors, or in areas where additional lighting is needed
6. Implement a Floor Marking System
A floor marking system can help increase worker safety. Use yellow to mark physical hazards, such as areas prone to falling or stumbling, and red to delineate fire hazards, fire equipment, and emergency switches. Place wayfinders and signs throughout the site to keep pedestrians away from forklift paths, lead forklifts along safe routes, and improve the overall flow of traffic.
7. Maintain Equipment Capacity
Be aware of the capacity of your forklift and any attachments used. Avoid hauling weight that exceeds the counterweight of the forklift. Overloading a forklift can cause the rear wheels to rise off the ground and the whole machine to fall over, causing injury to personnel and damage to the equipment and materials.
8. Never Carry Extra People
Do not allow other workers to ride on the equipment with you unless a second seat is fitted into the forklift. Do no use the forklift to lift people, as forklifts are designed to carry loads. If you need to lift a person, use only a secure work platform and cage.
9. Pay Attention to the Forklift’s Stability
Before using a forklift, make sure your hands and shoes are completely dry and sit in a comfortable position with all the controls within reach. In addition to seating yourself securely, take the following steps before operating the forklift to increase your safety.
Each forklift has a center of gravity – the point where the weight has equal concentration – that it shares with the load it carries. Forklifts are built on a three-point suspension system, called the “stability triangle” that operators must stay within to prevent it from tipping over. The heavier the load, the further out the center of gravity is from the load center, decreasing your forklift’s lifting capacity.
10. Ensure Loads are Stable and Secure
When placing loads on the loading dock, be sure to check them for balance. Travel with the load tilted backward and keep forks as low as possible to increase the stability of the equipment, especially when navigating on-ramps. Use ropes or bindings to secure stacks and heavy loads if necessary and make sure any pallets or skids used are the appropriate weight for the load.
11. Move at the Appropriate Speed
Drive your forklift within the designated speed limits. It’s important to not stop, turn, change directions suddenly, or move fast when making sharp turns, as these actions can cause the forklift to tip over. If your forklift starts to dip, do not try to jump clear of the machine. Experts recommend staying in the vehicle, gripping the wheel, and bracing your feet.
12. Maintain a Safe Operating Distance
Always be mindful of the surrounding equipment on the worksite. Do not operate a forklift in close proximity to other machinery unless absolutely necessary, and keep a safe distance to allow you room to stop safely and avoid other machines that are moving in an unpredictable manner.
13. Avoid Hazardous Areas of the Equipment
Avoid standing or walking under a load, lifting mechanism, or forklift attachment, as loads can fall off on anyone positioned below it. Keep hands and feet clear away from the forklift mast, as a moving mast can cause serious injury.
14. Refuel and Recharge the Forklift
It’s important to keep equipment fully charged and fueled. Be sure to recharge and refuel in specially designated locations, which are usually well-ventilated and flame-free areas. Be diligent in switching off the equipment every time it’s being refueled.
15. Park the Forklift at the End of the Shift
At the end of the shift, be sure to always park the equipment in the designated and authorized areas. The construction company should make sure the parking areas do not block pathways or obstruct any exits or entrances. Fully lower the forks until they fit the floor, apply the parking brake, turn off the engine, and remove the key from the ignition.
Your employer should make these safety precautions mandatory to avoid injury. However, even when employees are properly trained and safety precautions are properly followed, accidents can still happen. If you have been involved in a forklift accident in Virginia, you should consult with a Virginia Workers Compensation lawyer who is familiar with these types of injuries. You can contact my office at (804) 755-7755
About the Author: Michele Lewane
The Injured Workers Law Firm is a Richmond, Virginia based firm solely focused on serving clients with workers' compensation claims in Virginia. If you have questions about your benefits or if you would like more information on the Virginia workers’ compensation system, order our book, “The Ultimate Guide to Workers’ Compensation in Virginia” , or call our office today (804) 755-7755.