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Heavy Lifting: Keeping Forklift Operators Safe

Forklift Safety

Four simple steps to keep your forklift drivers, and everyone else in the warehouse, accident-free.

There are over 850,000 forklifts currently in service in the U.S. These faithful workhorses are key to moving the products we make, buy and export into and out of our nation’s warehouses. And today’s units are faster, more agile, and more powerful than ever. However, weighing up to 9,000 lbs and traveling at speeds in excess of 18 mph, the challenge is to keep forklift operators – and workers at ground level – out of harm’s way.

Improvements in technology have made forklifts more efficient, butnot necessarily safer. In fact, in some cases new technology can even be a source of distraction for operators. Sadly, forklifts are involved in some 35,000 serious injuries and 85 deaths annually, according to Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) statistics. 42% of fatalities are caused by forklifts tipping over, which probably isn’t a surprise, considering a forklift’s uneven weight ratio and quick, rear-wheel steering.

Fortunately, OSHA also estimates that 70% of all forklift accidents could be avoided with proper training and operational policies.

70% of forklift accidents could be avoided with proper training

Here are four things that can help your forklift drivers, or “Powered Industrial Truck” (PIT) operators, focused, engaged, and out of harm’s way:

  1. TRAINING: PIT training must be both thorough and View your training program as a “living document” that is updated frequently: failing to update your program annually – or even more frequently if needed – can result in a program that is dangerously inaccurate in terms of equipment capabilities. Increase your program’s effectiveness by keeping the training fresh, and most importantly, making it fun.
  2. OPERATOR BEHAVIOR: 80% of PIT accidents are behavior-based. Accounting for human behavior is the most difficult challenge in keeping employees safe, as there are so many variables to account for. Successful Behavior-based safety (BBS) systems engage employees at every level – every day — beginning at the start of a shift, and continuing until it ends. This can be  accomplished through pre-shift safety discussions, observations, stand downs, and more.
  3. SAFE EQUIPMENT OPERATION: Safe equipment operation goes well beyond performing safety checks and maintaining proper speeds.  Employees who operate a PIT must feel comfortable while doing so. Injuries to exposed arms, legs and feet make up the large majority forklift injuries, so all extremities must be kept inside equipment running lines at all times. Make sure your training and observation programs include active discussions on “keeping yourself contained”.
  4. VISUAL AIDS Motion activated warning lights, rear-mounted blue lights, and the like, can be very effective in improving pedestrian awareness on travel direction and thus reducing “struck by” incidents. Your repair vendor/supplier is an excellent resource on the latest equipment trends. However, as is true for anything good, avoid overuse!

Forklifts are safe when used properly. Putting the above points into practice should be considered mandatory. June 12, 2018 is National Forklift Safety Day. On this day, forklift manufacturers will make their annual trek to Washington DC to inform legislators and policymakers about the importance of forklift safety and proper operator training. It’s also an excellent opportunity to review your own PIT training program, and to remind your operators about the importance of safety.

American companies are projected to purchase approximately 200,000 new forklifts this year. Clearly, forklifts will continue to play a crucial role in keeping our supply chains – and the economy – moving, as will the operators that drive them.


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