Steps To Forklift Safety

The forklift remains a key product-handling device in most concrete operations worldwide. It provides an indispensable tool for moving product to and

Bob Eckhardt

The forklift remains a key product-handling device in most concrete operations worldwide. It provides an indispensable tool for moving product to and from curing rooms, in the yard, and for trailer and delivery truck loading. Even newer plant designs incorporating sophisticated overhead crane, rack, and belt transport systems rely on the forklift for yard management, transport vehicle loading, and occasionally, on-site handling of products such as concrete block.

Like most systems in widespread use throughout concrete facilities, the forklift is safe when operated properly. Given the vehicle’s versatile motion, however, often in the vicinity of pedestrians, serious and even fatal forklift incidents have occurred.

An effective forklift safety program requires a written protocol prescribing caution in production layout planning, training, and equipment maintenance. Accordingly, several steps are key to the development or verification of a reliable forklift safety program, as follows:

  1. With upper management support, implement a company policy that defines the program’s parameters. Whatever company culture exists for internal policy development and implementation, solicit input from all personnel affected by the use of forklifts, communicating the development of a policy in advance to facilitate its acceptance and introducing the idea that new requirements will be forthcoming.

  2. Identify laws and standards that apply to the operation and maintenance of forklifts. Relevant in the U.S., for example, are federal safety regulations found in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration General Industry standard, 29 CFR 1910.178 Powered Industrial Forklifts; OSHA’s Construction standard, 29 CFR 1926.602; and, the American National Standard for Powered Industrial Forklifts, contained in ANSI [American National Standard Institute] B56.1-1969. Perhaps an even more important source of information is the owner’s operating and safety manual.

  3. Define responsibilities in the policy for program implementation. What may appear to be an unnecessary administrative step is needed to eliminate failure of key components. Assignments should identify by title the person(s) responsible for vehicle inspection and maintenance; operator qualification verification and authorizations; safe vehicle operation and related training; and finally, management of inspection, maintenance and training records. Trainer qualifications should also be specified, i.e., individuals with the knowledge, training, and experience to correctly train personnel (see training subjects identified below).

  4. Evaluate plant safety. For existing plants, the safety manager needs to spend time in the plant(s), observing forklift operations and receiving input from equipment operators. Such research is necessary to identify safe operating speeds and blind corners, possibly requiring a mirror or a stop sign as well as safety precautions like sounding the horn. Likewise, uneven surfaces may be identified that could damage a load or cause it to fall on nearby pedestrians; also to be noted are pedestrian traffic areas, overhead obstructions, plant layout issues, operations in confined spaces subject to carbon monoxide buildup, and additional mobile equipment traffic that may warrant special safety procedures. Similarly, new plant design should include careful measurement of turning radii, pedestrian work areas, vehicle flow, blind corners, overhead obstructions, and operating distances to anticipate speed control problems.

    In addition, the safety manager will want to evaluate post-program implementation and evaluate the adequacy of daily inspections, adherence to rules, and safe operation of equipment, assuring the forklift is not used for unintended purposes, such as elevating personnel or lifting equipment over workers. Although an approved method exists for elevating personnel in a work platform under various conditions, the practice is not recommended.

  5. Identify operator qualifications. Recommended are the following qualifications used by some companies:

    • Must possess a valid forklift operator card
    • Operators must report the use of prescription drugs that may impair the ability to safely operate mobile equipment

    While many policy requirements in the interest of safety may seem preferable, it is also essential that regulatory compliance is achievable. One company, for example, included the following safety requirements; yet, verification of the criteria, requiring MVR checks and extensive physical exams, was not completed.

    • Have a driver’s license and good driving record
    • No vision problems that cannot be corrected by glasses or contacts
    • No hearing loss that cannot be corrected with hearing aids
    • No physical impairments that would hinder safe forklift operation
    • No neurological disorders that affect balance or consciousness
  6. Establish training requirements. Forklift operators must be trained and certified before being allowed to man a forklift. OSHA prescribes a three-point training program that includes formal instruction, practical training, and evaluation of the operator’s performance.

    Forklift-related training must highlight the following topics:

    • Operating instructions, warnings, and precautions for the types of forklift the operator will be authorized to operate;
    • Differences between the forklift and the automobile;
    • Forklift controls and instrumentation, including where they are located and their function;
    • Engine or motor operation;
    • Steering and maneuvering;
    • Visibility (including loading restrictions);
    • Fork and attachment adaptation, operation, and use limitations;
    • Vehicle capacity;
    • Any vehicle inspection and maintenance that the operator will be required to perform;
    • Refueling and/or charging and recharging of batteries;
    • Operating limitations; and,
    • Any other operating instructions, warnings, or precautions listed in the operator’s manual for the types of vehicle that the employee is being trained to operate.

    Workplace-related topics must cover:

    • Surface conditions where the vehicle will be operated;
    • Composition of loads to be carried and their load stability. Stability discussions must detail the stability triangle (encompassing counter balance and front wheels) within which the load center must fall for the vehicle to be considered stable. Accordingly, the load becomes less stable as the load center moves forward, nearing the front wheels. Also significant are longitudinal, lateral, and dynamic stability, which involves turning, load-carrying height and determination of safe load moment with examples;
    • Load manipulation, stacking and unstacking;
    • Pedestrian traffic in areas where the vehicle will be operated;
    • Narrow aisles and other restricted places where the vehicle will be operated;
    • Areas classified as hazardous where the vehicle will be operated;
    • Ramps and other sloped surfaces that could affect the vehicle’s stability;
    • Closed environments and other areas where insufficient ventilation or poor vehicle maintenance could cause a buildup of carbon monoxide or diesel exhaust; and,
    • Other unique or potentially hazardous environmental workplace conditions that could affect safe operation.

    Refresher training shall be conducted when any of the following conditions are met:

    • The operator has been observed to handle the vehicle in an unsafe manner;
    • The operator has been involved in an accident or near-miss incident;
    • An operator evaluation indicates that forklift safety has not been adequately observed;
    • The operator is assigned to drive a different type of forklift. Duplicate training can be avoided if the operator has previously received training appropriate to the forklift and working conditions encountered, or if the operator has been evaluated and found to be competent; or,
    • Workplace conditions change in a manner that could affect safe operation of the forklift.

    For each successfully trained and evaluated operator, a certification document shall be prepared that includes the date of training, date of evaluation, and identity of the person(s) performing the training or evaluation. An evaluation of each forklift operator’s performance shall be conducted at least once every three years.

  7. Maintenance. In addition to lubrication and oil changes, a number of critical factors need to be considered for forklift safety. These are defined in the manufacturer’s maintenance manual and should be made a part of the safety program. Items requiring periodic maintenance, for example, include carriage wear evaluations, fork wear measurements, inspection for fork cracks, examination of all propane and line fittings, and routine tire checks.

    Another key item is often overlooked during inspection: maintenance of a comfortable operator seat. Manning a constantly turning, stopping and starting machine can be extremely fatiguing; and, operator error, damaged loads, and injuries due to lower back strain can be eliminated by installing and maintaining a comfortable seat.

    Moreover, many falling injuries occur when operators are climbing onto or off the forklift. Installation of a conveniently located grab-handle and application of traction surfacing to the edge of all steps will minimize the risk of such incidents.

  8. Audit the process. Periodically, the safety manager should evaluate the program’s effectiveness by reviewing training and inspection records, reported incidents and near misses, as well as observing forklift operations. Regular plant inspection forms should include a box or other reminder to check the adequacy of forklifts by inspecting them to ensure their readiness for work.

Developing a forklift program entails a logical sequence of activities to implement administrative, personnel, and regulatory requirements. A carefully considered program Û administered transparently and incorporating the input of others Û will effectively reduce risk.