The Basics of Forklift Safety

Oct 13, 2010 3:37 AM  By

Forklifts and other pieces of heavy industrial equipment are vital components in most distribution centers. But they’re also a significant cause of injury.

Warehouse equipment is involved in about 100 deaths and 20,000 injuries each year in the U.S. alone. To minimize this danger, thorough training for the people who operate and work around heavy industrial gear is a must.

All of us who work in logistics need to share the goal of eliminating industrial equipment-related accidents. We need to constantly work towards accident prevention by engaging in best practices. Here are a few to keep in mind.

Strict Adherence To OSHA Regulations
The Occupational Safety And Health Administration (OSHA) requires every company that uses industrial equipment to certify that its employees have been trained in the safe operation of industrial equipment. It also specifies exactly what kinds of things must be covered in that training.

Comply with that training to the letter, because it addresses some of the biggest elements of industrial equipment risk – including a few your company might not otherwise think of.

For example, the OSHA-required training emphasizes the substantial differences between driving an automobile and driving a forklift. Among them:

  • A forklift has rear steering that can be awkward and tricky if an operator isn’t used to it
  • Unlike an automobile, a forklift is highly prone to tipping, so operators need special lessons about load centers of gravity, the “stability triangle” and how to travel safely on ramps and inclines.
  • Seatbelts on forklifts are just as important as they are on cars, albeit for a different reason. Using them each time, every time, can prevent operators from being crushed underneath the weight of their vehicle if it tips – which is highly important when you consider forklifts can weigh as much as cars.

Should your company need assistance conducting this training, bear in mind that many training organizations offer highly credible industrial equipment “train the trainer” programs that cover OSHA’s requirements.

Including Equipment-Specific Instruction
Forklifts don’t come in as many different shapes or sizes as cars. But there are still several different types of them and several different kinds of accessories that go hand-in-hand with them. And most basic training programs unfortunately don’t address them all.

This is especially true if your company uses things such as forklift clamps or Stand-up Riders, and it’s a potentially significant safety-training gap.

Always tailor your company’s training to the specific equipment your operators use, supplementing original training with additional tools or knowledge as needed. And remember that the manufacturers of this specialized equipment can be an excellent resource for such training if you need help.

Training To Your Company’s Known Risk
Even when your company has followed OSHA’s industrial training requirements to the letter – and supplemented them with equipment-specific instruction – there are still likely to be gaps in the armor of your company’s industrial equipment safety training.

And more often than not, your workers compensation data can show you exactly where those gaps are.

Let’s say, for example, that your company has recently paid out some sizable workers compensation claims for knee injuries and that most of those injuries were sustained by forklift drivers. Further investigation may reveal that these drivers were routinely hopping off forklifts when their shift was complete instead of stepping off of them.

And that in turn may suggest that your company’s safety training isn’t adequately addressing how to safely exit a forklift. You may need to place more emphasis on this in future training sessions.

Do what you can to enhance your forklift training based on real incidents in your company’s distribution centers. It’ll make a huge difference in the efficacy of your safety record.

Dixie Brock is the director of national warehouse safety for APL Logistics.

READ PART 2: Customize Warehouse Equipment Safety Training for Your DC