According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), each year in the United States approximately 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 workers are seriously injured in forklift-related accidents. In fact, in April 2010, a Habitat for Humanity employee suffered ruptured muscles when a forklift ran into the back of his leg. According to the accident description, the employee had been standing with his back to the forklift talking to other persons nearby, and the forklift driver was unable to see the injured employee due to the cabinet that was on the forklift.
In order to help prevent these types of accidents, NIOSH developed several safety recommendations, which have been modified to an extent for the purpose of this safety memo. Please review these recommendations, along with OSHA standards, and incorporate them within the Safety Policy at your Habitat for Humanity affiliate.
- Make sure that workers do not operate a forklift unless they have been trained and qualified – this is an OSHA requirement.
- Develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive written safety program that includes worker training, operator qualifications, and a timetable for reviewing and revising the program. A comprehensive training program is important for preventing injury and death.
- Operator training should address factors that affect the stability of a forklift—such as the weight and symmetry of the load, the speed at which the forklift is traveling, operating surface, tire pressure, and driving behavior.
- Inform operators of sit-down type forklifts that they can be crushed by the overhead guard or another part of the truck if they were to jump from the overturning forklift. The operator of a sit-down type forklift must stay with the truck if lateral or longitudinal tip over occurs. The rollover protection system (ROPS) includes the protective roll cage and seat-belt. Both are designed to keep the driver safely contained within the protective surroundings.
- Train operators of stand-up type forklifts with rear-entry access to exit from the truck by stepping backward if a lateral tip over occurs.
- Ensure that operator seat-belts are being used on sit-down type forklifts. Since 1992, forklift manufacturers have been required to equip new sit-down type forklifts with operator seat-belts. Many manufacturers of these forklifts offer restraint systems that can be retrofitted on older forklifts. Many of the fatalities resulting from overturns of sit-down type forklifts might have been prevented if the operator had been restrained. The overhead guard (roll cage) of the forklift is generally the part that crushes the operator’s head or torso after he or she falls or jumps outside of the operator’s compartment. The risk of being crushed by the overhead guard or another rigid part of the forklift is greatly reduced if the operator of a sit-down type forklift remains inside the operator’s compartment.
- Operators must be trained to drive the forklift in reverse when carrying a load which restricts forward visibility. If forward driving must be done with such a load, then a spotter must accompany the driver as they stand alongside the forklift and maintain forward looking visibility for the forklift driver.
Forklift Inspection and Maintenance
- Establish a vehicle inspection and maintenance program.
- Check fuel type forklifts for fuel leaks before operation.
- Retrofit old sit-down type forklifts with an operator restraint system if possible.
- Always turn off the fuel supply at end of day.
- Maintain & mount a fully charged fire extinguisher with current date tag on forklift.
- Check battery water levels monthly on battery powered lifts.
- Battery chargers must be in good working condition with self-shut off timers that will properly control length of charging cycles.
- Battery charging stations should have adequate ventilation to prevent battery off-gassing accumulation.
- Ensure that operators use only an approved & certified lifting cage and adhere to general safety practices for elevating personnel with a forklift. Also, fasten the approved cage to the lift mast and secure it to the lifting forks from slippage.
- Provide means for personnel on the platform to shut off power to the truck whenever the truck is equipped with vertical only or vertical and horizontal controls for lifting personnel.
Workers on Foot
- Separate forklift traffic and other workers where possible.
- Limit some aisles to workers on foot only or forklifts only.
- Restrict the use of forklifts near time clocks, break rooms, cafeterias, and main exits, particularly when the flow of workers on foot is at a peak (such as at the end of a shift or during breaks).
- Install physical barriers where practical to ensure that workstations are isolated from aisles traveled by forklifts.
- Evaluate intersections and other blind corners to determine whether overhead dome mirrors could improve the visibility of forklift operators or workers on foot.
- Make every effort to alert workers when a forklift is nearby. Use horns, audible backup alarms, and flashing lights to warn workers and other forklift operators in the area. Flashing lights are especially important in areas where the ambient noise level is high.
- Ensure that workplace safety inspections are routinely conducted by a person who can identify hazards and conditions that are dangerous to workers. Hazards include obstructions in the aisle, blind corners and intersections, and forklifts that come too close to workers on foot. The person who conducts the inspections should have the authority to implement prompt corrective measures.
- Install the workstations, control panel, and equipment away from the aisle when possible. Do not store bins, racks, or other materials at corners, intersections, or other locations that obstruct the view of operators or workers at workstations.
- Enforce safe driving practices such as obeying speed limits, stopping at stop signs, and slowing down and blowing the horn at intersections.
- Repair and maintain cracks, crumbling edges, and other defects on loading docks, aisles, and other operating surfaces.
- Do not operate a forklift unless you have been trained and qualified.
- Use seatbelts if they are available.
- Report to your supervisor any damage or problems that occur with a forklift during your shift.
- Do not jump from an overturning, sit-down type forklift. Stay with the truck if lateral or longitudinal tip over occurs. Hold on firmly and lean in the opposite direction of the overturn.
- Exit from a stand-up type forklift with rear-entry access by stepping backward if a lateral tip over occurs.
- Use extreme caution on grades, ramps, or inclines. Normally you should travel only straight up and down.
- On all grades, tilt the load back if applicable, and raise it only as far as needed to clear the road surface.
- Do not raise or lower the forks while the forklift is moving.
- Do not handle loads that are heavier than the rated weight capacity of the forklift.
- Operate the forklift at a speed that will permit it to be stopped safely.
- Slow down and sound the horn at intersections and other locations where vision is obstructed.
- Look toward the path of travel and keep a clear view of it.
- Do not allow passengers to ride on forklift trucks unless a seat is provided.
- When dismounting from a forklift, always set the parking brake, lower the forks, and neutralize the controls.
- Do not drive up to anyone standing in front of a bench or other fixed object.
- Do not use a forklift to elevate workers who are standing on the forks.
- Whenever a truck is used to elevate personnel, secure the elevating platform to the lifting carriage. Use only certified lifting platforms.
- Use a restraining means such as rails, chains, or a body belt with a lanyard or deceleration device for the person(s) on the platform.
- Do not drive to another location with the work platform elevated.
- Always drive up an incline with a load and back down an incline with a load.
- Make sure the forklift is level before lifting a load overhead. The operator must keep the fulcrum point in mind when lifting loads overhead when the forklift is not totally level. Remember the 3 point triangle rule of keeping the load within the fulcrum when lifting.
*Source: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Workers Who Operate or Work Near Forklifts”, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2001-109/ .