Forklifts are essential for moving products and materials in warehouses, retail operations, fulfillment centers and other industrial facilities. Accidents are frequent, and because they often involve heavy loads, they can be deadly. Failing to prioritize forklift safety can lead to product and productivity loss, unanticipated downtime, fines and financial liability.
Forklift safety is a complex topic that involves several things, including:
Knowing Your Equipment
The first step in using a forklift safely is to know what your model is capable of and where and how it can be used. Different models are better suited for indoor or outdoor use — for obvious reasons, gas- or diesel-powered IC trucks shouldn’t be run in confined spaces.
If you’re new to a machine, always take the time to familiarize yourself with its features, controls, capabilities and blind spots before attempting to lift a load. Be aware that open cab forklifts offer less safety against flying objects and other hazards.
Keeping It Well-Maintained
Another consideration in forklift safety is maintenance. Unless a unit is well-maintained, it won’t perform according to its specifications and can put both users and bystanders at risk as a result. Regular preventative maintenance will help prevent equipment failure and on-the-job accidents. It’s also an opportunity to review a forklift safety checklist covering lights, signals, safety features and other items — such as an onboard first aid kit and a fire extinguisher — that are essential to have in the event of an emergency.
Understanding the “Stability Triangle”
Once you know your machine and are confident in its proper operation, the most important concept for forklift safety is the stability triangle. This refers to the three points of a forklift’s suspension: At both ends of the front axle and the center of the rear. As a load rises, it shifts the unit’s center of gravity in relation to these points, making it less stable.
To prevent tip-overs — which account for an estimated 25% of all forklift fatalities — operators must be mindful of the stability triangle at all times. Factors such as unstable or unbalanced loads, rough or slippery terrain, or unsafe driving can all cause a forklift to exit the stability triangle and potentially tip over.
Operator safety is only one aspect of overall forklift safety. It’s also important to consider the well-being of those nearby. This includes being mindful of pedestrians and avoiding collisions with racks, walls and other vehicles, which can lead to accidents. When working indoors, maintain visibility and communication with your coworkers, keep speeds reasonable and take the time to identify and be aware of any nearby hazards before working.
Developing a formal traffic management plan with established speed limits, designated loading and unloading areas, pedestrian crossings and other features can avoid much of the confusion and potential for danger encountered in a typical warehouse or material handling environment.
Invest in Training
Ultimately, when it comes to operating heavy machinery such as a lift truck, a well-trained team is essential. Management may not always be available to oversee forklift operation — employees need to be empowered to make smart, informed decisions that ensure the safety of your workspace.
A proper training regime should meet OSHA specifications and include a combination of classroom exercises and supervised forklift use. Raka can provide on-site forklift training and related services for businesses throughout Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa. Contact an office near you for details.