June 14, 2022 has been designated as National Forklift Safety Day by the Industrial Truck Association. This event is intended to highlight measures critical to safe operation of forklifts and related equipment.
The latest statistics from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 614 workers operating powered industrial trucks, commonly referred to as forklifts, lost their lives from 2011 to 2017. In 2017 alone, 74 fatalities occurred involving factors such as struck by powered vehicles, struck by falling objects, falls to lower levels, and pedestrian versus powered vehicle incidents. On average, 95 people are seriously injured in forklift incidents every day and one person is killed in a forklift accident every four days in the United States. Non-serious injuries related to forklift incidents account for approximately 61,800 occurrences each year.
It should not be a surprise that a forklift can be a dangerous piece of heavy machinery. These injury and fatality statistics are a good reminder of the hazards associated with the operation of forklifts at the workplace.
There are several reasons why forklifts can be such a workplace hazard.
- Forklifts can weigh up to 9,000 lbs., which can be three times heavier than a small car.
- They can move at 18 mph with a load.
- Forklifts only have front brakes, making them harder to stop than vehicles equipped with all wheel braking systems.
- Heavy loads on the front forks and a shift in the center of gravity can make the forklift unstable and difficult to handle.
- A forklift uses the rear wheels for turning, causing the rear end to swing outward which can cause an increased risk of tipping over during tight turns. A forklift overturning is the most common incident, accounting for 25% of all forklift accidents.
Focusing on training and equipment inspections can mitigate these risks.
Causes of forklift related accidents are attributed to untrained or undertrained forklift operators. Not only is it vital to properly train forklift operators, but it is also required under OSHA standards. In California, the Cal/OSHA safety order standard, Title 8 Section 3650 includes 33 operator rules that must be followed and be posted for operators to review. The safety order standard for powered industrial truck training can be found on Title 8 Section 3668.
Within this training, there are two main categories to review.
- Powered industrial truck safety. Special attention needs to be given for forklift specific topics such as controls, instrumentation, steering, visibility, capacity, vehicle stability, and proper mounting and dismounting.
- Workplace environment. Focusing on the unique locations or conditions where the forklifts will be in operation. These topics may include surface conditions, load manipulation, pedestrian traffic, aisle widths, loading docks and ramp inclines, nighttime work, and indoor to outdoor transitions.
An inspection of a powered industrial truck at the start of each shift is mandatory under OSHA standards. Areas of concern for a forklift inspection include:
- Are brakes working properly?
- Is the steering responsive and precise?
- Does the tread on wheels provide the necessary traction?
- Are there any leaks in the fuel or hydraulic system?
- Are the battery packs charging properly?
- Are the lights, horn, and other accessories functioning?
- Is the Roll Over Protection System (ROPS), in conjunction with seatbelts in good working order?
A checklist identifying the unit and operator or mechanic performing the inspection must be recorded to advise of any unsafe conditions or maintenance issues that are found and need correction.
While pen and paper are the traditional forms of completing and documenting a forklift inspection, there are other means to comply with this requirement and make data regarding the inspections more usable. Customized checklists for operators and their forklifts are available in some mobile device enables apps. Some of these apps can generate prompt notifications to leadership or maintenance staff when issues are discovered, creating an opportunity to take immediate steps to resolve the issues or concerns; addressing maintenance concerns promptly improves forklift operator safety.
Other technology systems are also available for facilities using forklifts. For example, an onboard video camera with telematic capabilities can be useful to identify unsafe conditions or unsafe operator behavior. With these systems onboard a forklift, a field of view from the operator’s perspective can be monitored. In addition, these systems can detect impacts, near misses, and provide useful data for the location and runtime of a forklift within a facility. Having such devices installed can be useful for training purposes and creating a safer and more efficient workplace.
Western Growers Insurance Services is a full-service insurance brokerage offering a suite of insurance and tailored risk management solutions to agricultural and related industry members. For more information on onsite forklift training and certification, the use of forklift inspection checklist apps, or onboard telematic systems, please contact Ken Cooper, Director Risk Strategy for Western Growers Insurance Services, at KCooper@wgis.com.