Forklifts - Raising the Bar

Worker Operating a Forklift

Forklifts, also called powered industrial trucks, are used across the globe by businesses of all kinds.  It’s hard to imagine a world without these tools.  With them comes efficiency and manual material handling elimination.  But they can also pose a serious safety hazard.  So in recognition of National Forklift Safety Day, let’s take a closer look at how to use them properly and avoid injury.

The history of the forklift begins in 1887 when the first material handling equipment was made from iron axles and wheels, known as a two-wheel hand truck. It was an effort to pick up heavy loads without using manual labor. Of course, in a time where nothing else was known other than lifting manually, it was a huge revelation.

Unfortunately, the history of forklift accidents and injuries goes back to nearly the beginning and continues to this day.

  • Every year, 85 forklift operators in the U.S. leave for work in the morning and never return home.
  • OSHA says 96,785 forklift-related injuries occur each year with roughly 34,900 injuries deemed serious.
  • The operator was crushed by a tipping vehicle in 42% of all forklift fatalities.

Many of these of these fatalities and injuries could have been prevented by following some very simple rules.

First, all forklift operators need to complete a training session that includes classroom instruction and practical, hands on experience. The trainee should show competency in the operation of the forklift for all expected activities before being “certified” by the employer to operate independently.

Second, operators must conduct a documented forklift inspection before each shift’s use. The inspection process should include tires, hoses, steering mechanisms, forks, and all other items listed on the checklist provide by the manufacturer. The lift must be removed from service if any inspected item does not meet the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Third, operators must follow employer safety protocols and use personal discretion when lifting and moving any objects. The operator should know what is being lifted, how much it weighs and its approximate center of gravity. Without this knowledge an incident is much more likely.

Employers should conduct random operator evaluations to ensure that company policies and procedures are being followed by forklift operators. Operators found to be deficient should be counseled and retrained before being allowed to use lifting equipment.

Employers also have to “reauthorize” forklift operators at least every three years to ensure that they have retained their requisite proficiency. This reauthorization should include a visual assessment of the operator’s handling of the forklift and typical loads encountered during the work shift.

For more information regarding safe forklift operation and the associated OSHA requirements, employers and operators should reference 29 CFR 1910.178, or check out the OSHA Powered Industrial Trucks eTool.

By Stephen Badge