There are many individual and specific things any company can do to optimize forklift safety in their facility based upon their unique set of parameters that they operate within. A facility that operates cushion tire, electric forklifts indoors has a completely different set of variables from a company that operates diesel forklifts, with pneumatic tires, outdoors on substrates that vary. There are, however, a few things that can span the diverse operating parameters and can apply to almost any forklift and material handling operation. Below we list a few of what are considered “best practices” with regards to creating and maintaining a safe forklift operating environment.
SAFE OPERATING PRACTICES
- Do not operate a forklift unless you have received thorough forklift operator training. Training should include not only understanding how forklifts operate, their limitations and dangers, but also be specific to the equipment you operate and specific to your facility.
- Use seat belts. If not installed, retrofit old sit-down type forklifts with an operator restraint system if possible.
- Conduct inspections on your forklifts before an operator puts the forklift into service. This means at the start of each day, or each shift change, forklifts should be inspected for damage or failing/failed components.
- Report to your supervisor any damage or problems that occur to a forklift during your shift.
- Ensure there is a system to lock-out forklifts that have been reported and that they cannot be used until repaired by a qualified technician.
OPERATING BEST PRACTICES
- Operators use extreme caution on grades, ramps, or inclines. Normally the operator should travel straight up and down. Do not attempt to turn around on grades or ramps. Keep loads elevated and upslope, not pointed downslope.
- On grades, tilt the load back 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 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 cross aisles and other locations where vision is obstructed. 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.
- Look toward the travel path 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, set the parking brake, lower the forks or lifting carriage, and neutralize the controls.
- Do not use a forklift to elevate workers who are standing on the forks.
ADDITIONAL SAFETY PRACTICES
- Operators should follow operator’s manuals, which are supplied by all equipment manufacturers and describe the safe operation and maintenance of forklifts.
- 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. Do not store bins, racks, or other materials at corners, intersections, or other locations that obstruct the view of forklift operators.
- Evaluate intersections and other blind corners to determine whether overhead dome mirrors could improve the visibility of forklift operators or workers on foot. The person who conducts the inspections should have the authority to implement prompt corrective measures.
- 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.
- Have a thorough planned maintenance program in place for each of your forklifts based upon usage and type of duty operation.
Forklifts can be very dangerous if not treated with the respect they deserve and if proper training is not provided. Making sure your forklift fleet is being safely operated and pedestrians are trained ensures improved safety for all, and improved productivity and profits for your company!