How can Forklift Accidents with Pedestrians be Reduced or Avoided?
When it comes to forklift safety, a lot of emphasis is placed upon safe forklift operation—as it should be. Unfortunately training for employees who don't operate forklifts but work around them (pedestrians) can be neglected.
We recommend formal classroom training for all of your facility employees who could encounter a forklift in the course of their responsibilities. This training should cover:
- How forklifts and similar equipment operate: It's important for employees to know the limitations of forklifts and their operators in a warehouse setting.
- Visibility: Forklift operators' vision is severely limited. The mast already reduces the operator's visibility, then add the load and operators have enough trouble seeing where they're going. Pedestrians should never assume the operator can see them.
- Eye contact: Employees working around forklifts should make eye contact with any operators around them. Busy operators may or may not be aware of people working around them. Making eye contact ensures that the operator is fully aware of the employee’s presence.
- Stopping: A 7,000 lb. forklift carrying a 5,000 lb. load cannot stop as quickly as a car. If an operator has to slam on the brakes to avoid an employee, they could find that 5,000 lb. load hurtling in their direction. Make sure pedestrians understand that forklifts don't have the same stopping distance as a car. If they're in the way of a forklift, it may not be able to stop in time.
- Keeping your distance: Never approach a forklift from the rear. Keep at least three feet away from the back, and never stand in front of a forklift or on the forks. This keeps the pedestrian out of harm's way should the forklift turn suddenly. The forklift arc light can help pedestrians keep their distance from the danger zone.
- Forklifts are quiet: Electric forklifts are completely silent, and even internal combustion units can approach without being heard in a busy, noisy facility. Be certain that all pedestrians understand this and are diligently LOOKING for lift trucks at all times, particularly at intersections.
What are the potential dangers of working around this equipment?
Rear ends swing wide, loads can spill, toes can be run over, and many other dangers exist if pedestrians and operators don't know the risks. Pedestrians should be aware of:
- Falling loads: When walking near a forklift depositing or retrieving a load at various heights, pedestrians should know to avoid the area around the forklift and never walk under the forks.
- Wide swings: The rear of the forklift swings differently than a car which can catch pedestrians off guard.
- Weight: Thanks to their counterweight, forklifts are very heavy machines that cannot stop quickly. Collisions often results in serious injury and sometimes death.
- Proper use: No one should be operating a forklift without the proper training and unless the forklift is outfitted with a second seat - approved by the manufacturer, riders are not allowed.
What can you do to minimize these potential dangers?
As a manager or supervisor, you must ensure that each person entering your facility, whether he is another employee or a guest, understands these potential hazards and is alert for them when in your facility.
- Training and briefing: Train pedestrians or employees who regularly work around forklifts in your facility. Guests should be briefed on what type of equipment you operate, how it operates, your safety procedures and the need to be alert at all times.
- Install lanes and pedestrian islands: Simple pedestrian lanes painted on the floor and training on how to use them are a great way to protect pedestrians. Ideally these pedestrian lanes would be separated by a barrier. Have protected "islands" for pedestrians that need to pack or perform other duties.
- Lighting: Provide adequate lighting in your facility - especially the aisles - to ensure maximum visibility.
- Set speed limits: Finding the balance between maximizing productivity and creating a safe environment for employees is key. Aisle speeds and intersection speeds may vary depending on your facility. Make sure these limits are clearly posted.
- Install mirrors at intersections: Then, train employees and operators alike to use them to see what’s coming around the corner.
- Ensure that all safety devices on all of your lift trucks are operational: Items like back-up alarms, horns, and lights should be checked daily to ensure operational effectiveness.
It takes only a few seconds of inattentiveness for an accident to occur. Keep your pedestrians and operators safe with these tips.