In any workplace that involves loading, unloading, and stacking of large pallets or other heavy materials, the forklift is a common tool. Each day, operators of these vehicles perform a balancing act—moving product from one location to another in both a safe and efficient manner.
However, that doesn’t always happen. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates more than 95,000 people are injured and at least 100 die in forklift accidents each year. Most of these are caused by the forklift tipping over.
When a forklift tips over, the driver can be thrown from the vehicle and trapped underneath. In a warehouse, the forklift can collide with racking systems and cause inventory to come crashing to the ground, possibly on top of the driver and others. If work is taking place on a loading dock, the forklift can fall off the dock to the ground several feet below.
What your employees need to know
Set a speed limit. Driving too fast is one of the most common causes of a forklift tipping over. Communicate the speed limit with your staff and make sure it’s posted throughout the worksite. Many forklifts don’t have speedometers, but some may be equipped with governors to prevent the vehicle from exceeding a certain speed. Workers must know what the forklift is and is not equipped with and act accordingly to maintain a safe speed. If the ground is slippery or there are pedestrians or other vehicles nearby, drive well below the speed limit.
Make sure the load is balanced. When the load being carried isn’t balanced, neither is the forklift. This can lead to the vehicle tipping over. Take the time to center the load as much as possible so that it’s not leaning to one side or the other.
Use the right lift for the job. Workers should refer to the load capacity for the forklift they are using and never exceed it. If an operator takes on a load that is too heavy, that can also throw off the balance of the forklift and increase the tip-over risk. Weight limit information should be clearly labeled on the unit. If it’s not, that should be brought to your attention and addressed before that forklift is used.
Buckle up. Just like driving a car, the first thing forklift operators should do is buckle their seatbelts. While some may consider it to be an inconvenience, especially if they need to enter and exit the forklift frequently, the seatbelt does protect them from being thrown from the vehicle and becoming trapped underneath.
Should a tip over occur, employees need to know how to ride it out.
- Stay in the forklift. Never jump out. (Jumping also can lead to a driver being trapped underneath a forklift).
- Hold tight to the steering wheel.
- Brace feet.
- Lean forward and away from the impact.
What your employees need to do
All forklift operators must have employer authorization and be certified on how to operate the vehicle safely. Training should consist of a combination of formal instruction such as lecture and discussion, practical training including hands-on demonstration, and evaluation of the operator’s performance in the workplace. Refresher training needs to be completed at least annually or with any near-miss incident. No one under the age of 18 may operate a forklift.
Other steps to follow include:
- Plan the route and anticipate any turns along that route.
- Be very careful and keep it slow when making turns. If taken too fast or too sharp, the risk of a tip over increases.
- Never turn on a grade, as a forklift can tip even on a small hill.
- Never turn with the forks elevated.
- Drive loaded forklifts forward while going up a ramp and in reverse when coming down.
- Do not perform any stunts.
At your safety meeting
Review the amount of space available for operating forklifts, and discuss the challenges such as any uneven ground, inclines, or tight spaces.
Also, remind employees of the speed and weight limits and why they must follow them.
You might consider showing training videos or conducting demonstrations on how to operate forklifts safely, and include information on the consequences when operators drive too fast, perform stunts, or otherwise don’t follow the rules.
When used properly, forklifts provide a quick and easy method to move inventory—no matter how heavy—to the intended location. When not used properly, forklifts can lead to serious and even tragic accidents.
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The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for medical advice or legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.
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