It requires trained and skilled drivers. More than 20,000 workers are injured in forklift accidents and 85 killed each year. Using and enforcing a health and safety plan can prevent most of these.
A forklift is officially defined as a powered industrial truck, and there is a lot of variation within the species. Most accidents involving this type of vehicle can be traced to five causes:
- no training, too little training or ineffective training
- not following safe operating procedures
- not enforcing the rules
- badly maintained equipment
Most injuries to drivers and pedestrians occur when the forklift is accidentally driven off the loading dock, the forklift falls in the space between the loading dock and the trailer, a forklift runs into a person, or a person falls off the tines or on pallets that are being elevated by the forklift.
Reasons for Injuries
There are three main types of accidents that result in injuries. The leading one is tip-overs. When this heavy piece of equipment starts to tip, the natural reaction of the driver is to jump. Unfortunately, this often results in his being crushed by the truck.
The main way to prevent a tip-over is to keep the speed low and reduce it even further before turning. The operator needs to be skilled at keeping the load stable by lowering the forks and keeping them in a tilted position.
Irresponsible driving is the second leading reason accidents happen. Health and safety plan rules against reckless driving need to be enforced in these cases.
Pedestrians getting in the way of the forklift is the third major reason injuries occur. The driver needs to watch the area in which the forklift is moving–which is often in reverse. Honking the horn at intersections, just like on the highway, alerts workers in the area. Using another worker as a spotter when visibility is blocked is essential in preventing accidents.
The first and most important OSHA regulation says all operators must be adequately trained to operate a forklift. This includes how to spot hazards and avoid them. Any worker who even occasionally uses a forklift is required to get the training.
The competency of each operator needs to be re-evaluated every three years. Refresher courses are mandatory for drivers who cause, or almost cause, accidents.
A safe forklift operator needs good judgement. Operators routinely estimate the weight of a load, as well as the height and width, so they can figure out if it will fit into a designated area. Making turns and moving safely around obstacles is part of the daily regimen. The driver needs to exercise common sense to find an alternate route if the primary route is too steep an incline to negotiate a heavy load.
Good hand-eye coordination and the ability to concentrate are essential so the operator can react immediately if a load looks like it might fall. S/he should follow a checklist before each use to ensure that the brakes, lights and steering are in good condition.
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