Warehouse Safety Tips for Forklifts
By taking a few simple steps, you can mitigate many of the risks associated with operating forklifts.
Forklifts are incredible machines. They’re capable of maneuvering large payloads in almost any type of environment. That makes them essential to many modern workplaces. However, when they’re used improperly or operated by untrained workers, forklifts can be downright dangerous.
Warehouse safety is crucial for the full optimization of operations, and prioritizing forklift safety allows for a safer work environment for everyone. To minimize the odds of a forklift accident in your workplace, keep the following tips in mind.
Training Is a Must
Proper forklift training and certification can do wonders to prevent warehouse accidents. When workers are adequately trained, they understand the inherent risks associated with these powerful tools and what they can do to mitigate them.
Training isn’t just a good idea – it’s the law. OSHA requires all forklift operators to be fully trained and certified before ever using a forklift at work. Employers are legally obligated to provide this training free of charge, and failing to properly train employees can result in expensive fines and penalties. Even if you manage to sidestep formal consequences, untrained workers tend to be less efficient and more prone to accidents. Make training a priority before implementing any other forklift tips.
(Learn about The Basics of Forklift and Heavy Equipment Training)
Conduct Daily Equipment Inspections
Many of the most common forklift accidents stem from equipment malfunctions. A daily inspection of your forklift can be incredibly effective at preventing these accidents from happening.
At the start of every shift, forklift operators should perform a visual inspection of their equipment. A close look at the lift’s forks and locking pins, wheels, tires, engine, transmission, and radiator can help verify that everything is operating as it should. After starting the engine, workers should perform additional operational inspections of the instrument panel, hydraulics, brakes, and steering.
If this all sounds like a lot to remember, try using a daily forklift inspection checklist to guide your review.
Never Assume Forklift Operators Can See You
This tip is for pedestrians walking through the warehouse.
When you spot a forklift moving throughout the space, never assume the forklift operator knows you’re there. While you’d hope that the operator has enough situational awareness and vigilance to prevent collisions, mistakes can happen. Forklifts are huge machines that can do serious harm to the average pedestrian.
Even if you feel you have the right of way in a given situation, it’s always best to wait for the lift to make its way past you. This ensures you’ll avoid an accident and keep safe in the warehouse at all times.
(Learn more about Forklift Safety for Pedestrians)
Wear Your Seatbelt
Some forklift operators take safety for granted after getting some experience behind the wheel. They may even avoid wearing their seatbelt while driving the lift, claiming that they’re too restrictive or that buckling and unbuckling them constantly is annoying.
As with other types of vehicle accidents, wearing a seat belt is the best way to minimize injuries and save lives. The safest place for an operator to be in the event of a rollover is strapped into their seat. Investigations into forklift deaths virtually always list seatbelt recommendations for preventing future fatalities, so make sure that operators are buckled in whenever the forklift is in motion.
Provide a Clear, Well-Lit Work Environment
Many of the challenges forklift operators face are due to unsuitable warehouse environments. When workers can’t see far in front of their forks or can’t maneuver easily between rows, accidents are practically inevitable.
To minimize the risk of a forklift accident in your warehouse, work with your operators to understand what they need from the environment. Perhaps there’s a shadowy corner that makes it difficult to see where they’re going, or a crowded workspace that causes frequent traffic jams between forklifts and pedestrians.
By providing targeted solutions to these all too common warehouse challenges, you can help create a safer work environment for everyone.
Make a Plan for Preventative Maintenance
No piece of equipment can operate seamlessly 100% of the time. Breakdowns are inevitable.
These breakdowns can be time-consuming and even start to cost you money and productivity. In the worst case scenario, forklift breakdowns can injure workers.
Preventative maintenance is the solution to this issue. Check your manufacturer’s guide for maintenance recommendations. Follow this advice to the letter and you’ll see less downtime and fewer forklift accidents.
(Find out How to Create a Maintenance Program for Manufacturing Facilities)
Educate Pedestrians on Forklift Awareness
Every employee should feel responsible for reducing the risk of a forklift accident, regardless of their role in the warehouse. Operators and pedestrians must work together to be aware of potential collisions.
While forklift operators receive thorough training about interacting with pedestrians, the inverse isn’t always true. If your organization hasn’t provided forklift awareness training for non-operators, consider setting up a training session. Developing a system of hand signals can help operators and pedestrians communicate their intentions and avoid confusion, but only if everyone has been briefed on that system.
(For the specifics, check out A Primer on Forklift Hand Signals)
Never Exceed Forklift Weight Capacity
Most forklift operators are tempted to exceed their machine’s weight capacity at one point or another. When you’re on the tight deadline or need to move just a little more product, it’s understandable that you’d want to push the limit to get things done more quickly.
This is always a bad idea, no matter the circumstances. Forklifts work like a seesaw at a playground - overload one side and you’ll see the other end tip towards the sky. This can result in a tip over, spilled loads, forklift damage, as well as injuries.
Forklift operators are tasked with making a number of important decisions each day, but exceeding weight capacity should never be one of them.
Drive in the Opposite Direction When the View Is Obstructed
OSHA requires forklift operators to look in the direction of their path of travel. While this seems like common sense, obstructions can make this challenging. In those cases, driving backward is the best solution. This allows operators to move freely without the payload obstructing their view of the path of travel.
Of course, driving backward for long periods of time can put excessive strain on the operator’s spine and neck, so use this technique only when necessary.
Keep Loads at Safe Transport Height
After loading a forklift, it’s important to position your forks at a safe height before traveling through the warehouse. Your goal should be to keep the payload at the lowest height possible. The lower your forks, the more stable the load tends to be. When a load moves outside the “triangle of stability,” your risk of a tip-over increases dramatically.
Keeping your load at a safe transport height can also help you avoid obstacles as you maneuver. This reduces the chances of collisions and helps you avoid excessive wear on your forks.
Use Your Horn
The forklift horn is one of your best tools to prevent collisions in the warehouse. Make it a policy to sound your forklift horn any time you reach an intersection or crosswalk – even if there’s nobody else around.
Alerting folks to your presence is always a good idea, and staying in the habit even when you’re working in a mostly empty warehouse is just smart. It’s also smart to use your horn when exiting an aisle. Get used to using your horn and you’ll see your efforts pay off in spades.
While you might be tempted to give your colleagues a lift on your lift, this is generally a bad idea. Unless there is a second seat designated for passengers, it’s incredibly unsafe to ride on a lift. Their weight can throw off the forklift’s center of gravity and lead to tip-overs. Even if you manage to avoid an accident, passengers who aren’t properly seated and strapped in may fall off and under your vehicle.
Wear Proper Attire
Proper personal protective equipment can go a long way to keeping forklift operators safe on the job. Avoid wearing loose clothing, as it can get caught and lead to accidents. Opt for safety boots, hard hats, and high-visibility vests for best results.
While this might seem like common sense, you’d be surprised at how many operators climb into their forklifts with clothes that introduce new hazards instead of mitigating them.
Be Prepared for Anything
Forklift operation comes with a number of challenges, which is why it’s smart to be prepared for just about anything. No matter how experienced you might be, following these tips each day can really help improve the safety of your warehouse. By demonstrating your commitment to workplace safety, you help to foster a safer work environment for everyone. When we all do our part, everyone benefits.
Written by Tom Wilkerson
Tom Wilkerson is the President and CEO of CertifyMe.net, CertifyMeOnline.net, AerialLiftCertification.com, and ForkliftCertification.com. Tom and his team are committed to sharing safety best practices and the latest industry tips for avoiding accidents and injuries on the job.