High-risk equates to serious consequences
We know that while forklifts are very serviceable in logistics and warehouses, they are also associated with high-risk and serious consequences. Forklifts weigh tons and are solid, and their operation can introduce various types of risk into the workplace.
When we use the hierarchy of controls to assess the risk introduced by a forklift or lift truck, the first element is elimination. If we ask the question, ‘can we eliminate the use of the forklift?’ The answers is, ‘no’. The forklift has too many advantages in running a business. Not only does it prevent and reduce manual handling tasks that may be required by the worker, it lifts more weight, faster, from floor level to ceiling heights and is efficient in handling loads. And importantly, it saves the workforce from the strenuous tasks that can cause injury and are common with heavy lifting.
Could we find a substitute for a forklift? Maybe not as it is mobile and can move easy to different parts of the workplace with ease. What about isolation as a control method? In a way, this is achieved when designated pedestrian traffic areas set up, for example using bollards and barrier, which are engineering controls.
Often a number of control methods need to be implemented to manage a risk. Obviously, the forklift must be operated by a qualified operator, given that it is high-risk. Licensing is required by law and/or competencies in some jurisdictions. This is an administrative control where awareness training, and traffic management plans are implemented.
The National Safety Initiative
In recognition of the need to reduce forklift accidents, manufacturers and stakeholders participate in ‘National Forklift Safety Day’ which takes place in June. This year marked the fifth anniversary of an event that has become a voice for forklift safety. The forklift manufacturers took the opportunity to highlight the safe use of forklifts and the importance of operator training and the need for daily equipment checks.
Brett Wood, the president and CEO of Toyota Material Handling North America and the chairman of the Industrial Truck Association said, “Safety is the cornerstone of our industry and operator training is a major component in reducing worker injuries and fatalities” and stated that he was pleased that other industries were participating to support the need for operator training.
Most accident are caused by human error.
The National Safety Council and OSHA have stated that:
- 70% of all industrial accidents are caused by operator error (National Safety Council).
- Effective training may reduce accident rates by 25-30% (OSHA).
- Following forklift operator training, OSHA found a 61% improvement in operator performance scores (OSHA).
Ron Grisez, Crown’s director of product safety went on to say that, “Everyone should be a contributor to safety. It starts with the right training and that changes mindset and produces safe behaviours. It is not just about the quality of the training, but also the accessibility of the training, and not just for operators, but also for trainers, supervisors and even pedestrians.”
Why is Operator training so important?
Forklifts themselves aren’t inherently dangerous, just like roads aren’t inherently dangerous. Most forklift incidents occur through operator error or ineffective safety controls within a workplace that put pedestrians in the path of a forklift.
NIOSH states that the three most common types of injuries occur when: A forklift overturns; workers are struck, crushed, or pinned by a forklift; or workers fall from a forklift
Finding the root cause of a problem is an essential step in addressing and managing risks and ensuring safety. Forklift safety comprises two main things: operational safety and mechanical safety. As forklifts are operated in a broader environment that includes pedestrian safety, material safety, and other hazards like overhead power lines, freight, uneven surfaces, ramps and so forth.
3 Critical Factors to ensure forklift safety
Firstly, when forklift operators are properly trained, they should have awareness of the risks involved and the control methods to apply to reduce the occurrences of workplace accidents.
Even after the forklift operators are trained and ready to work, supervisors must reassess each operator periodically to ensure their skill levels are maintained. Supervisors must ensure that each operator receives the proper training on every type of equipment they operate. The operators must have read and understood the operator’s manual for the equipment.
Secondly, Forklift operator should know their forklift and be familiar with the work area.
Forklift operators must know the ins and outs of every forklift they operate, as well as, when and where the forklift can and will be used. They should conduct daily pre-operation inspections and be familiar with a forklift’s warning signs for malfunction.
Operators should also be familiar with the work and the traffic and should be assessed in the actual environment where they will be using the forklift as part of their operator safety training
Thirdly, any pedestrians that are in the area where the forklift is in operation should be aware and bear the responsibility of maintaining a safe environment.
Pedestrians must know the designated walkways, wear safety goggles and safety footwear when required, and understand that a forklift operator may not be able to see them.
It is vital that the workplace establish a culture of awareness and communication, through effective training programs and follow-up regularly ensuring a safe operation.