How Current is Your Program?

Knowing the capabilities and/or limitations of the equipment being operated is essential to avoiding accidents.

THE safe operation of a forklift is a skill that requires the ability to anticipate accidents. When this ability is learned through "trial and error," it is only evaluated when property damage or serious injury occurs. Training does not always provide protection from accidents, but it is a safety requirement. When well designed and presented, a good training program can ferret out unsafe driving practices and provide a standard for safe forklift operation.

An effective forklift training program should include the following elements:

1. A formal classroom presentation to communicate the "academics of forklift operation,"
2. Review of an equipment inspection checklist and a class discussion about the importance of daily forklift inspections,
3. A written examination that tests the participants' retention of the information presented, and
4. A hands-on exercise requiring the participants to demonstrate basic driving and maneuvering skills.

A safety practitioner who is familiar with current safety requirements makes the ideal trainer because he or she can critically observe driving habits, provide suggestions for improvement, and answer questions based on practical experience. Certificates should be provided to recognize all participants who successfully complete the training.

Operational performance is the key to compliance with current forklift safety rules. Do you know the rules? Do you evaluate the performance of your forklift operators? Does your forklift safety program adequately address your loss prevention needs?

'The Academics'--Points to Cover

* Electric (battery powered) forklifts are for inside use; internal combustion engine lifts are for outside use.
* Solid tires are for inside; pneumatic tires are for outside.
* Forklifts are two to three times heavier than automobiles. Work areas where forklifts are used, particularly trailers, must be able to support the forklift and its load.
* Forklifts operate on a three-point suspension system: the triangle that is formed between the two front wheels and the rear counterweight.
* A forklift becomes unstable when the center of gravity is not inside the three-point suspension triangle.
* Weight, height, load position, and load stability can cause the center of gravity to shift, particularly when the forklift is traveling around corners or moving with unbalanced loads or loads that exceed the lifting capacity of the forklift.

Other characteristics that make forklifts different (e.g., they steer from the rear, they turn in small areas, forward travel vision is often obstructed, etc.) also should be reviewed.

Knowing the capabilities and/or limitations of the equipment being operated is essential to avoiding accidents. Several very good films are available that can provide an excellent introduction to a formal forklift safety training program, but they can never substitute for a knowledgeable instructor.

Daily Forklift Inspection
Knowing the condition of equipment being operated is a major safety concern. But how often are forklifts inspected before being placed into service? Does the inspection program ensure the same operational checks are made by all operators?

* Forklifts are unsafe to operate when the following parts are defective or in need of maintenance/repair:

1) Horn
2) Steering
3) Hydraulics
4) Brakes
5) Flashing yellow light (inside)
6) Forks/mast (checking for metal fatigue)

* A checklist that can ensure standardization of the inspection routine should be developed so a consistent procedure for evaluating and reporting safety concerns can be established.

* Unsafe conditions should be reported to management and required corrective action should be completed before the equipment is put back into service.

* Forklifts that become unsafe during operation should be taken out of service before an accident occurs.

* All forklift maintenance should be provided by qualified mechanics, not by forklift operators who are attempting to avoid downtime.

* All unnecessary materials should be removed from a forklift before it is put into operation.

The development of inspection procedures provides an opportunity for candid discussions between forklift operators and their supervisors. The objective is to determine all safety concerns that require maintenance and/or repair before the forklift can be safely operated. Forklift operators know when their equipment is not safe and should be encouraged to report unsafe conditions. And, once these are reported, operators must know that management will take appropriate action to ensure equipment always remains safe to operate.

Forklift Operation--Traveling
Efficient operation of a forklift requires the skill to operate the equipment safely, an understanding of its limits, a respect for what it can do, and the ability to anticipate problems.

Training individuals to operate forklifts can become quite a challenge, particularly when newly assigned operators are involved.

It is the consistent, safe use of forklifts by trained operators that improves driving skills and safe operating practices. All operators can become safe and efficient forklift operators by observing the following good driving habits:

* Never start a forklift without being in the operator's position (i.e., in the seat behind the wheel).
* Always travel with forks slightly raised and adjust as needed to travel on uneven surfaces. Never travel with the mast tilted forward.
* Keep hands, feet, and arms inside the forklift cage when traveling.
* Never give anyone a ride. Most units are not designed for more than one rider/operator.
* Pedestrians always have the right of way.
* Always sound the horn at intersections when operating inside a building or warehouse.
* Maintain safe stopping distances. Forklifts are heavy and can be difficult to stop in short distances without dumping their loads.
* Travel with load forward up ramps and backward when driving down ramps.
* Never attempt to turn while on an incline.
* Always make certain the rear wheels of trailers are properly chocked before entering the trailer to load/unload materials.

Supervisors must take time out to observe the driving habits of their forklift operators and take corrective action when improvements are needed to prevent property damage or injury. In addition, symptoms of poor driving (e.g., bent storage rack supports and/or overhead clearance bars, dented/punctured walls, etc.) need to be addressed in safety meetings. Operators must understand that careless driving should be reported and that safe forklift operation is not negotiable.

Load Handling--Material Movement
Forklift operator skills are most apparent when materials are handled and/or moved into or from storage racks or other areas where space is limited. Demonstration of these basic skills should be a required segment of all forklift training and re-certification programs.

Simple observation by the instructor will confirm that good operators can make optimal use of all of the material handling advantages provided by forklifts. Opportunities for improving operational skills can also be identified. Do you know who your best operators are?

Competition between operators in a "forklift rodeo" is an excellent method to encourage safe forklift operation. It requires each operator to perform several material handling and forklift maneuvering tasks in a limited space as quickly as possible. The winner is crowned "forklift champion" for the year.

In the absence of a formal rodeo, several safety guidelines must be followed when materials are handled:

* Always make certain the load limit of the forklift is not exceeded. Forklifts steer from the rear; when the load limit is exceeded, the rear wheels will rise and the forklift will not steer.
* Never attempt to perform two forklift operations at the same time. Always stop completely before raising or lowering a load.
* Always adjust the width of the forks to ensure even distribution of the weight being carried. It provides stability and balance for the materials being moved.
* Always travel diagonally across lateral obstructions such as railroad tracks, uneven floor surfaces, or speed bumps.
* Never permit anyone to walk or stand under an elevated load.
* Never travel with an employee on the forks or in a work platform.
* Always remove the ignition key when the forklift is not being used or when it cannot be observed.
There are many other safety practices that will prevent property damage and injury. Supervisors are responsible for making certain that good material handling practices are reinforced and that areas for improvement are addressed with additional training.

Self-Evaluation Checklist
Is your forklift safety program sufficient, and can you depend on it to reduce accidents, property damage, and injuries? Are you providing the required controls, training, and recordkeeping? Can your facilities maintenance group answer "yes" to these questions:

* Do all forklifts have keyed ignition switches?
* Have all extra seats been removed?
* Do all operators know how to conduct a forklift inspection?

Does your program require operator retraining whenever:

* An accident or near-miss occurs?
* Unsafe operating procedures are observed?
* New material handling equipment is introduced?
* Every three years, if there are no operational or equipment changes?

Other concerns for the facilities maintenance group:

* Has a preventative maintenance program been developed for all material handling equipment? Are records maintained?
* Are battery charging stations properly located and is protective equipment provided?
* Are refueling procedures audited on a regular basis?
* Are wheel chocks/jack stands provided at unloading/loading docks?
* Do conditions in work areas indicate a need to retrain equipment operators (e.g., oil spots on the floor, poor pallet placement, unstable loads in storage racks, etc.)?

If answers to these questions do not provide a comfortable feeling about your compliance efforts, additional details about safety requirements can be found in the OSHA Powered Industrial Truck Standard, 29 CFR Part 1910.178.

This article appears in the July 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the July 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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