A conscientious training and maintenance program could save lives.
By Mike Landis
Photos courtesy U.S. Concrete Precast Group – Phoenix
Powered industrial trucks (known universally as forklifts) are so common in today’s workplace that we sometimes take them for granted. But these machines that we rely on to do our heavy lifting can pose serious job-related hazards when not operated with safety at the forefront.
It is estimated that in the United States alone, powered industrial truck accidents cause approximately 100 fatalities and more than 36,000 serious injuries in the general and construction industries. Of all of these incidents, it is also estimated that 20 percent to 25 percent of them are caused by lack of training or inadequate training. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.178 addresses the employer responsibilities for powered industrial trucks.
Training is the key to the safe operation of a powered industrial truck. There are strict guidelines set forth by OSHA in the 29 CFR 1910.178 standards that outline the responsibilities of the employer as well as the employee in the safe operation of the lift truck. The standards state that the employer shall ensure each powered industrial truck operator is competent to operate the truck safely. With that statement, the employer must develop a comprehensive training plan which is to include formal instruction and evaluation of every forklift operator.
Training content should always consist of operating instructions, warning labels, engine or motor operation, steering and maneuvering, visibility restrictions due to material loading, fork attachment, fork operation, vehicle capacities, vehicle stability, refueling or recharging of batteries, and operating limitations. In addition, the employer should also incorporate worksite conditions into the training program – for example, the type of surface on which the powered industrial truck will operate (dirt, concrete, asphalt.) Pedestrian traffic, aisle ways, hazardous locations and ramps should all be addressed during training. It is important to ensure the operator has a clear understanding of the environment in which they will be working and the associated hazards.
The operator evaluation also needs to be completed and documented by someone who has the knowledge, training and experience in operating a powered industrial truck. Evaluations should take place in real working conditions to ensure competence of the operator.
Retraining is also addressed in the OSHA standards and is required any time one of the following occurs:
• When there is an accident or near miss involving the operator of the powered industrial truck
• When the operator has been observed doing something unsafe
• When an evaluation reveals that the operator is not operating the truck safely
• When the operator is assigned a different type of truck
• When conditions in the workplace change that could affect the safe operation of the truck
In addition to retraining, operator evaluations must be completed at least once every three years.
Understanding the safety features of the forklift are also an important part of worker safety. For example, tip overs are the leading cause of forklift accidents, so it is extremely important for operators to wear seatbelts at all times while operating the lift. Horns and beepers that sound when backing are also important safety features that never should be overlooked. OSHA’s 1910.178 (p)(1) states that any time a powered industrial truck is found to be in need of repair, defective or in any way unsafe, the truck must be taken out of service until it has been restored to safe operating condition. To stay in compliance with the safe operation of a forklift, the operator needs to conduct daily documented inspections of the lift and note any deficiencies. Daily inspections should include the following items: tires and wheels, forks, overhead guard, seatbelt, horn, back-up beepers, capacity plates, warning decals, hydraulics, steering, brakes and gauge readings. It is extremely important that all components of the lift are in good working condition.
In addition to training and daily inspections, the operator plays the most important safety role. The operator is required to know the lifting capacity of the forklift, and should understand and not exceed the center of gravity. When the center of gravity is moved outside of the stability triangle, the forklift suffers loss of steering, loss of traction and instability, increasing the potential for a tip over. Careful loading of the lift needs to be addressed every time. The operator is also responsible for maintaining safe distances from edges of ramps and overhead installations such as lighting, pipes, sprinkler systems and power lines. Any time the operator leaves the forklift unattended, the forks must be fully lowered, controls neutralized, the power shut off and the brakes engaged. If the forklift is parked on an incline, the truck’s wheels must also be chocked to prevent movement. All of these tasks are critical to the safe operation of the powered industrial truck.
Modifications and alterations to powered industrial trucks should be avoided whenever possible. Altering the lifting capacities, changing parts of the lift or adding extra parts should not be done unless approved in writing by the manufacturer of the lift. Converting from gasoline to liquefied petroleum (LP) gas is allowed provided the conversion equipment is approved. It’s always best to use the lift in the way it was intended by the manufacturer. It is also important to keep strict maintenance schedules on all forklifts. Repair of defective items, maintenance of engine components, fueling and keeping the truck clean are all important parts of forklift safety.
Forklifts do the heavy lifting in a plant, but they can be extremely dangerous. It is imperative that all operators be trained and qualified to operate the truck. A qualified trained operator is the key to working safely with this type of equipment. Employers dedicated to safety and training will help reduce the amount of injuries and accidents that occur involving powered industrial trucks. Help do your part as an employer and ensure that operators are qualified to run these machines. Doing your part will reduce injuries and could help save lives!
Mike Landis is the environmental/safety manager at U.S. Concrete Precast Group – Phoenix.