Understanding best practices and strategies for safely operating forklifts prevents accidents in the precast plant.
By Evan Gurley
Of all the industrial equipment available today, forklifts are arguably one of the most important tools for any precast plant. Whether indoors or outdoors, forklifts are vital in most precast operations and an integral part of our industry.
A forklift is a powerful tool when used by a well-trained operator, allowing workers to move and organize heavy materials in the precast plant and yard. However, forklifts can expose workers to serious hazards that can result in injuries and in some cases even death if precautions are not taken.
OSHA estimates 35,000 serious injuries and 62,000 nonserious injuries involving forklifts occur annually. Further, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 96 workers were killed in incidents involving forklifts in 2015. OSHA estimates 11% of all forklifts are involved in accidents every year and that forklift injuries, in general, account for nearly 25% of injuries in the workplace. Many workplace accidents involve overturned forklifts or people being hit or run over by forklift trucks; typically, when the forklift is in reverse.
Learning the safe way to operate a forklift and other powered industrial trucks (PIT) is a vital part of safety training for precast plants.
What is a forklift?
Forklifts are regulated under OSHA’s Powered Industrial Trucks Standard (29 CFR 1910.178). The rule includes safety requirements relating to fire protection, design, maintenance and use of forklifts and other specialized industrial trucks powered by electric motors or internal combustion engines.
In a car or truck, the front wheels steer the vehicle. However, a forklift has the steering wheels in the rear. The rear end of the forklift swings in a circle around the front wheels that support most of the load.
A forklift works on the principle of a cantilever. A load on a beam (the forks) supported by a fulcrum (the front wheels) is counterbalanced by a weight on the other end of the beam (the forklift body and counterweight built into it).
Whether the forklift will safely carry a load or tip forward can be determined by finding the moment about the fulcrum caused by the supported load. The moment equals the distance from the fulcrum to the center of gravity of the supported load multiplied by the weight of the supported load. If the moment of the forklift is greater than the load, then the forklift will safely carry the load. It is critical that all forklifts have a visible and legible capacity plate, and the operator comprehends the capacity limits of the vehicle.
As the load is raised, it becomes possible for the forklift to fall to the side as well as tip forward. The operator must consider the center of gravity of the forklift and load together. This combined center of gravity moves as the load is moved and as the forklift travels over surfaces that are rough or inclined.
Forklifts have a stability triangle. The sides of the triangle are formed by the center of each front wheel and the center of the rear wheel, or at the center of the axle, if there are two rear wheels. A vertical line extending from the center of gravity of the vehicle-load combination must be inside of the stability triangle to prevent the forklift from tipping forward, falling sideways or dropping its load.
The center of gravity of the forklift-load combination can move outside the stability triangle if:
- The load is picked up on the tip of the forks
- The load is tilted forward
- The load is tilted too far back when raised
- The load is wide
- Forklift movement causes the center of gravity to shift
These actions will have the following effects:
Proper training to ensure each operator understands the dynamics of the forklift(s) they operate is a critical component to safety in the precast plant.
OSHA’s Powered Industrial Trucks Standard (29 CFR 1910.178) establishes that each operator must be competent to operate a powered industrial truck safely, as demonstrated by successfully completing the training and evaluation outlined in the standard.
OSHA requires training programs combine both formal instruction, such as lectures and written material, with practical training and a workplace performance evaluation.
Each operator should be trained on the actual forklift that he/she will operate. As forklifts get larger, they operate differently. As you go from model to model, they operate differently. Operators should be mindful of the differences between various types and models of forklifts and lift trucks.
Forklift operators must follow safe operating rules at all times. Operators must always maintain control of the forklift, keep proper lookout and operate the forklift at speeds safe for the operation and worksite conditions.
OSHA highlights additional requirements and recommended practices in the following areas:
- Mounting and dismounting
- Steering, turning, and changing direction
- Traveling on inclines
- Safe travel practices
Mounting and dismounting
- Use three points of contact when mounting and dismounting
- Be sure that your hands are clean and dry to prevent slipping when grabbing handhold
- Grasp handhold and get a good grip. Never grab the steering wheel because it could cause you to lose balance if it moves.
- Wear appropriate footwear to prevent skids
OSHA does not have specific speed limits set for the safe operation of a powered industrial truck. However, OSHA addresses speeds in a few places:
- Under all travel conditions, the truck must operate at a speed that will permit it to be brought to a stop in a safe manner (29 CFR 1910.178(n)(8))
- The driver must slow down for wet and slippery floors (29 CFR 1910.178(n)(10))
- The driver must look in the direction of and keep a clear view of the path of travel (29 CFR 1910.178(n)(6))
- The driver must slow down and sound the horn at cross aisles and other locations where vision is obstructed. If the load being carried obstructs forward view, the driver shall be required to travel with the load trailing. (29 CFR 1910.178(n)(4))
- While negotiating turns, speed shall be reduced to a safe level by turning the steering wheel in a smooth, sweeping motion (29 CFR 1910.178(n)(15))
- Grades shall be ascended or descended slowly (29 CFR 1910.178(n)(7))
- When ascending or descending grades in excess of 10%, loaded trucks shall be driven with the load upgrade (29 CFR 1910.178(n) (7))
Steering, turning and changing direction
- Come to a complete stop before changing directions
- Use a horn or warning light to warn pedestrians when reversing
- Keep a clear view
- Look in the direction of travel. When reversing, look behind.
- Beware of limited visibility and use extreme caution when driving in reverse
- Consider the use of ground guides, rearview mirrors, spotters or other aids to increase visibility
- Do not assume pedestrians or bystanders are able to hear a backup alarm
- Allow plenty of room for pedestrians
- Never assume pedestrians are aware of the presence of heavy equipment and the intended direction of travel
- Anticipate the rear-end swing and start the turn as close to the inside corner as possible
- Plan your route and anticipate turns
- Never turn with forks elevated
- Never turn on grade
Traveling on inclines
- Drive loaded trucks forward going up a ramp
- Always drive unloaded trucks with the forks downgrade
- Never drive with the load downgrade
A powered industrial truck is considered unattended when the operator is 25 feet or more away from the vehicle, even if the forklift remains in view. A forklift is also considered unattended when the operator leaves the vehicle and it is not in view.
- Apply brake slowly and stop
- Neutralize the controls
- Set the parking brake and turn off the ignition
- Select an area to park. Do not park in an unauthorized area. Do not block an aisle or exits. Follow your company’s parking procedures.
- Do not park on grade, unless wheels are blocked
- Fully engage the parking brake
- Lower the load fully
- Neutralize the controls
- Tilt the mast forward slightly and lower the forks to the floor
- Turn the key off and stop the engine. Remove the key.
- Use three points of contact to exit the vehicle
Safe travel practices
- Always look in all directions before proceeding
- Observe all traffic regulations, including authorized plant speed limits.
- Maintain a safe distance, approximately three truck lengths from the truck ahead, and keep truck under control at all times.
- Separate forklift and pedestrian traffic as much as possible.
- Never carry passengers
- Keep arms and legs inside the confines of your vehicle
- In general, forklifts should have headlights if working at night, outdoors or in any area where additional lighting would improve visibility
- Add protective guard rails
- Add a warning track of yellow paint on the floor near dock openings
- Slow down and sound the horn at cross aisles and other locations where vision is obstructed
In case of a tipover:
- Don’t jump. Stay in the forklift.
- Hold tight to the steering wheel
- Brace feet
- Lean away from the impact
- Lean forward
Training is key
According to OSHA, most injuries and property damage from forklifts can be attributed to three causes:
- Insufficient or inadequate forklift training
- Failure to follow safe forklift operating procedures
- Lack of safety rule enforcement
For those who operate forklifts, there comes a great deal of responsibility to safely operate the equipment and prevent injury. Often, simple mistakes such as speeding or not wearing your seatbelt can lead to serious injuries. OSHA also states that 70% of forklift accidents could have been avoided with standardized training and safety procedures. An untrained forklift operator can be as dangerous as an unlicensed driver of a motor vehicle, so be sure to train all employees and enforce these rules as well as any company rules to keep all workers safe
Evan Gurley is a technical services engineer with NPCA.
1 OSHA [29 CFR 1915.152(b)]