Safer forklift operation

Safer forklift operation
10 tips to reduce the risk of accidents in the warehouse

Warehouses can be dangerous places. With narrow aisles and walkways crisscrossing everywhere, pedestrians and objects can turn up unexpectedly in the path of mobile equipment. Your forklift drivers, especially, need to be vigilant at all times to avoid accidents.

Unfortunately, forklift accidents are still all too common—every year, they rank among OSHA’s worst safety problems. And forklift collisions often result in serious injuries, or even fatalities.

To help you ensure the safest possible working conditions in your warehouse, we’ve put together these 10 essential tips:

10 tips for more safety when handling forklifts

Tip 1: Enforce Driver Training

Used improperly, forklifts can be lethal, so they must be operated ONLY by trained drivers. As spelled out in OSHA Standard 1910.178, forklift drivers must be trained and certified on each specific type of truck they operate.

But an initial safety training course is not enough, since quick learners can be quick forgetters, too. Regular refresher training is required to keep safety at the front of lift truck drivers’ minds. (We offer comprehensive forklift driver training, including train-the-trainer programs and courses tailored to our automated forklift safety systems.)

But training drivers is only part of the solution to ensure lift truck safety. You also have to prevent untrained workers from using your equipment.

Fortunately, forklift fleet management systems, like our smartphone-based ELOfleet, provide electronic access control to prevent the unauthorized use of equipment. As an added benefit, these systems also give you detailed insight into lift truck activity and fleet utilization.

Tip 2: Automate Equipment Checks

Also according to OSHA rules, a driver must inspect any forklift before using it, to ensure its safe operating condition. Any problems or defects must be reported, and trucks with significant safety issues must be taken out of service.

Here again, forklift fleet management systems deliver the solution. They provide paperless safety checklists that allow drivers to flag truck problems electronically. Then they alert maintenance personnel by text or email, and can automatically disable faulty equipment to prevent accidental use.

Tip 3: Know Your Routes

Warehouse aisles are often narrow, and visibility can be poor—especially at intersections. Drivers need to know the routes they will take and understand the potential dangers along the way. Risks may include pedestrian workers, low overhead clearance, ramp conditions, uneven surfaces, and materials left on aisle floors.

Drivers should be trained on the easiest, safest routes to avoid obstacles, pedestrians, and environmental conditions. But to deal with safety hazards that arise unexpectedly, automated safety technology can be a savior.

For example, some safety systems, like our ELOprotect solution for very narrow aisle (VNA) warehouses, automatically prevent vehicle-pedestrian collisions. (ELOprotect uses smart laser technology to monitor a lift truck’s direction of travel. If the system detects danger, it slows the truck down automatically—to a complete stop, if necessary.)

Tip 4: Load Stability—Keep It Steady

Don’t risk the nasty surprise of a wobbly load toppling over. Forklift drivers should be trained to check for stability and symmetry before picking up any load. Loads should be positioned as far back on the forks as possible, secured, and checked again before moving off. Drivers also need to be trained to avoid sudden braking and sharp turns, especially with an elevated load, which raises a truck’s center of gravity. And when a load is raised, lift truck operators must never leave the cab.

Ramps can be particularly challenging. When ascending a ramp, a forklift must be driven with its load pointing up the ramp. When descending a ramp, a loaded forklift must travel in reverse, with its forks and load pointed up the grade.

Tip 5: Know Your Limits (of Stability)

Tip-overs are a leading cause of forklift-related injuries and fatalities. So every driver needs to know the maximum capacity of the lift truck he or she is operating. Each truck’s rating plate will show the maximum weight it can lift, to a given height, with a given load center.

Keep in mind that a low center of gravity is safest—the higher a load is carried on the forks, the more unstable it becomes.

And if a lift truck does begin to tip, drivers should be trained to remain in the cab, where their seatbelt and protective cage will give them the best chance to escape injury.

Tip 6: See and Be Seen

When operating forklifts, drivers should ensure their travel path is clear and unobstructed. Generally, with loaded forks, reverse travel is mandatory, but if forward motion is required, the load should be kept as close to the ground as possible.

Drivers should also always be on the lookout for pedestrians and other vehicles, particularly near intersections, corners, staircases, and doorways. Drivers should be trained to honk their horns in these areas to alert others nearby.

Once again, safety technology can play a key role in improving driver awareness and preventing forklift collisions. For instance, object-detection systems, like our radio-based ELOshield, can alert both pedestrians and forklift drivers if they get too close—even around corners and in areas with poor visibility.

Tip 7: Slower = Safer

Forklifts can travel at high speed—as high as 25 mph—and that poses special risks. A loaded truck handles much differently than an unloaded one. It responds more slowly and its load center can shift. Always remember that slower means safer. When traveling with a load, it is safest to keep a forklift at walking speed.

Technology can help here as well. For example, radar-based systems, like our ELOspeed product, can automatically reduce a truck’s speed when it operates indoors, then switch to a higher speed outdoors. Other solutions, like our ELOshield system, offer zone-based speed control inside a warehouse.

Tip 8: Switch Off when Refueling

LPG and diesel forklifts should be refueled only—and always—in specially designated areas. The engine must be switched off, and no smoking is permitted. Just as with any gas station, any open flame or spark constitutes a grave risk.

Tip 9: Calculate the Risks of Attachments

Any forklift attachment or modification must be approved for the equipment; no “home-made” or improvised devices must ever be used. And always consider the effect that any attachments may have on a truck’s handling, capacity, and center of gravity.

Tip 10: Don’t Rush Home

Everyone looks forward to the end of the work day. But before your drivers leave at the end of a shift, make sure they are trained to park their trucks in designated areas, with forks lowered to the ground and the handbrake engaged. Keys must be removed and stored securely—or, if you have a forklift fleet management system, the driver must log off the truck.

Would you like to improve safety in your warehouse?

We’d be happy to help.

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