Plavecsky's Ponderings By Jim Plavecsky
by Jim Plavecsky
May 5th, 2015

Forklift Safety Training: Go Above and Beyond

Recent events cause me to ponder safety in our manufacturing plants. The loss of a dear friend and co-worker has me wondering what can be done to prevent this tragedy from happening to others. A quick study of forklift accidents and fatalities has hit me like a cold slap in the face.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there is a forklift-related fatality in the U.S. every three to four days, with somewhere between 80 to 100 deaths per year. There are approximately 850,000 forklifts in the U.S., and 11 percent of them will be involved in some type of accident each year. Imagine if someone told you that each year you have a 1-in-10 chance of being involved in an automobile accident. It sure would make you think much more about safety each time you got behind the wheel.

Now, a forklift is much more difficult to maneuver than a car. Also, the main purpose of a forklift is transporting a heavy object from one position to another within a busy work environment. Lifting and moving and lowering the payload to a new position with many activities occurring all around you is no easy task. It takes a high degree of skill and mental alertness. The forklift driver’s surroundings are often a dynamically changing environment, with people walking around and employees performing many operations at the same time. It’s a recipe for disaster unless extreme caution is taken — not only by the forklift driver but also everyone working or maneuvering in the immediate vicinity of the forklift.

According to OSHA, 42 percent of fatalities are caused by the vehicle tipping over. There are quite a few YouTube videos showing actual accidents, and it’s obvious that a forklift is susceptible to tipping, especially if it’s turning while carrying a payload lifted high overhead.

Often when a forklift tips, the natural tendency is for the driver to jump out — and this is the wrong thing to do. By leaving the vehicle, the driver can be crushed by the overhead guard or by falling materials. It’s best to stay inside the vehicle. The second major fatality is being crushed between the vehicle and a surface (25 percent); the third is being crushed between two vehicles (11 percent); and the fourth is being struck or run over by a forklift (10 percent). Combined, these four accidents account for 88 percent of all forklift-related fatalities.

OSHA requires forklift drivers to receive safety training, but perhaps manufacturers should offer periodic training above and beyond what OSHA demands. In addition, everyone working within a manufacturing facility where forklifts are operating should be constantly looking out for forklifts. Some of the videos on the Internet of actual accidents show workers getting hit by forklifts from behind without knowing what was coming. The forklift driver was obviously concentrating on something else or he didn’t see the person. Just as we are taught in automobile driver’s education to drive defensively, we should also “walk defensively” through any manufacturing facility and constantly be on the lookout for dangerous conditions.

Now, I will finish with the one statistic that alarmed me the most. Based upon data collected by OSHA and the Industrial Truck Association, 90 percent of all forklifts will be involved in some type of accident within the span of their useful life. This means that forklift manufacturing companies should be doing everything possible to make forklifts as safe as possible by improving safety features whenever possible.

So, a word to all manufacturers. Please go above and beyond what OSHA requires when it comes to forklift safety training. And to those working or visiting manufacturing facilities, always think defensively as you are walking or working within range of a moving forklift.

I recently came across a banner for sale on the Internet that perhaps every manufacturer should have hanging in their facilities as a constant reminder of how precious our most valuable resource is to us… our people.

It simply says “SAFETY IS JOB #1.”

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7 comments
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  1. Great safety tips for forklift drivers. Even experienced operators could use this advice. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for posting this! I agree, it’s important for workers to learn how to safely use a forklift. That would make it much safer for all workers at a site be able to do their jobs with less risk of injury. It’s interesting how common forklift accidents are. I didn’t realize that 25 percent of forklift fatalities involves a worker being crushed between a forklift and another vehicle. That’s a really good reason to train people how to work safely around them and other construction machinery.

  3. Knowledge is power. Thanks for this post! The numbers on well abandonment are useful. If people had better data to tell them more about their oil business, they’d be more successful.

  4. Forklifts have always seemed really dangerous to me. It’s probably because I’m such a reliable worrier. I always imagine the worst-case scenario playing out.

  5. I had an employee go through OSHA training and guidelines before operating any heavy machinery. It is such a good resource to learn how to properly drive a lift. Thanks for sharing your tips and recommendations. I find this to be a great resource for people looking for Safety tips in the industrial machinery space.

  6. Safety should be the primary concern of our truck drivers. We have to make sure that they know their responsibilities while hitting the road. Let’s help them through this kind of training.

  7. Prevention will always be better than the cure. Experienced or a newbie operator, forklift operation safety is still important. Accidents won’t warn you when they will happen, but you can prevent them from happening.

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