Course 619 - Materials Handling Safety

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Mechanical Handling

hazardous atmosphere

Mechanical devices and machines are necessary for many material handling operations. Mechanical alternatives to manual handling of materials should also be used whenever possible to minimize lifting and bending requirements. These techniques include use of:

  • dollies,
  • forklifts,
  • hoists,
  • cranes,and
  • other mechanical devices.

Employees must be trained in the proper use and limitations of the equipment they operate. This includes knowing how to effectively use equipment such as forklifts, hoists, and slings.

A worker unloads a pallet of product without realizing he is not yet backed up to the loading dock.

Mechanical equipment should always be used according to the manufacturers' manual which are valuable safety references for a variety of material handling equipment. Every effort should be made to keep the manuals available and to comply with the manufacturer’s instructions, specifications, and limitations.

Employees should avoid overloading equipment when moving materials mechanically by letting the weight, size, and shape of the material being moved dictate the type of equipment used. Rated capacity should be displayed on each piece of equipment.

To avoid the necessity for manual handling of materials, automation (particularly for new processes) and mechanization (such as use of a forklift) should be considered. But beware of new hazards from automation or mechanization, and remember that an automated plant still needs cleaning, maintenance, etc.

1. Mechanical equipment should always be _____.

a. used according to the manufacturer's manual
b. sized greater than the anticipated use
c. inspected and checked at least quarterly
d. OSHA approved and certified as compliant

Forklift Operations

Forklifts need to be suited to the work and have properly trained operators.

Commonly used types include:

High lift trucks, counterbalanced trucks, cantilever trucks, rider trucks, forklift trucks, high lift trucks, high lift platform trucks, low lift trucks, motorized hand trucks, pallet trucks, straddle trucks, reach rider trucks, high lift order picker trucks, motorized hand/rider trucks, and counterbalanced front/side loader lift trucks.

class II PIT
class II PIT
class III PIT
class IV PIT
class V PIT
class VI PIT
class VII PIT

A single type of truck can only be described by calling it by all of its characteristics, (e.g., a high lift, counterbalanced, sit down rider truck).

2. What two criteria should be met prior to using forklifts?

a. Inspected forklift and operator 16 years or older
b. A Suitable forklift and trained operator
c. Approved operation during normal work hours
d. Correct forklift and approved task


The hazards commonly associated with powered industrial trucks vary for different vehicle types, makes and models. All forklifts have a hazard designation assigned to them that tells whether they are suitable for use in certain kinds of hazardous atmospheres. You can find the designation on the forklift’s load capacity plate. The table below explains the designations.

Type Built-in Safeguards Against Fire Hazards
D (Diesel forklift) Minimum acceptable safeguards
DS D + additional safeguards for fuel, exhaust, and electrical systems
DY DS + all electrical equipment enclosed plus temperature-limiting features
E (Electrical forklift). Minimum acceptable safeguards
ES E + safeguards to prevent sparks and limit surface temperatures
EE ES + all electric motors and equipment are completely enclosed
EX E,ES, or EE + can be used in flammable vapor or dust atmospheres
G (Gasoline forklift) Minimum acceptable safeguards
GS G + additional safeguards for fuel, exhaust and electrical systems
LP (Liquid Petroleum) G + minimum safeguards for liquid petroleum gas
LPS LP + additional safeguards for fuel, exhaust and electrical system

3. Which of the following forklifts will operate using diesel fuel and have additional safeguards for fuel, exhaust, and electrical systems?


Selecting the Right Forklift for the Environment

hazardous atmosphere

The hazards commonly associated with powered industrial trucks vary for different vehicle types, makes and models. All forklifts have a hazard designation assigned to them that tells whether they are suitable for use in certain kinds of hazardous atmospheres. You can find the designation on the forklift’s load capacity plate. The table below explains the designations.

Operating a forklift in an environment where chemicals or other substances are present can be hazardous. Use only forklifts that are designed for operations under those conditions.

To select the appropriate forklift, you must know the type of location (Class) in which the forklift will be operated, the name of the chemical or substance and how likely it is that the hazardous condition would be present (Division).

Below are the various classes of locations in which a forklift may be used:

  • A Class I location contains flammable gases or vapors.
  • A Class II location contains combustible dust.
  • A Class III location contains easily ignited fibers.
  • An Unclassified location is a general storage, commercial or industrial location without the hazard conditions described above.

Below are the two divisions used to define how likely a hazard is present:

  • A Division I location has a high potential for the hazard to be present.
  • A Division II location has a lower potential for the hazard to develop.

4. Where can you find the hazard designation on a forklift?

a. On the manufacturer's sticker
b. On the inspection form
c. On the load capacity plate
d. On the front steering column

Selecting the Right Forklift (Continued)

To select the right forklift for each class and division, use the table below. Look in the first column of the table for the hazard class of the material. Find the row that has the chemical or substance handled. Choose the second or third column based on the division that represents the exposure condition.

Hazard Classification Acceptable Forklift Designations
Class 1: Flammable gases or vapors are or may be present in quantities sufficient for explosion or ignition. Division 1: Condition exists continuously, intermittently, or periodically under normal operating conditions. Division II: Condition may occur accidentally (e.g., puncture of a storage drum)
Examples: Acetylene, Acetaldehyde, Butadiene, Cyclopropane, Diethyl ether, Ethylene, Ethylene oxide, Isoprene, Propylene oxide, Hydrogen (or gases or vapors equivalent in hazard to hydrogen, such as manufactured gas), Unsymmetrical dimenthyl hydrazine (UDMH) Forklift use prohibited DY, EE, EX (also DS, ES, GS, LPS) if the only exposure is sealed containers or liquefied or compressed gases in containers
Examples: Acetone, Acrylonitrile, Alcohol, Ammonia, Benzine, Bensol, Butane, Ethylene dichloride, Gasoline, Hexane, Lacquer Solvent, Natural gas, Naphtha, Propane, Propylene, Styrene, Xylenes, Vinyl acetate, Vinyl chloride EX DY, EE, EX (also DS, ES, GS, LPS) if the only exposure is sealed containers or liquefied or compressed gases in containers
Class II: Combustible dust is present Division I: Explosive or conductive mixture may be present under normal conditions or where equipment failure can lead to both this condition and arching or sparking. Division II: Explosive mixture not normally present but where deposits of dust may cause heat rise in electrical equipment.
  • Aluminum, magnesium, and their commercial alloys
  • Other metals of similarly hazardous characteristics
  • Forklift use prohibited Forklift with electrical enclosures manufacturer approved where magnesium, aluminum or aluminum bronze may be present
  • Carbon black
  • Coal or coke dust
  • EX Forklift manufacturer approved for this location.
    Other combustible dusts EX DY, EE, EX
    Examples: Baled waste, Cocoa fiber, Cotton, Excelsior, Hemp, Istle, Jute, Kapok, Oakum, Sisal, Spanish moss, Synthetic fibers, Tow DY, EE, EX DS, DY, ES, EE, GS, LPS (Type E may continue to be used if used previously at this location.)
    Unclassified Locations: Piers and wharves inside and outside general storage, general industrial or commercial properties EX D, E, G, LP (more protective designations may also be used)

    5. Class I/Division I forklift operation is prohibited where continuous or periodic exposure to _____ is possible.

    a. Acetylene
    b. Vinyl chloride
    c. Ignitable fibers
    d. Aluminum dust


    Pedestrians and Forklifts - Washington State L&I

    Precautions and best practices while traveling in a forklift include:

    • The most basic rule for traveling is that you maintain control of your forklift at all times.
    • Operate a forklift only while in the seat or operator’s station.
    • Never start it or operate the controls while standing beside the forklift.
    • Never allow passengers unless the forklift was designed for a passenger.
    • Do not put any part of your body between the uprights of the mast or when traveling, outside of the forklift frame.
    • Never drive with wet or greasy hands. If necessary, keep a towel or rag handy at all times.
    • Whether loaded or empty, carry forks and platforms on lift trucks as low as possible. This lowers the center of gravity and reduces the possibility of overturning the truck or dumping the load.
    • traveling
    • Always look in the direction of travel and keep a clear view of the travel path. Travel in reverse if the load blocks your view.
    • Always observe posted speed limits (usually 5 mph) at your workplace. A forklift should not be driven faster than a quick walking pace.
    • Keep a distance of at least three forklift lengths between you and any forklift traveling in front of you.
    • Do not pass a forklift traveling in the same direction if it is at a blind spot, intersection or other dangerous location.
    • Never drive a forklift up to anyone in front of a bench or other fixed object.
    • Never allow anyone to walk or stand under the elevated forks—even if the forks are not carrying a load.
    • Check that there is adequate clearance under beams, lights, sprinklers, and pipes for the forklift and load to pass.
    • Never engage in stunt driving or horseplay.

    6. What is the usual posted speed limit for forklifts?

    a. No limit
    b. 5 mph
    c. 10 mph
    d. 15 mph

    Driving on Ramps and Grades


    Forklift operators should follow certain general rules of the road when traveling on ramps and other inclines. Traveling up and down ramps and grades can be quite dangerous because the forklift can more easily tip over. Be sure to follow these safety practices when operating the forklift on ramps and grades:

    • Always look in the direction of travel.
    • Never turn on a ramp or incline. Turn prior to the ramp or incline to place forks in proper direction.
    • Keep a safe distance from the edge of a ramp.
    • Do not travel on ramps with slopes or other conditions that exceed the manufacturer's recommendation.
    • When traveling with a load, the load should point up the incline, regardless of direction of travel.
    • When traveling without a load, the forks should point downgrade, regardless of direction of travel.

    Driving onto Trucks, Trailers, and Railroad Cars

    Check out this video to see what happens when the truck is not chocked.
    Click to View

    Forklifts are often driven onto trucks, trailers, or railroad cars over a dock board (also known as a bridge plate) at loading docks. If the truck, trailer or car is not secured to the dock or otherwise chocked, it may move forward. The dock board can then fall between the trailer and the dock as the forklift crosses it.

    You can secure wheel chocks with chains at each loading dock bay and tell truck drivers that they must place them in front of the rear wheels. Another way of securing the trailer is to use a vehicle restraint system mounted to the dock that clamps onto a bar below the trailer as it backs into place. This system will signal when the restraint is engaged or if there is a problem.

    The pavement at some loading docks slopes downhill toward the loading dock. This is not a substitute for chocking wheels.

    Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the Loading dock safety is difficult to manage because of constantly moving vehicles, people and materials. Listen to this podcast for tips on improving safety at your loading dock.

    7. Which of the following is TRUE when driving a forklift on a ramp?

    a. Travel backward down the ramp when loaded
    b. Travel forward down the ramp when loaded
    c. Travel forward up the ramp when empty
    d. Travel backward down the ramp when empty

    Driving onto Trucks, Trailers, and Railroad Cars (Continued)


    Sometimes a trailer is left at a loading dock without the tractor attached. Use trailer jacks to prevent the trailer from up-ending when a forklift drives to the front of the trailer to load or unload. Here are some additional loading and unloading procedures:

    • Inspect the floor of the trailer to be sure that it will support the forklift and load.
    • Ensure that the height of the entry door is adequate to clear the height of your vehicle, taking into consideration the height of the loading platform.
    • Drive straight across the bridge plates when entering or exiting the truck trailer or railroad car.
    • Use dock lights and headlights when working in a dark trailer.
    • Sound the horn when entering or exiting the trailer.
    • In determining the capacity of the trailer floor to support a forklift, consider various factors, including floor thickness and cross-member spacing or unsupported floor area. In general, the larger the unsupported area, the lower the forklift capacity the trailer will have for the same floor thickness.
    • Never use the forklift to open railroad car doors unless:
      • it has a device designed for that purpose
      • the operator is trained in the use of the device
      • all other employees stand clear
    • Keep a safe distance from the edge of a loading dock or a ramp. The edge must be painted yellow or with alternating yellow and black diagonal stripes to warn of both the fall hazard and the potential to be crushed by a trailer backing into the dock.
    • bull rail
    • A portable dock board must be secured in place to prevent it from moving. Some boards have pins that are inserted into the sides and project below the board. This prevents the board from moving toward the dock or toward the trailer. To prevent crushed fingers and make for safe handling, a portable dock board must also have handholds or lugs that allow the forklift to pick it up.
    • Some loading docks have a bull rail that prevents a wheel from slipping off the sides of ramps or edges of the dock where a forklift would not have to cross to enter a trailer.
    • railroad
    • Any part of the dock edge that is four feet or more above the adjacent surface must have a standard guardrail. Removable rails (such as chain rails) and posts can be used at the place where trucks or trailers will be loaded.
    • Use rail mounted chocks to secure a railroad car. Also, prevent anyone from moving the rail car while the forklift is working. A blue sign with the word “STOP” attached to the track is one way of signaling that the car must not be moved. A special attachment must be used if a forklift is used to open a rail car door.

    8. What do some loading docks have installed to prevent a wheel from slipping off the sides of ramps or edges of the dock where a forklift would not have to cross to enter a trailer?

    a. Laser position sensors
    b. A safety watch
    c. Painted yellow and black striped lines
    d. A bull rail

    Loading and Unloading the Forklift

    Because of the wide variety of equipment used and the different kinds of stock and materials handled, each company must form additional rules for loading and unloading to fit the needs of its facilities. Know the maximum load that each truck can carry safely; do not overload it. An overloaded truck will not operate in a safe manner.

    Answer the following questions and check the load before you pick it up.

    Common pallet stacking patterns
    Click to Enlarge
    • Is it stable or will parts slide or fall during transit? Secure it as necessary. The illustrations to the right show some common pallet stacking patterns.
    • Do the dimensions and weight of the load fall within the capacity rating of the forklift at the highest elevation and maximum extension you will handle the load? If not, can you break the load into smaller parts?

    When you pick up the load:

    • Move squarely into position in front of the load.
    • picking up
    • Make sure your view is not obstructed.
    • Do not permit anyone to stand under or too close to a load that is being hoisted or lowered.
    • Position the forks wide apart to keep the load balanced.
    • Drive the forks fully under the load.
    • Tilt the mast backward slightly to stabilize the load and lift. Check the destination before you place the load.

    9. What should the forklift operator do to stabilize the load and lift?

    a. Tilt the mast back up to 30 degrees
    b. Tilt the mast back slightly
    c. Tilt the mast forward slightly
    d. Tilt the mast forward up to 30 degrees
    Watch this short video demonstrating what can happen with a high-center unstable load.
    Click to View

    Loading and Unloading the Forklift (Continued)

    Check out the destination:

    • Is the destination flat and stable—or, will the load rock, tilt or lean?
    • Never place heavy loads on top of light loads.
    • Observe maximum stacking quantities and orientation if printed on cartons.
    • Do you know the load bearing capacity of your rack or storage loft destination?
    • Are rack legs or support members bent or disconnected? The load bearing capacity of a damaged rack is unknown. Wait until the damaged component has been replaced before loading.
    • Are racks arranged back to back with a stock behind where you will place the load? Someone may need to be in the next aisle to control access while you place the load.
    • placing load
    • Are wooden stringers or decking laid between front and rear rack beams in good condition? They may support the load if the pallet is not properly placed on both front and rear rails.
    • If you are stacking, are other pallets in the stack in good condition and capable of supporting the load in addition to what they are already supporting?

    Tilt the mast backward slightly to stabilize the load and lift. Check the destination before you place the load.

    • Move squarely into position in front of the rack or stack where the load will be placed.
    • When ready to place the load, tilt the mast to level. Only tilt forward when the load is over the spot where it will be placed.
    • Lower the forks and back away.
    • Visually verify that the load is stable.

    10. Each of the following is an important consideration when checking the destination of a forklift load, EXCEPT _____.

    a. Check that heavy loads are always placed on light loads.
    b. Verify the load bearing capacity of racks or storage lofts.
    c. Check that the destination is flat and stable.
    d. Make sure rack legs or support members are not bent or disconnected.

    Leaving a Forklift Unattended

    Do not leave the forklift unattended.
    Click to Enlarge

    A forklift is unattended when it is not in view of the operator or if it is in view, the operator is 25 feet or more away.

    If you leave a forklift unattended:

    1. Lower the forks to the ground.
    2. Set the controls to neutral.
    3. Turn off the power.
    4. Set the brakes.
    5. If the forklift is on an incline, block the wheels.
    6. If you dismount a forklift and stay within 25 feet, you must at least lower the forks to the ground, set the controls to neutral, and set the brakes.

    Lifting and Lowering People

    Lifting or lowering a person on forks or a pallet can result in a fall injury or fingers caught in moving parts of the mast.

    lifting people

    No worker should be allowed to be lifted while standing on the forks or on a pallet lifted by the forks. The image to the right is a good example of what should never be done. These workers in the photo are lucky they did not get hurt or killed.

    If you want to use a forklift to raise an employee to an elevated position, use a platform or structure specifically built for this purpose that meets the conditions described below.

    • The platform must have standard guardrails which include a top rail 36" to 42" above the platform (39" to 45" on a construction site), midrail and toeboard. It must also prevent contact with chains and shear points on the mast.
    • The platform must be securely attached to the forks such as by a clamp or chain.
    • Check with the forklift manufacturer to verify that the hydraulic system will not allow the lift mechanism to drop faster than 135 feet per minute in the event of a system failure. Identify the forklift as approved for use with the platform.
    • Lock or secure the tilt control to prevent the boom from tilting.
    • A forklift operator must be at the normal operating position when lifting and lowering the platform. The operator must be near the forklift while a worker is elevated.
    • Except to inch forward/backward or maneuver at low speeds, do not move the forklift between two points when a worker is on the platform.

    Order picker forklifts are designed to allow the operator to be lifted along with the controls to an elevated location. However, if the operator station does not have standard guardrails on all open sides, then the operator must wear a full body harness with lanyard attached to a manufacturer approved anchor.

    11. Which of the following is NOT TRUE about lifting people with a forklift?

    a. The boom tilt control must be locked
    b. Lift platforms must have proper guardrails
    c. Only one person may ride on each fork
    d. The platform must be securely attached to forks

    Traffic Patterns


    The first step to prevent powered industrial truck accidents in a facility is to establish a traffic pattern. This is management’s responsibility.

    Management must ensure:

    • Aisles are well-lighted and free from obstructions.
    • Floors are sound and in good shape. Wet, oily or icy surfaces should be avoided. Clean them up as soon as possible.
    • Aisles are marked clearly. When they are wide enough for two trucks to pass each other, the center of the aisle and the two extreme edges should be marked with painted lines. In some plants, the aisles are wide enough for two truck lanes and a pedestrian lane.
    • Do not allow for two trucks to run side by side in the same direction.
    • A truck must never pass another truck at an intersection, blind spot or other dangerous location. In areas where there is high concentration of truck traffic, it may be best to have one-way aisles.
    • Speed limits are set and strictly enforced. A few speed limit signs at strategic points serve as constant reminders to truck operations.
    • Prominently display stop signs at all crossings. These may be regular stop signs or signs painted or set into the floor. You can also use stripes and discs as indicators.
    • Each plant must set up its own rules regarding traffic control, but a required four-way stop at every intersection is a wise way to avoid collisions. Plants that have adopted the four-way stop requirements have found that no significant time is lost by this extra precautionary measure.

    Workplace Conditions

    workplace conditions

    Workplace surface and overhead conditions are an important part of safe lift truck operation. Operating surfaces must be strong enough to support the forklift, its load and its operator. They must also be free of holes, grease, oil or obstructions that could cause the lift truck to skid, bounce, and/or possibly tip over.

    Workplace surface and overhead conditions and factors to consider when traveling include:

    • Slippery Conditions: There is a danger of skidding when traveling on oil, grease, water or other spills. A forklift could tip over when traveling on ice, snow, mud, gravel and uneven areas.
    • Obstructions and Uneven Surfaces: There is a danger of tip over when traveling over obstructions, holes and bumps.
    • Floor Loading Limits: There is a danger of the floor collapsing if it’s unable to support the weight of the forklift, load, and operator.
    • Overhead Clearance: There is a chance of damage to lights, stacks, doors, sprinklers and pipes. Damage to the load may also occur, and the forklift may tip over when traveling and hitting an overhead obstruction.

    12. Which of the following traffic pattern practices should be followed?

    a. Forklifts should pass on the right.
    b. Forklifts should not run side by side.
    c. Speed limits should be based on common sense.
    d. Forklift operation rules should be identical in all workplaces.

    Check your Work

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    Optional Video - How to Operate a Forklift

    Check out this great video by Nissan on basic forklift operations.

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