A forklift is a powerful tool that allows one person to precisely lift and place large heavy loads with little effort. Using a tool such as a forklift, cart or hand truck instead of lifting
and carrying items by hand can reduce the risk that you will suffer a back injury.
However, there is great risk of injury or death when a forklift operator:
has not been trained in the principles of physics that allows a forklift to lift heavy loads
is not familiar with how a particular forklift operates
operates the forklift carelessly
uses a forklift that is not safe due to malfunctioning or missing parts
It is a violation of Federal law for anyone UNDER 18 years of age to operate a forklift or for anyone OVER 18 years of age who is not properly trained and certified to do so. Given the
significant number of young workers employed, especially during the summer months, OSHA believes that it is important to remind all employers of the regulations that prohibit workers
under 18 years of age from operating specified hazardous machines and equipment, including forklift trucks in non-agricultural operations.
The forklift should be checked for defects before initial use, usually by the operator before beginning a work shift. If someone else has used the forklift during a shift, it’s a good idea to
check it for defects again.
Even if you operate a forklift safely, a defect can cause or contribute to a serious accident. Any defects that would affect safety must be corrected before the forklift is returned to service.
Look at the following items for things to look for during an inspection:
Is the horn working? Sound the horn at intersections and wherever vision is obstructed.
Check out this short video on Pre-Shift Forklift Inspections. Click to View
Are there hydraulic leaks in the mast or elsewhere? These could cause slipping hazards or lead to hydraulic failure.
Are fuel connections tight and battery terminals covered? Dropping a piece of metal across battery terminals can cause an explosion.
Is there a lot of lint, grease, oil or other material on the forklift that could catch on fire?
Do sparks or flames come out from the exhaust system?
Does the engine show signs of overheating?
Are tires at proper pressure and free of damage? A tire with low pressure or a tire failure can cause a forklift to tip or fall when a load is high.
Do all controls such as lift, lower, and tilt work smoothly? Are they labeled?
Is there any deformation or cracks in the forks, mast, overhead guard, or backrest?
Are lights operating if used at night or in dark locations?
Is steering responsive? A lot of play or hard steering will reduce your control.
Do brakes stop smoothly and reliably? Sudden stops can cause tipping.
Does the parking brake hold the forklift on an incline?
Are seat belts (if equipped) working and accessible?
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.
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.
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 theSafetyBrief.com. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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