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Protecting Visiting Pedestrians from Forklifts

By: Brian Colburn, Contributor

The definition of pedestrian from the dictionary is “somebody who is traveling on foot, especially in an area also used by vehicles.” Basically, anyone that is not riding on something is considered a pedestrian, so that is pretty simple. As I see it, there are two types of pedestrians:

Type 1: “The local pedestrian”

These are pedestrians who regularly work in an environment around forklifts. In fact, many of them may also be forklift operators at times. These people either know, or should know, about the many dangers of working around equipment weighing in at over 10,000lbs with relatively low visibility. The basic solution to keep this group safe is educating them on the dangers of forklifts, which includes enforcing the rules for staying alert and keeping a safe distance from forklifts. That may be over simplifying the solution a bit, but this is not the group I am focusing on for the purpose of this article.

Type 2: “The visiting pedestrian”

This group does not work at your location and they may not be very educated on forklift safety. They may also not be very concerned about any of the dangers your facility might present to them for various reasons. How about the semi-truck drivers that bring loads to your location; do they ever roam away from their truck and risk getting hit by a forklift? Could a local kid find their way onto your property and injure themselves? Are there areas the general public might visit that expose them to your equipment (delivery people, salespeople, customers, etc.)? It is important to look around your facility and to identify potential problem areas before bad things happen; after the accident or injury happens is too late.

In the U.S., OSHA has noted several ways you can deal with dangerous situations. You can train people to work around a danger, you can guard the danger, or you can engineer a solution that removes the danger.

Here are some suggestions for reducing the potential for injury to visiting pedestrians.

Warn them. Make sure you have warning signs; the more universal symbols, which do not require reading skills, the better. These signs should direct all visitors to the front office, shipping office or other appropriate safe area and should prohibit any unauthorized persons. The signs should also mention the danger of heavy equipment in use.

Control them. It is not a problem to allow visitors to access the front office, but keep the rest of your facility locked up. Side doors, dock doors, back doors, etc. should be locked at all times. Just to clarify, this is to keep people from coming in without permission; doors must not stop a person inside from exiting in an emergency like a fire. If a salesperson walks in the back door and gets struck by a forklift, don’t think just because you didn’t invite him in that you can’t be sued for his injury if the door was wide open or unlocked and unmarked. One area of particular concern is the loading dock. If truck drivers can walk right in and go all over the place on the docks, that is a major safety risk. Consider building a special room where the truck drivers can enter your building and pick up a phone for help, but not access the entire dock area. We work with several companies which have done this and it’s made a big impact on safety in those areas. Truck drivers then have a view of the unloading process and a place to hang out without being exposed to forklift traffic.

Equip them. Make sure “visiting” pedestrians have all the personal protective equipment that your workers in the same area are using. If you require safety glasses in your back lot, but don’t require them of truck drivers making deliveries in the back lot, then you run the risk of exposing them to danger and your company to liability. You may want to require them to wear a bright orange or yellow safety vest when anywhere near your forklifts; this makes it easier to pick them out from the surroundings and is becoming a more popular trend in many facilities.

Stay with them. Don’t leave visitors unattended no matter who they are. Make sure someone from your company is with them from the start to the completion of their visit. This way you can look out for them, make sure they don’t get into the way of your forklifts or other dangerous equipment. If this is not practical, with people like embedded contractors, then you will need to train them to the standards of your “local” pedestrians so they understand and can deal with the potential dangers. WMHS

Brian Colburn is with Forklift Training Systems, a leader in forklift safety training and forklift safety products. They can be reached at or 614-583-5749 or on the web at

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