Why Is Safety Training for Forklift Operators So Important?

By: Maureen Paraventi, Editor

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Forklifts, also known as powered industrial trucks, are an essential part of most material handling operations. They can be found on loading docks and in warehouses, factories, distribution centers and many other work settings. They are both incredibly useful and potentially hazardous – both to the people operating them and to other workers in the vicinity. Making sure forklift operators are trained and certified and complying with safety standards can go a long way toward mitigating the hazards presented by forklifts.

From 2011 to 2017, forklift-related incidents caused the deaths of 614 employees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI)1. In each of those years, there were more than 7,000 nonfatal injuries that resulted in days away from work (9,050 in 2017 alone). The median of 13 days away from work for forklift-related cases was higher than the median of eight days for all types of cases.

Most fatalities occur when a worker is crushed by a forklift that has overturned or fallen from a loading dock. Being struck by or falling from a forklift are other frequent causes.

Riding on Forks, Speeding Result in Fatalities

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Here are several cases reported to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program that demonstrate the hazards involved with forklift use:2

  • A 36-year-old electric-line technician who was riding on the forks of a forklift died after falling to the ground and being run over by the vehicle.
  • A 41-year-old worker in Indiana was killed when the forklift he was operating fell off a loading dock and pinned him under the overhead guard. The incident investigation determined that either the forklift was too close to the outer edge of the loading dock (which crumbled) or the right front tire was caught in a large crack in the loading dock, causing the forklift to overturn. The loading dock had large cracks in the surface and was in need of extensive repair.
  • A 39-year-old punch press operator at a computer components manufacturer was crushed at her workstation by a metal scrap bin that had been propelled toward her after being struck by a forklift traveling in reverse at high speed.

What OSHA Requires in The Way of Safety Training

OSHA spells out the requirements for operator training and licensing in its 29 CFR 1910.178(l), Final Rule for Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training. Among its provisions: operator performance must be periodically evaluated and refresher training is required if the operator is observed operating the truck in an unsafe manner, is involved in an accident or near miss, or is assigned a different type of truck.

Forklift operators should be trained to:

  • Not raise or lower forks while the forklift is moving
  • Operate the vehicle at a safe speed (one that will allow a quick stop)
  • Slow down and sound the horn at cross aisles and other locations where vision is obstructed
  • Look forward and keep a clear view of the travel path
  • Not permit unauthorized personnel to ride on a forklift (if someone is authorized to ride on a lift truck, it must be done in a safe place on the vehicle)
  • On grades, tilt the load back and raise it only as far as needed to clear the road surface
  • Not drive a forklift up to anyone standing in front of a bench or other fixed object

Forklift maintenance is also covered in the standard. Forklifts are supposed to be examined at least daily (or after each shift, if they’re used around the clock) for any condition or damage that could affect safety. When defects are found, they must be reported and corrected right away.

Additionally, the standard addresses specific training requirements for truck operation, loading, seat belts, overhead protective structures and alarms.

NIOSH has forklift safety recommendations for workers:

  • Do not operate a forklift unless you have been trained and licensed
  • Use seatbelts if they are available
  • Report to your supervisor any damage or problems that occur to a forklift during your shift
  • Do not jump from an overturning, sit-down type forklift. Stay with the truck, holding on firmly and leaning in the opposite direction of the overturn
  • Exit from a stand-up type forklift with rear-entry access by stepping backward if a lateral tip over occurs
  • Use extreme caution on grades or ramps
  • Do not handle loads that are heavier than the weight capacity of the forklift
  • When dismounting from a forklift, set the parking brake, lower the forks or lifting carriage, and neutralize the controls
  • Elevate a worker on a platform only when the vehicle is directly below the work area
  • Whenever a truck is used to elevate personnel, secure the elevating platform to the lifting carriage or forks of the forklift
  • Use a restraining means such as rails, chains or a body belt with a lanyard or deceleration device for the worker(s) on the platform
  • Do not drive to another location with the work platform elevated

Safety training is vital to preventing forklift-related injuries and fatalities. By complying with regulatory requirements for training and making sure that workers follow best practices for operating forklifts, managers can greatly reduce the chances of incidents at their facilities. WMHS

 1 www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/forklifts-2017.htm

 2 www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2001-109/