Proceed with caution

November 1, 2002
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Accounting for an average of 100 fatalities a year, lift trucks can be deadly if operated in an unsafe manner. All types of lift trucks, from side loaders and stand-up lifts to equipment that might be used in a warehouse or loading yard, are a potential hazard. A good lift truck safety program is essential for any company that utilizes these vehicles.

Most lift truck operating systems are basically the same, and safe operation is based in three areas:

1. Operator training; 2. Maintenance and inspections; 3. Pedestrians.

Training

After initial driver training, drivers should be evaluated every three years. The evaluation doesn't need to be a full refresher course, but it is good practice to give the full training.

Per OSHA, a lift truck trainer must be a competent person. The best way to ensure this is to send the trainer to lift truck trainer classes on a regular basis. Many times the best instructors are found in the ranks of the drivers.

When a person is hired to be a lift truck driver or is transferred to that position, a qualified driver must train that person just as an experienced person would train a new employee on any job. Management needs to identify those drivers who are qualified to train new drivers and provide them with resources such as lift truck rules, related procedures and use of an inspection list. Typical checklist items would be: driver inspects lift truck correctly, and driver is able to back up lift truck in a safe manner. After the new driver is trained in the field he or she would be scheduled for a lift truck training class.

Lift truck training classes are like defensive driving classes. When I attend defensive driving I already know almost everything the instructor tells me, but at the same time the driving rules are reinforced. Similar to defensive driving classes, the students may be very experienced drivers. They might come to training thinking it is a waste of time. But when they understand the instructor's role as someone to review the regulations and not necessarily a hands-on driving expert, they will be more open to the training.

Start the class by brainstorming the hazards of lift truck operation. The class will usually identify the exact hazards that you will be reviewing in the training. These hazards include:

  • Tipping over/stability;
  • Lift height/overhead obstructions;
  • Speed;
  • Steering;
  • Visibility;
  • Vehicle condition;
  • Workplace hazards: ramps, railroad tracks, slippery floors, poor lighting, congestion;
  • Loads: large or bulky, uneven weight, broken pallets, poorly stacked;
  • Pedestrians: horseplay, unaware of forklift areas, not paying attention.

    Leave the hazard list up in the room so that you can compare it to information covered in the training.

    There are many good forklift safety films available for the class to view. The film will reinforce items that you will teach. Make sure you use films of short duration (not over 30 minutes) and feel free to fast forward through sections that may not apply to your company.

    The class should then address the truck and related equipment. Use a drawing of a truck and pick out a few critical pieces of equipment. I usually speak about the forks and how they can act as a weapon if they are not kept close to the floor. Be sure to mention the hazards of placing your hands around or through the mast area.

    Maintenance and inspection

    Review the following inspection list with the class and then go out and do a hands-on inspection. Divide into groups of two or three and let each group take turns inspecting the lift truck. Here are some typical items that should be inspected:

    • Tires in good condition?
    • Oil level.
    • Lights working?
    • Lifts and tilts smoothly?
    • Brakes and parking brake.
    • Water level. NOTE: Never open a hot radiator.
    • Forks in good condition?
    • Mast and hoses in good condition?
    • Horn sounds?
    • Back-up alarm working?

    The vehicle needs to be inspected before it is used each shift. Have the inspection card on the truck so that it can be checked off and initialed by the lift truck operator.

    When a lift truck fails the inspection, it should be taken out of service. Simply hang a "Do Not Operate" tag on the steering wheel and remove the key.

    Pedestrians

    A major cause of lift truck injuries involves pedestrians. Many things contribute to this hazard, but basically it involves the behavior of the driver and the pedestrian.

    The driver must:

    • Sound the horn as the truck approaches doorways, turns and any pedestrians.
    • Give the right of way to the pedestrian.
    • Reduce speed when pedestrians are in the area.
    • If pedestrians don't move away, stop the vehicle until the way is clear.

    The pedestrian must:

    • Respect the lift trucks and be aware of the hazard they present.
    • Always stay in identified walkways.
    • Make sure that the driver sees you; move away if you are not sure.
    • Never walk under loads or try to slip between a lift truck and a stationary object.


    Testing & evaluation

    At the conclusion of the classroom training, give the students a written test. Per OSHA regs, you are obligated to verify that the student has comprehended the information provided.

    After the written test, a hands-on evaluation will take place. The driving test is a good opportunity to involve an actual hands-on driver. A student will be asked to do standard driving maneuvers such as stacking pallets, driving in reverse and moving objects from one area to another.

    When a student passes both the written and driving tests they will be certified drivers. A good practice is to issue them a license that they will have with them when operating the forklift.

    With a good program in place and ongoing training, lift truck incidents can be avoided.

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