Forklifts transformed the shipping and storage industry. Without them, the process of moving large amounts of heavy products would take much, much longer and many more people. However, even though they are an absolute necessity to the warehouse and shipping industries, forklifts are also dangerous vehicles. There are a number of hazards that are associated with forklifts, and if you aren’t careful, you can easily injure yourself and others while driving one. Here are some of the common hazards associated with forklifts and some ways of avoiding them.
Why Forklifts can be Dangerous
Forklifts can be dangerous for many of the same reasons that any vehicle can be dangerous. When driving one, it goes from being a stationary object to a mobile block of heavy metal. If the driver isn’t paying attention, it’s easy to hit someone with the forklift, and while the vehicle may not be moving as fast as a car, it’s still going to hurt and can be fatal. Forklifts can move deceptively fast for their size and weight, especially when they have no load.
Another issue is that forklifts are so heavy that even an impact at slow speeds can be dangerous. What might stop other vehicles may not stop the momentum of the heavy forklift, which means it can cause much more damage than you may think. The long forks in the front are also very dangerous, and beginner forklift drivers often don’t realize exactly how far they stick out.
There are a host of common hazards that forklift operators need to be aware of. These hazards can lead to a number of accidents, most of which are caused by carelessness.
Visibility is a major issue with forklifts. When carrying large loads on the forks, it can be very difficult for drivers to see what’s in front of them.
Improperly loading the forklift is another common issue that can lead to injury and damage. If the forklift isn’t loaded evenly, it’s very easy for the center of gravity to move too far forward, backwards, or to one side. Then the forklift becomes unbalanced and can tip forward or to the side.
While regulations do outline when forklifts are to be inspected and undergo maintenance, this doesn’t always happen due to negligence, lack of time, or some other reason. This can lead to a forklift parts breaking or malfunctioning in the middle of being used, which can cause the load to fall or be abruptly lowered.
One common hazard that has nothing to do with the forklift itself is improper surfacing or maintenance of such surfaces. A forklift with a heavy load cannot move up or down steep ramps without danger. Ramps that aren’t secured, sturdy, or in good condition may move or collapse under the weight of the forklift, leading to injury and damage.
Older forklifts that have had major issues or have begun showing their age should be retired. Continuing to use these older vehicles can lead to malfunctions in the middle of moving a load.
How to Avoid or Preempt these Common Hazards
There are several things operators and supervisors can do to help reduce the chances of these common hazards occurring. The first is proper training and adherence to training and regulations. Operators need to follow all precautions when driving, especially if they know they are in an area that sees a good amount of foot traffic. The same is true when backing up and when making turns or cornering. Forklift seat belts should be worn at all times, mirrors should always be used when backing up, etc.
Forklifts and all all forklift parts need to be checked over, maintained, and, if necessary, replaced or repaired on a regular schedule. There should be no reason to skip an inspection or maintenance cycle.
Forklifts should never be moved without first making certain that the load is balanced and secure. If the load ever starts to shift, the forklift should be stopped immediately.
No one who has not been trained and certified to operate a forklift should ever be allowed to drive one, even if it’s just to move the vehicle from one place to another without a load on it. Certified operators are the only ones who should ever be in the forklift seat.
Older forklifts or forklifts that have been malfunctioning should never be used. They should be repaired whenever possible or replaced when they can no longer be fixed.
Training and Safety Information
All forklift operators need to have been certified in the operation and maintenance of forklifts. However, a large number of forklift operators do not actually have the training needed to drive the vehicles. In fact, allowing untrained operators to drive a forklift is a very common OSHA violation.
In order to be eligible to drive a forklift, a person must be at least 18 years old and must have completed a certification program. Their employer also has to give them authorization to operate the vehicle. There are a number of different training and certification programs around the nation that employees can enroll in. However, it’s important for operators to be trained on the specific type of forklift they will be operating and not assume that they can drive any forklift just because they’ve been certified.
The following are three training courses that operators may want to look into:
- IVES Training Group – This group will work with employers to do an in-house training for forklift operators.
- ProLogistix Certification Services – A professional training company that also helps place operators with employers.
- Crane Institute of America – They offer a train-the-trainer course in which employers can learn how to train their own employees and become a certified forklift operator trainer.
Forklifts are absolutely vital in many industries, but it’s always important to remember that they are heavy equipment and can be dangerous. With the right training, attention, and caution, however, they can safely be used without incident.