Safety for Forklift Operators

Forklifts are widely used every day in businesses and warehouses throughout the world. They may the difficult work of lifting and moving heavy loads easy. But each truck can create potential danger to its operator. Manipulating large loads with a relatively small truck requires a delicate system of balance. Every year in the United States alone, nearly 100 drivers are killed and approximately 20,000 are seriously injured in accidents relating to forklifts. The most common accidents involve vehicle being overturned, but there are many other types of accidents as well. As a result of the dangers of forklift accidents, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has strict guidelines to ensure operator safety.

At the heart of the OSHA guidelines is training for forklift operators. All drivers must complete a training program and they must be licensed or certified. OSHA studies have shown that there is a 70% reduction in operator errors following training. Training topics are clearly specified and are divided into two categories: truck-related topics and work-place related topics. The training must include formal instruction, practical training, and a “hands-on” evaluation of operator performance in the workplace. One important way to ensure on-going safety is that operator must be evaluated for their performance at least one time every three years. If the operator is found to be competent no re-training is required. It is important to note that workers under the age of 18 are not allowed to operate forklifts.

A forklift has some safety features built into its design. There is usually a sort of “roll cage” around the seat to protect the driver from objects falling on him. One area of confusion is the issue of seat belts for operators. Seat belts have been required since 1992 and there are retrofit restraint systems available. OSHA’s rule about seat belt use is quite clear – if the forklift truck has a seat belt or lap bar it must be used. Research has proven that operators are much safer staying in the seat in the event of a turnover accident. Drivers are often tempted to jump away from the vehicle as it falls. Numerous fatalities had resulted from this practice. Sometimes drivers try to avoid using the seat belts because they have to repeatedly stop what they are doing to attach or unhook a seat belt. Supervisors must ensure that seat belts are consistently used by drivers. One source went so far as to suggest a system that would prevent the truck from operating unless the seat belt was buckled.

Safety is a critical issue in the workplace. Everyone involved in the work process must be diligent to protect drivers, supervisors and bystanders as well as preventing damage to valuable goods. High quality training, well designed equipment, and consistent monitoring and enforcement all contribute to the reduction of injuries and damage.

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