Given the regularity of forklift injuries and fatalities recorded every year across the industry, forklift safety awareness is of critical significance. An injury to an employee upsets staff morale and ultimately productivity, while damages to equipment translate into unwanted downtime, thus negatively affecting the company’s bottom line.    

According to the Global Industrial Truck Association, 90% of all forklifts will be involved in some type of accident during their useful life. That is a staggering statistic. With so much power and likely danger at operators’ fingertips, forklift safety should be a principal consideration for everyone who is involved in the daily use of these “load beasts”.

According to Darryl Shafto, MD of Goscor Lift Truck Company (GLTC), supplier of leading forklift brands in southern Africa, warehouses and any other forklift environments should be places where operators, pedestrians and managers feel safe and secure to go about their business as they seek to accomplish important tasks. Therefore, safety is vitally important in the day-to-day operation of lift trucks in order to maintain safe warehouse environments.

“Most importantly, lift trucks have to comply with all the health and safety regulations. For example, each forklift has to pass a load test annually for it to be declared safe to use,” says Shafto.

Shafto says the work environment plays a significant role in the overall safety of the warehouse or any other forklift environment. “Chief among the factors of the working environment that contribute to safety incidents is poor equipment maintenance. Mechanical conditions – such as malfunction of brakes, malfunction of steering, malfunction of clutch, shift linkage, or transmission, leaks in hydraulic systems or transmission, among others – increase the risk for forklift incidents,” he says.

Therefore, to ensure that forklifts are in safe working order, equipment audits are particularly significant. “Regular lift truck audits are imperative, more importantly from a health and safety perspective, than a performance standpoint. Remember lift trucks engage in rigorous activities daily and it is vital to ensure that operators and pedestrians are kept safe at all times. National and global standards have to be met and aligned with at all times,” adds Shafto.

These audits should address several safety aspects on all working parts, specifically lifting mechanisms, as well as all other equipment componentry such as brakes and engines, among others. Equipment audits ensure a safe working environment, more productive equipment and operators, as well as product longevity.

Shafto advises that several parties should be involved in this process. Operators should audit forklifts daily and specialists from the lift truck companies should also do so on a regular basis. Technicians also get to audit and check the equipment at service intervals.

Training matters

Lack of training or improper training of forklift truck operators can have an adverse impact on the overall safety of a warehouse. “Generally, many forklift incidents are as a result of driver negligence, fatigue and lack of training. I cannot stress enough how crucial the day-to-day training and upgrading of driver awareness is to every operation,” says Shafto.

He adds that safety training is one of the best investments every warehouse manager can make. Bear in mind that unplanned forklift repairs due to safety incidents can be expensive – both from a cost of repairs and downtime point of view. Meanwhile, an OSHA study has also found that forklift operators improved their performance by 61% after safety training.

Incidents involving pedestrians

A worker struck, pinned, or crushed by a forklift is one of the major causes of forklift-related injuries. To avoid these pedestrian incidents, it is important to separate the pedestrian and forklift traffic by creating designated walkways or travel ways. This is achievable with the provision of adequate signage, which is normally catered for in ISO certification.

“It is also important to restrict people from entering areas where the forklift is operating. If not possible, develop safe work procedures to protect workers when they must enter areas where forklifts are operating,” says Shafto.

“Pedestrians should always let the driver know they are in the area. Make eye contact with the driver to ensure your presence is known. It is also critical to make sure that the area is well lit and there are no obstructions. Operators should be cautious near blind corners, doorways and narrow aisles,” adds Shafto.

Workplace design matters

Workplace design can also contribute to forklift trucks incidents. Narrow aisles, crowded, cluttered aisles, shelving that has components that could hit or intrude into the operator area and obstructions at intersections and doors are all factors that can lead to forklift incidents.

“It is important that warehouses do consider workplace design when purchasing a lift truck. It is crucial to make sure the forklift is ideally suited for the space it will be deployed in. If ever there is restricted aisle space, a warehouse manager may consider to invest in a narrow-aisle forklift,” concludes Shafto.