Everyone has important role in forklift safety
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Forklifts and hand trucks allow one employee to do the work of several in moving large quantities of materials and handling awkward loads.

With the benefits of improved materials handling, the potential for serious injury and death has also increased.

The sheer mass of a forklift can be equivalent to a full-size sedan and, although speeds are relatively low, that dense mass makes the potential for accidents a serious issue in the workplace.

Fortunately, the frequency of accidents is fairly low. But, when an accident does occur, it can have devastating results.

Forklift safety is not just the operator's responsibility. It also includes pedestrians entering and working in forklift traffic zones.

Equipment inspections

All forklift operators on the depot are required to follow some basic safety steps including doing a maintenance inspection each day.

Inspections should include:

• Checking battery charge on electric trucks and full fuel levels on LP, gas or diesel equipment

• Check engine fluid levels and check for fluid leaks

• Check tires for cuts and defects

• Check steering

• Make sure indicator lights, the horn and back-up alarm are operational

• Check brakes and clutch functions

• Check lift controls for safe operation

• Make sure all operator safety devices are in place, such as overhead guards, fire extinguisher and rearview mirrors

• Change truck operational status to "maintenance needed" if there are any unusual engine sounds or faulty operations and remove truck from use

In addition to the daily safety checklist, operators are responsible for observing all facility safety rules regarding truck speed, right-of-way standards and using defensive driving measures at all times.

The operator has prime responsibility for preventing accidents and injuries at all times.

Wear your seat belt

This is the most common safety practice most forklift operators violate.

Seat belts save lives, which is why their usage is not an option. A forklift seat belt reduces risk by eliminating the most common human reaction during a tip-over - to jump.

An operator's panicked attempt to get away puts him at great risk for being crushed under a multi-ton machine.

Tip-over accidents claim, on average, the lives of 40 operators each year in the United States. They are also responsible for 25 percent of the overall recorded accidents.

Avoid distractions

The Army and Anniston Army Depot have clear rules regarding personal communication devices, food, drink and the prohibited use of tobacco products when it comes to forklift safety.

Driver distractions lead to thousands of serious forklift accidents every year, sometimes resulting in fatalities.

It is too easy to mentally check-out when driving.

You re-hash the football game you watched last weekend or think about the vacation you've planned and, the next thing you know, you've driven through a blind intersection and find another forklift coming right at you.

Cell phones, MP3 players, other personal devices and food and beverages also serve as distractions.

While you reach for that drink or phone, a pedestrian could come out of nowhere. Your reaction time is reduced because you must first come back to reality before you can register what is happening. You slam on the brakes, but it's too late. That simple distraction has just cost someone their life.

It is prohibited to use tobacco products while operating or occupying Army motor vehicles.

A hot ash or spark can led to a catastrophic accident. Park the forklift and use your tobacco products in designated areas.

Pedestrians play a role

Most of the time, a driver's field of vision is obstructed by the mast structure of the lift, by the load itself or by dusty or misty driving conditions.

Additionally, drivers are often focused on load stability and making sure it arrives in one piece.

So it's a pedestrian's job to ensure their visibility to drivers.

1. Make eye-to-eye contact with the forklift driver before proceeding into his traffic path. Confirm the driver sees you by waiting until he acknowledges your eye contact in some way. He needs to know you have cleared his path before he can safely proceed.

2. Understand equipment limitations by knowing that forklifts have long stopping distances. They also have limited maneuverability when driven in reverse, due mainly to the position the driver must operate from when in reverse.

3. Understand turning forklifts present special dangers due to the wide arc the outer edge of the load travels in and the speed that edge travels at. Forklifts do not turn like cars. The turning radius is much sharper and parts of the forklift will protrude outside the turning arc as the forklift moves.

4. Never assume a driver can see you. Stay in marked pedestrian lanes and crosswalks to prevent being hit by a forklift.

5. Yield the right of way unless you are sure the driver has seen you and stopped the forklift so you can cross.

Forklift safety is a team effort. By following each of these common sense rules, you will make yourself more visible to forklift drivers and avoid becoming a near-fatality.

Keep workers and work zones safe

To help forklift drivers safely move through a facility:

• Keep aisles clear of obstructions. Remove hazards, such as pallet stacks that obstruct travel paths or visibility.

• Keep spills cleaned up to reduce possible skidding or loss of steering control.

• Keep a safe distance, at least 10 feet, from a loading or unloading forklift. Loads are especially unstable during the loading/unloading process.

• Never walk under raised forks or pass in front of a forklift with raised forks -- whether loaded or empty.

• Forklifts are not intended to carry people unless that person is sitting in the driver's seat. Never allow someone to get a ride by hopping onto the frame, forks or body of a forklift.

Remember, we all have a role in safe forklift operations, whether you're a forklift driver or pedestrian.

Alert today, alive tomorrow.