10 Forklift Safety Procedures (And Why They’re Important)

August 9, 2019 in Safety and Inspections

10 Forklift Safety Procedures (And Why They’re Important)

While modern-day forklifts manufactured by reputable companies are safer than ever, most safety incidents are the result of operator error. Forklift safety doesn’t start once the machine is moving. Responsible operators must inspect the forklift before even turning it on to ensure preventable accidents don’t occur.

In this article, I am going to highlight ten forklift safety procedures that your team should follow if forklifts are part of your work environment.

Types of Forklifts & General Forklift Safety

There are several different types of
forklifts available, many for different uses or industries. For most of our
readers, let’s assume you have one of the following types of industrial lifts:

  1. Side Loader Forklift
  2. Counterbalance Forklift
  3. Reach Forklift

Generally speaking, most forklifts have some overlapping safety guidelines. However, it is essential to consult your manufacturer’s operating manual before implementing any safety procedures. The information below can help inform how you should think about applying your safety procedures.

Forklift Safety Procedures

Disclaimer: the operating procedures and safety guidelines alone are NOT intended to substitute proper forklift training.

Operating a forklift requires an operator to be fully alert. At no time should a forklift be operated by someone who is overtired, drowsy or medicated. If a manager or supervisor feels that someone’s judgment may be in question, do not let them operate a forklift.

According to OSHA stats reported by Occupational Health & Safety, there are nearly 35,000 serious forklift injuries and 85 fatalities annually due to forklift accidents. More than 40% of the deaths were due to operators getting crushed by overturned vehicles. 11% of all forklifts are involved in at least 1 accident each year.

Forklifts are dangerous machinery and need to the appropriate respect on the work floor.

The National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health (NIOSH)
also details several case studies that clearly show the importance behind OSHA requirements
for forklift safety training.

Whether you work on a forklift or are around them in your workplace, it’s essential to always be alert.

Key takeaways:

  1. Forklifts are dangerous
    and potentially deadly in the wrong hands, so following all safety procedures
    is imperative.
  2. Proper forklift safety
    training can save lives.
  3. A forklift should never be
    operated by someone who isn’t fully alert or incapable of complete
Wear proper protective clothing Operate a forklift without training
Complete pre-operation inspectionsStart, stop, or turn suddenly
Travel at safe speedsTravel on uneven ground
Travel with the forks at ground level Operate a forklift when unable to concentrate

At the beginning of each shift, an operator must carry out a pre-operation inspection. Forklifts are sturdy machines, but they do take a beating each time they are used.

Just as a pilot will personally inspect his aircraft before taking flight, a forklift operator needs to ensure his vehicle is in shape to perform the tasks required.

Checklist for visual and pre-operating inspection:

  • Make sure all controls are checked and tested. Report any issues that may be detected
  • Check the fuel level, engine oil level, and radiator water level
  • Ensure the battery plug connections secure and clean
  • Fully charged battery
  • Wheels and tires in good condition
  • Electrolyte levels and cells
  • Chain anchor pins in good condition
  • No damp spots beneath the forklift that could indicate a leak
  • All hoses secured
  • Hydraulic hose reels in good condition
  • Forks not bent or cracked
  • Immediate area clear — both on the floor and overhead
  • Horn in good working order and loud enough to be heard in the working environment
  • All brakes fully operational
  • Clutch and gear shifts working smoothly
  • All lights and gauges on dash working properly
  • Steering is moving smoothly
  • Lift and tilt mechanisms operating smoothly
  • Ensure the seat belt is in excellent condition
  • Reverse beeper and warning lights in working order

Making sure a forklift is functioning as it should it the vital first step in ensuring employee safety. These steps, while lengthy, can be the difference between an on-site accident happening.

If your company requires a logged inspection for liability reasons, use an app like MaintainX. That can ensure compliance from the convenience of a smartphone or tablet. Here’s an example of how it could look:

Key takeaways:

  1. Do an initial walk around to make sure the immediate space is clear
  2. Complete a visual inspection on things like tires and lights
  3. Check all fluid levels
  4. Ensure everything is in good working order
  5. Use MaintainX to ensure compliance and standardized procedures

2. Handling Pallets

According to forklift safety guidelines, you must confirm that the forks are level and correctly positioned as they enter a pallet. Level forks will ensure proper distribution of weight – if uneven, the forklift is susceptible to tip over.

Be aware of different pallet sizes and load center calculations to move pallet loads safely.

Once the load is in position on the forks, do not try to reposition anything.

Never use a pallet stationed on a forklift
as a working platform.

Key takeaways:

  1. Make sure forks fully support the pallet
  2. Determine load calculations
  3. Don’t try to reposition the load once it’s on the forklift
  4. A raised pallet it not a makeshift platform

3. Loading

Each forklift will have a data plate that indicates the recommended load limit for that specific model. These limits aren’t intended to be soft guidelines – overloading a forklift can cause serious injury.

However, merely knowing the capacity isn’t enough. How a load is distributed also plays into preventing forklift tip-overs, so learning how to arrange and balance materials is necessary.

To keep the lift stable, be sure to place the load as close to the front wheels as possible to maintain forklift safely. Never counterbalance an overload by adding more weight.

Before you insert the fork into a pallet,
be sure the fork is level and that the mast of the forklift remains in an
upright position.

Key takeaways:

  1. Always check the data plate
    for load limits
  2. Properly arrange loads so
    as not to overbalance
  3. Determine the forklift’s recommended
    load center
  4. The fork must be leveled
    before inserting it into a pallet

4. Raising the Load

Never raise or lower the fork until the truck has come to a full stop and engaged the brake. When lifting, bring the load straight up, and then tilt it back just slightly. Once a load is lifted, the forklift loses some of its stability and tilting the weight compensates for this.

Depending on the truck, be sure to avoid lifting a load that extends past the load’s backrest. If any or all of the load could shift back toward the driver – this is extremely unsafe.

Before raising a load, make sure to check for enough overhead
clearance, and if outdoors, always maintain a safe distance from power lines.

Once a load is lifted, the operator must remain on the truck.
Additionally—whether or not a lift is loaded—never let anyone walk or stand
under an elevated fork.

Key takeaways:

  1. Do not raise a fork until a truck has come to a full stop and braked
  2. Once lifted, tilt the load back slightly to add stability to the truck
  3. Check for overhead clearances
  4. Never let anyone walk or stand under a raised lift

5. Loading/Unloading Tractor Trailers & Railway Cars

Before loading or unloading, you must
engage the brakes and chock the wheels. If unloading a semi-trailer that isn’t
coupled to its tractor, install fixed jacks to support it and prevent upending
it. Be sure that you have at least 2 inches (5 cm) of clearance between the forklift
height and the door of the trailer. Also, determine that the bed of the trailer
can support both the weight of the load and forklift.

When loading or unloading rail cars always cross
the tracks diagonally. Don’t park within approximately 10 ft (3 meters) of the
tracks and never attempt to open railcar doors with the forks.

Never operate a forklift for an extended time within a trailer or boxcar without proper ventilation.

Key takeaways:

  1. Always engage the brakes and chock the wheels before loading or unloading
  2. Make sure you have sufficient clearance
  3. Cross railway tracks on a diagonal
  4. Make sure you have enough ventilation

6. Traveling

A moving forklift is a dangerous forklift.

At all times, an operator’s hands, arms, feet, legs, and head must remain within the forklift truck. Forks, whether loaded or not, should be kept as low to the ground as possible and tilted back.

When approaching corners, always slow down and sound the horn. Be sure to watch for swing in the load and the rear of the truck. If possible, avoid sudden stops.

If the line of vision is obscured by the load, drive slowly in reverse. Always looking in the direction of travel. Learn the blind spots of the lift, whether loaded or not.

If traveling on an incline, the forks should be pointed uphill when carrying a load and downhill without a load.

Key takeaways:

  1. The entire body must remain in the truck
  2. Slow down when approaching corners
  3. Drive-in reverse when a load blocks vision

7. Steering

Steering a forklift is nothing like steering a car since they
are significantly more top-heavy—and even more top-heavy when the forks are at
the top of the mast.

Since a forklift is a rear-wheel-drive, it makes it very hard to make quick stops, so never drive fast or round corners too quickly. Never give the steering wheel a sharp crank when driving at any speed.

Before changing directions, you should come to a full stop, and before executing any turns, you should slow down first.

Never attempt to turn a forklift around when not on level ground.

Key takeaways:

  1. Forklifts are rear-wheel-drive – they are harder to stop than a car
  2. Come to a full stop before changing directions
  3. Only turn a forklift when on level ground

8. Entering Elevators

Never enter an elevator without having specific authorization.

Before entering an elevator, be sure that the combined weight of the load, the driver and the forklift doesn’t exceed the maximum weight capacity of the elevator.

Ensure you have ample clearance space and then enter the elevator
slowly and squarely.  Once inside, brake
and turn off the motor.

Key takeaways:

  1. Make sure you have the authorization to enter an elevator
  2. Determine that you don’t exceed the elevators weight limits
  3. Once in the elevator, turn off the engine

9. Parking

A parked forklift is still a dangerous forklift.

Only park a forklift in approved locations. Before leaving it
unattended ensure that the brakes are secured, all controls are set to the
neutral position, and the forks are lowered to ground level.

Make sure the motor is turned off and the key is removed.

These steps should be followed regardless of how long an operator plans to be away from their vehicle.

Key takeaways:

  1. Only park in designated locations
  2. Brakes must be engaged, and all controls set to neutral
  3. Turn off the engine and remove the key

10. Things You Must Never Do

Most of the above details the safety procedures
you should do. The following is a list of things you should never do:

  • Operate a forklift without training and authorization
  • Use a forklift you suspect may not be operating properly
  • Unless designed to do so, never operate the controls from outside the cab
  • Make sudden starts, stops, or quick turns
  • Travel on unlevel surfaces unless the forklift has been designed to do so
  • Operate a forklift when under the influence of alcohol or medication
  • Stand on the controls to reach the load
  • Use a handheld device while operating a forklift

Forklift Safety Training

As mentioned at the outset, a forklift is only going to be as
safe as its operator.

Employers must ensure operators are provided with full forklift safety training courses, and training needs to be kept up to date.

Ideally, using an app like MaintainX to flag maintenance issues, ensure safety procedure compliance and have an accessible audit history from each operation.

Don’t let your organization become another statistic by letting forklift safety slide. Take it seriously and set a standard that employees will respect. After all, nobody wants to get hurt at work.

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