Forklift pedestrian safety is often overlooked as warehouse and plant operators focus on forklift operator training. Make sure that any pedestrians, including office staff, visitors and third-party service providers, all receive the necessary training.
Every year, more than 68,400 forklift accidents take place in the United States. Far too many of them injure pedestrians. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report reveals that nearly 20 percent of all forklift accidents involve pedestrians stuck by the forklifts. With proper awareness and pedestrian training, the rate of accidents can be significantly reduced.
Formal training and certification for driving or operating any lift truck or forklift is an OSHA requirement. While OSHA does not specifically address forklift pedestrian training, the OSHA General Duty Clause instructs companies to take all the precautionary steps to protect all employees and workers who are exposed to forklifts and lift trucks in operation.
Very often, warehouse managers do not realize the significance of training pedestrians exposed to any kind of lifting operation. Also, facility managers sometimes are not mindful that visitors such as suppliers, third-party maintenance providers and office staff should also be trained before allowing them in your facility. When pedestrians are ignorant of basic safety precautions around lift trucks, the chances of an accident involving the forklift and pedestrian increase.
Common Forklift/Pedestrian Accident Situations
Following are two everyday situations where accidents involving pedestrians and forklifts take place:
A Pedestrian Came Too Close To Lift Trucks: There is no way a collision involving a pedestrian can take place if the pedestrian does not come within close proximity of a forklift. Maintaining at least a 4-foot safety zone is highly recommended when the forklift is running. This precaution can lessen the risk of the lift truck driving over the pedestrian’s foot.
But the actual safety zone can be much longer than just 4 feet. In the employee or pedestrian awareness programs, companies should let pedestrians know that the back end of lift trucks can swing very quickly to the side. Normally, forklifts that come with elevated forks necessitate proportionately higher safety clearance. The horizontal length of a load is another important consideration. A long load, like a 20-foot-long lumber package, will need proper safety clearance, especially when the lift truck turns.
A Pedestrian Did Not Notice The Lift Truck In Operation: In many cases, pedestrians don’t see the lift truck operating. Blind corners and varying degrees of intersections can be reasons for not seeing the lift truck. So, pedestrians should be aware of those to be safe from accidents. Pedestrians may not hear the lift truck in operation as different power sources of forklifts determine the sound generated in operation. For instance, electric battery-powered lift trucks can be very quiet, the internal combustion lift trucks can be very loud. So, if not well aware of the different sounds generated by different forklifts, a pedestrian might equate a lack of noise with the absence of a lift truck in operation.
Ways To Increase Pedestrian Safety In Forklift Operations
The frequency of forklift accidents involving pedestrians can be significantly reduced by providing awareness training, using the right safety equipment, and better traffic management.
Training and Awareness for Pedestrians: Proper pedestrian awareness and training should not take much time and effort. First of all, pedestrians need to be aware of the fact that lift trucks can suddenly appear around the blind corners. Also keep in mind that forklifts are heavy and even heavier when carrying a load, thus making braking moe challenging than for an automobile, for example. The training can work as a reminder to the pedestrian to stop, listen, and look carefully when working or staying around the blind corners. Pedestrians should always expect the sudden appearance of a lift truck.
Before crossing a forklift’s path, a pedestrian must maintain eye contact with the forklift driver. When eye contact is not possible or difficult, like when crossing the path behind the forklift, communicating with the driver through a verbal alert is one option. Preferably, wait at a safe distance until it has finished backing up. Some facilities develop a hand signal system to promote clear communication between operators and pedestrians.
Other important safety rules that must be included in pedestrian training and awareness programs include never riding on a forklift truck unless the vehicle is specially designed to accommodate a passenger and keeping clear of a forklift and its loading swing radius. Never walk under a load.
Traffic Management: Safety professionals recommend the creation of separate routes for pedestrians made easily noticeable through painted lines and signage. Having physical barriers to keep forklifts from entering pedestrian-only routes can be a very effective solution. If having physical barriers is difficult or impossible, avoiding forklift use in areas with high levels of pedestrian activity can be a good solution. Having and maintaining safety rules for both pedestrians and lift trucks is very important.
Safety Equipment: Requiring pedestrians to wear a highly visible vest to improve visibility. Having and using forklift truck horns, adding warning lights, or travel alarms are good measures as well. The use of convex mirrors at intersections can improve pedestrian safety by providing pedestrians with better chances of seeing the forklifts in operation. Increasingly, new sensing technologies such as proximity detection systems are also available that can help promote forklift pedestrian safety.
Forklift Pedestrian Safety: Conclusion
While the training of forklift operators is mandatory, facility operators are also required to protect the safety of pedestrians who traverse in proximity to material handling equipment. Pedestrians may include individuals who might not be obvious, such as sales or clerical personnel, supplier representatives, or contractors working on-site.
In fact, training should be three-tired. Firstly, top management must support the safety of pedestrian staff and visitors in the facility through the design of the plant and traffic patterns for safe operation and by ensuring access to the needed resources for training and monitoring. Secondly, supervisors must monitor to ensure training and safe practices are enforced. Finally, forklift drivers and pedestrians alike must participate in training to avoid accidents resulting from pedestrian and operator interactions in the workplace.