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Forklift Safety Training: An Essential Checklist for Warehouse Workers

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on September 30, 2019 at 11:05 AM

OSHA estimates that 35,000 serious injuries and 62,000 non-serious injuries are caused by forklifts every single year.

Forklift safety training can help prevent forklift accidents. Here’s what you should know about these trainings and what you can expect.

Training Requirements

Under OSHA guidelines, employers are legally required to develop and implement a training program based on:

  • Truck operation
  • Hazards created in the workplace through vehicle use
  • The types of vehicles being used
  • General safety requirements under the OSHA standard

This training program should prepare drivers to safely and effectively operate their machines, confirmed by a certification that a driver has completed the training and renews the training every three years.

Training will include formal elements, such as lectures and videos, as well as practical applications of skills, including practical exercises and demonstrations, which will be tested as part of the training process.

The good news is that OSHA’s standard 1910.178 (Powered Industrial Trucks) provides guidelines on what topics must be addressed and tested in your training.

Licensing and Compliance

It is federally illegal for anyone to operate a forklift who is not trained and certified to do so. It is also illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to operate a forklift at any time.

Fortunately, since employers are also legally obligated to provide certification on forklift operation to drivers, you can make the most of your training.

You do not need to provide forklift training for each individual make and model, but you do need to provide training for each type of powered industrial truck. OSHA doesn’t mind if you have a driver operating the same type of truck made by a different manufacturer.

However, OSHA does care about your driver knowing the difference between operating a sit-down rider truck versus a stand-up truck, or a pallet jack versus an order-picker. Keep in mind that OSHA wants you to offer training for any machine where essential components, such as controls, are different.

Even if a forklift operator is certified, they must renew their license every three years. This renewal cannot be met with a written exam alone—there must also be a practical component.

Benefits of Forklift Safety Training

Besides the legal obligation to do so (and dodging penalty fines of at least $13,260 per violation), there are plenty of benefits attached to forklift safety training.

For example, if your workers know how to operate machines correctly, you’ll have improved productivity. Think about what happens when someone tells you there’s been an accident. After asking, “Is everyone okay?” your first thought is wondering what the repair bill will cost.

That’s time that employees can’t work, time that you lose to maintenance, and money that you lose while production is down.

Plus, forklift repairs can be quite expensive, especially when they’re unplanned. Forklift operators who actually know how to safely use their machine are far more likely to keep that machine in good operating condition.

Forklifts and Warehouse Safety

Employees standing under raised forks. Leaking fluids accumulating overnight underneath a forklift. Untrained drivers operating a forklift in a crowded warehouse. To avoid these manufacturing nightmares and more like them, it's important to implement facility safety practices in your warehouse, but only in the right way. 

Each year, forklift accidents cause 85 deaths and almost 35,000 serious injuries. And in the case where someone dies, it's almost always the driver. The sad part is, many forklift accidents could be avoided simply by instilling the right kind of forklift safety practices in your facility. 

Here's Your Way Out of That Bad News

Those are some unfortunate stats, but the good news is your facility doesn't have to become part of that grim story. One way to keep your facility on the safe side of things is to implement a safety program based on tried and true practices, and guided by experts.

The important thing to remember here is that forklift safety isn't always about training the driver. Here's why.

Forklift Safety Is Part of Overall Facility Safety

Forklift drivers are ultimately responsible for what happens around them, but a good safety manager knows everyone plays a part in overall safety, even the facility manager. When the expert team of consultants for the National Safety Council travels the country conducting safety audits, forklift issues are some of the most common problems they encounter.

And it's not always the driver who's totally at fault. It can be the general work environment, according to one of the experts.

"What dictates their activity is production. They’re all under pressure, and when you’re under pressure, they start taking shortcuts.”

-Namir George, National Safety Council Consultant

In fact, Mr. George states that in his experience, that sort of pressured environment is the number one cause of forklift-related hazards in the workplace.

Another major hazard of forklifts is carbon monoxide poisoning. In Washington state, for example, fuel-powered forklifts account for 29% of all carbon monoxide incidents reported to that state's workers' compensation board. That's more than autos, trucks and buses combined.

Forklift Safety Checklist

Time and money are important business considerations, but your safety should always come first.

So if you’re trying to avoid workplace injuries and get everyone home safe to their families, checking your forklift is imperative.

That’s where a forklift checklist can help. Here are a few things that you ought to check every time you use your forklift.

Inspection

First things first: inspect your forklift.

When you get to work, it’s easy to hop on and assume everything is fine. But if you want to keep your workplace safe, inspection before every use is imperative.

For example, you should check the tires to make sure they’re properly inflated. Check the forks and masts to make sure they’re not bent or cracked. Your overhead guard should be in place—check to make sure it isn’t loose or cracked.

If you have any attachments on the lift, make sure they’re not damaged.

Your lights and turn signals should be operational, as should your backup siren. Check the horn—you’ll startle your coworkers, but it’s better to startle them now than have them not notice your forklift in a risky situation.

Once a week, you should also do an in-depth check of the entire machine. Take the time to clean away any dirt or debris so that the radiator doesn’t get overheated.

Engine Checks

The engine is what keeps your forklift operational. Take care of it and it will take care of you.

Once a week or so, take the time to check the engine thoroughly. For example, take a look at the engine belts. They should all be clean and secure. Your hydraulic hoses, cables, stops, and mast chains should all be in good condition.

Check the engine oil with a dipstick. If you haven’t changed it recently, change it. Check your lubricant, hydraulic fluid, radiator coolant, brake fluid, and transmission fluid.

That’s when the engine is off. When the engine is on, you should run through a couple of basic checks before putting your forklift to work.

How’s your steering? Is it smooth? Is it pulling in one direction? If it’s pulling or not totally responsive, get it fixed.

Check your brakes–parking and service brake. If they’re not responding smoothly, don’t take the risk and use your forklift.

Inspect the drive control, tilt control, hoist and lowering control and attachment controls. All of these should be running smoothly—if you have to fight with your machine, things aren’t destined to end well in a bad situation.

You should also check the battery. The last thing you need is for your battery to die while you’re trying to use the lift.

Maintenance

If your forklift is up and running, you’re not out of the woods yet.

Just because your forklift is working now doesn’t mean it will always run smoothly in the future. Scheduled maintenance exists for a reason—to keep you safe.

Abide by the schedule. It might seem like an inconvenience at the time, but it helps prevent future breakdowns and injuries that could result from them.

And if a part is past its use date, don’t use it, even if the part looks like it’s still okay. It’s not worth putting yourself or your coworkers at risk.

Take Control of Your Training

A forklift checklist doesn’t do you any good if you don’t actually use it. So if there’s a choice between being safe and being quick, stay safe and run through your checklist first.

And remember, forklift safety training isn’t an option. It’s a necessity if your workplace relies on forklifts to get the job done.

Clearly, your facility's forklift safety is an extension of overall facility safety, as well as driver preparedness and caution. To keep your company from contributing to accident statistics, make sure everyone gets involved in keeping your plant a safe place to be, especially where forklifts are in use.

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