Forklift accidents continue to be a concern on many work sites across the globe. The hard and unfortunate fact is forklift accidents result in approximately 20,000 injuries and 100 people being killed a year.1 Let’s explore some ways forklift and pedestrian accidents occur and how to help avoid injuries resulting from these accidents.
The top causes of forklift and pedestrian accidents include:2
- Operator and pedestrian negligence
- Distractions while operating a forklift or by the pedestrian
- Poor maintenance
- Environmental factors
Engineering controls to help prevent these accidents include separation techniques, such as building dedicated pedestrian aisle ways, interactive signage and emerging interlocking technologies. Companies and safety managers may also want to learn how to leverage the science of human perception to create effective administrative controls, training techniques, and use new high visibility clothing standards for personal protective equipment (PPE) for reducing pedestrian exposures.
To help identify priority areas, conduct a risk assessment of the site layout to identify blind corners, high pedestrian traffic areas, noise that may cause driver distraction, visual clutter concerns, traffic speeds and other site-specific factors. Make sure areas are well lit and there are no obstructions to help prevent forklift collisions. Job sites may want to consider implementing a pedestrian alert system that involves using an RFID badge, low-frequency magnetic field, transponders, cameras or other technologies that may cause forklift brakes to lock or trigger warning lights to alert drivers or pedestrians.
OSHA recommends that sites provide pedestrian walkways, permanent railings or other protective barriers and walkway striping if permanent barriers cannot be used. OSHA also recommends posting traffic control signs about speed limits and warning signs to notify operators and pedestrians of forklift traffic areas.
One of the top five OSHA citations issued is for maintenance problems, including failure to examine forklifts before placing them in service and failure to take damaged forklifts out of service. Operators, owners and safety managers should develop auditing procedures for forklift and pedestrian safety procedures, maintenance logs, pre-shift inspections on every piece of equipment before every shift and ensure that modifications made to machinery have written permission by the manufacturer.
Forklift monitoring systems to track speed, maintenance, access and other useful information may also be installed to help. Digital checklists can be integrated into forklift controls and the monitoring systems can help prevent the operation of unsafe equipment, limit speeds, or limit the ability to drive powered trucks to trained employees. A digital checklist system can help track that protocols and inspections are being conducted timely and thoroughly.
Employers should also consider implementing a reliable and trackable method for conducting pre-use forklift inspections as well as area inspections. This can assist in reducing the risks associated with forklift traffic. This type of ‘smart’ inventory and asset management system makes for a consistent methodology as well as easy to track records and a system for managing corrective actions. These area inspections will also help ensure that the paths for traffic flow are maintained in a way that minimizes distractions or obstructions that could alter activities and potentially increase risk.
Distracted driving while operating a forklift is another major factor that contributes to accidents and can result from things such as:3
- Use of smartphones
- Focus on prior events versus task at hand
- Boring or repetitious work
- Operator fatigue
- Rushing to get the job done
- Medication or sickness
- Diversions from other operators, pedestrians
- Interference by inventory management systems
- Focus on personal playing devices (radios, etc.)
- Visual clutter
Operators should be evaluated on a consistent basis in order to help ensure they are trained on how to use these dangerous and heavy pieces of equipment. According to OSHA, three of the top five citations related to operators and training include failure to ensure operator competency, failure to provide refresher training and evaluation as well as failure to certify operator’s training and evaluation.
Under OSHA 29 CFR 1910.178(l), re-evaluations must be completed every three years with a hands-on driving evaluation and employers must test the knowledge of the driver.4 It helps to reinforce topics that operators are struggling with and it helps to make the training interesting. For instance, maybe set up an obstacle course or a rodeo competition. For operators with a near-miss situation, who have been observed conducting unsafe maneuvers or actions, and when there are changes to the environment, refresher training and evaluation should be set-up to ensure drivers have mastered the skills necessary to operate this heavy machinery properly. Emphasize key areas related to recent incidents and complete a performance evaluation to ensure competence that can allow for thorough review. You should document this whole process.5
People who work around forklifts on job sites are identified as ‘pedestrians’ according to OSHA and other agencies. We have already discussed engineering control tips such as separation techniques, building dedicated pedestrian aisle ways, interactive signage and emerging interlocking technologies, which can help reduce potential accidents. Companies and safety managers may also want to learn how to use human perception to create effective administrative controls, training techniques, such as understanding how pedestrian perceptions can be included in training.
Pedestrians who work near forklifts may often assume that the stopping distance, turning radius and weight of a forklift is similar to a car. It is not.6 Forklifts cannot brake quickly like many cars can. This is part of the human perception problem that needs to be taken into account with training and clear markings for the turning radius.
Pedestrians may fail to understand that the weight of a forklift may cause much more severe injuries to limbs, feet, etc. These machines have different blind spots from other vehicles and may make pedestrians invisible to the driver.7 Pedestrians need to learn to keep a safe distance from all forklifts since the turning radius is different and may result in severe crush injuries. Worksite safety managers may want to consider installing warning lights on forklifts, such as blue lights or red lights aimed at the floor around trucks. The warning lights can help alert pedestrians about safe distances to keep or of oncoming fork trucks in high noise areas.
Pedestrians should always try to make eye contact with a driver8 so the worker’s presence is known and a pedestrian should do everything they can to avoid distractions — such as the use of a phone — while walking in an area where forklifts generally pass through on a job site. Pedestrians must not assume that the forklift operator sees them and must stay out of the forklift path and make the operator aware of their presence when necessary.
Training for Pedestrians in Addition to Operators
While OSHA requires training for operators, it is also a best practice for companies and worksites to consider training for pedestrians. Pedestrians should be familiar with the sounds of your plant’s truck and forklift warning devices such as the backup alarms and horns. Workers should always stop when they hear the horn and check to make sure it is safe to keep walking. Pedestrians should be reminded to be alert for forklift traffic, to use mirrors at the blind intersections and to use walkways designated for pedestrian use. Pedestrians should also stay clear of raised loads and never walk under an elevated load on a forklift or the forks, whether full or empty.9
In addition to other required PPE for the task, workers should wear high visibility PPE where forklifts and pedestrians cannot be effectively separated, so drivers can easily identify pedestrians around them. This includes bright fluorescent clothing with reflective materials designed for use in low light. Garment designs that have 360 degrees of visibility and meets bio-motion requirements of high visibility garment standards, will help increase the chances of pedestrians being seen by drivers. Consider clothing meeting the ANSI/ISEA 107 High visibility standard Type O for inside the factory or Type R -Class 2. In areas with high noise, consider hearing protection with communication devices to help pedestrians to hear back-up alarms.
If you have questions about how PPE or other measures such as smart connected products for inventory and asset management of forklift maintenance can be used to help prevent pedestrian accidents involving forklifts, do not hesitate to reach out to us for assistance. We look forward to working with you.