The many dangers of forklifts in the workplace

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration prescribes strict safety regulations for forklifts, these powered industrial trucks can pose a myriad of on-the-job safety hazards if operated improperly. Forklifts are not personal vehicles, and employees should not use them for any purposes beyond those that are work related. It is the responsibility of Nebraska employers to protect the health and safety of employees, and enforcement of compliance with safety regulations is part of that responsibility.

The basic safety requirements for a forklift include mindfulness of the open structure and the need to wear a seatbelt. Furthermore, operators must not exceed the speed limitations of the machine, and they must keep the potential instability of loads in mind. Safety authorities say operators must avoid looking up, but should always look over both left and right shoulders and also make sure the fork is in the lowest position while never exiting the forklift without keeping three points of contact.

Additional safety guidelines to prevent workplace accidents

The National Safety Council drafted the following safety guidelines and best practices:

  • Safety training -- Without safety training, a forklift operator can be as hazardous as an unlicensed motor vehicle operator. No worker must operate a forklift without proper training, and it is not true that training to work with one forklift equips a person to maneuver other lift trucks. Different sizes and models typically require additional training.
  • Pre-operation inspection -- Just like pilots perform pre-flight checks, forklift operators must check their machines before each shift. Items to check include tires, horn, seat belts, lights, brakes, fluid levels and backup alarms along with all the load-supporting and moving parts of the machine.
  • Know the differences between lift trucks and other vehicles -- Operators must always be aware that forklifts offer no protection of enclosure. These machines should only travel at speeds similar to a walking pace, and because of their 3-point suspension, they can tip over easily if loads are unstable, and they can eject operators who are not properly wearing their seat belts.
  • Be aware of pedestrians and surroundings -- Forklift drivers must look in the direction they are traveling and always try to make eye contact with all pedestrians. Rear view mirrors, spotters and other aids can aid visibility. Use headlights in conditions in which visibility is less than perfect.
  • Learn the concept of the stability triangle -- A lift truck operator must understand the difference between the center of gravity of a forklift when it carries no load versus when it carries a load. Fast stops and starts can also throw it off balance.
  • Assess each load before lifting it -- Before lifting a load, the forklift operator must assess its dimensions and stability to avoid overloading and off-center loads. The lift truck must be squarely in front of the load before lifting, and the operator must ensure the load's stability before backing away after offloading.

Injuries caused by forklifts can be life-changing -- and even fatal. In the unfortunate event of a forklift accident, injured victims or surviving family members of deceased workers can seek financial assistance by filing benefits claims with the Nebraska workers' compensation insurance program.

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