Walk This Way: Pedestrian Safety In Forklift Operations

Forklift warning lights

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 being struck by the forklifts. With proper awareness and pedestrian training, the rate of accidents can be significantly reduced.

Having formal forklift training is an OSHA requirement. While OSHA does not specially address forklift pedestrian training, the OSHA General Duty Clause instructs companies to take all the precautionary steps to protect all employees. This includes ensuring that workers who are exposed to forklifts and lift trucks in operation receive the instruction necessary to preserve their safety on the job.

Very often, warehouse managers do not realize the significance of training pedestrians exposed to any kind of lifting operation. When the pedestrian is 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 common situations accidents involving pedestrians and forklifts take place:
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 a 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 the pedestrians know that the back end of lift trucks can swing very quickly to the side. Normally, forklifts that comes 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 a proper safety clearance especially when the lift truck turns.
Pedestrian Did Not Notice The Lift Truck In Operation  In many cases, pedestrians don’t see the lift truck in operation. 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 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 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. 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 a sudden appearance of a lift truck.

Before crossing a forklift’s path, a pedestrian must maintain eye contact with the forklift driver. When the eye contact is not possible or difficult like when crossing the path behind the forklift, giving the driver a verbal alert is mandatory. Alertness and communication are crucial. When crossing behind a forklift that may back up, be sure to make verbal communication with the operator before crossing, or to wait at a safe distance until it has finished backing up.

Other important safety rules that need to 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, keeping clear of a forklift and 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 not possible, 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 are very important.

Safety Equipment  Safety best practices dictate that pedestrians should wear a highly visible vest step for improving 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 the pedestrians with better chances of seeing the forklifts in operation.

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. Take care to consider the safety of pedestrians who might not be obvious such as sales, maintenance or clerical personnel, supplier representatives or contractors working at the site.

Note: The information provided above is intended only to provide general guidance. For specific regulatory requirements in your jurisdiction, please contact a local safety professional or appropriate compliance professional. 

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