Even a small warehouse-based forklift can weigh three tonnes. A slippery warehouse floor, an inattentive operator and a heavy load can combine to create a disaster in the workplace.
To meet health and safety obligations, all forklift drivers must have a current forklift licence. A forklift licence is usually renewed every three years and can be done online with practical assessment or observation done in the workplace. The online component refreshes critical theory required to safely operate a forklift in the workplace, such as:
- Stability triangle
- Understanding the data plate or load chart
- Forklift refuelling
- Safety around pedestrians
- Stacking and destacking
- Connecting and using attachments
- Performing a pre-start inspection
In addition to the forklift’s laden and unladen weight, the load it is carrying can add up to 70% more to the gross vehicle mass (GVM). Loads lifted to height become less and less stable the higher they are. A forklift driver turning while the load is raised can easily tip the machine over.
Forklift drivers must also be aware of their surroundings if pedestrians share their workspace. There are various technology solutions to help forklift drivers work around pedestrians, such as:
- Reversing cameras
- Sensors that automatically shut it off if a pedestrian is detected within a certain radius of the forklift
- Flashing or rotating beacons and lights
- Reversing buzzers or beepers
- Projecting lights which project an exclusion zone around the forklift, inside which a pedestrian must not venture unless the forklift is stationary
Most large warehouses have pedestrian zones and walkways which forklift drivers should not enter. In an ideal warehouse, forklifts and pedestrians would be segregated. Designated crossings would be the only interface between forklifts and people, except when the forklift is parked at the end of the shift. If a forklift is used outside, it should be kept separate from other vehicle movements where possible.
Management should ensure that forklift drivers are not forced to work when tired, are given enough breaks and that their work schedule is realistic so that errors are kept to a minimum. Supervisors should know how to conduct a forklift practical assessment as they will be watching their drivers for bad habits creeping in. Forklift drivers that don’t comply with the rules need to be either upskilled or managed out of the role – safety is too important as people’s lives are at stake.
A safety audit will identify areas in your workplace that can be improved. This will help define all areas where there are collision risks, areas where there are blind spots (e.g. around the end of aisles or going through plastic curtains)
Forklift speed limits should be set below 10km/h within the warehouse and 15km/h in yards where there are no pedestrians.
Operators should use the horn when they are approaching blind spots.
Operators must wear the seatbelt to ensure they stay in the seat.
A minimum exclusion zone (the area which a person must not enter when a forklift is moving, should be three metres for an average sized forklift and five metres for a large forklift. Generally, a safe exclusion zone should be more than the distance between the tip of the forks and the back of the forklift. The larger the forklift, the higher the driver sits off the ground and the larger the blind spot in front of and behind the forklift.
We’ve covered a large number of tips for operating forklifts in a way that reduces the risk of pedestrian and vehicle collisions. Even implementing just a few of these will see a reduction in the risk of an accident in your workplace.