Laying the groundwork for safe forklift operation
Operating a forklift safely requires that several factors be considered before a worker gets anywhere near the driver’s seat.
April 3, 2023 | By Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Forklifts are incredibly powerful machines – they are the workhorses of the warehouse, and have the power to move thousands of kilograms of goods at the direction of a sole operator. However, with that power comes the capacity for life-altering injuries, which is why thorough training, and in many jurisdictions, certification, is required.
Understanding regulatory requirements for training
Requirements will vary depending on your jurisdiction, but forklift trucks should only be operated by experienced workers who are trained, certified or licensed to perform this task. Some jurisdictions specify a minimum operator age, while others require specific licensing. Check with your local occupational health and safety authorities for more information.
The CSA standard B335-15, “safety standard for lift trucks”, includes the development and implementation of a lift truck safety program, operator training requirements, qualifications of the lift truck trainer (including medical and fitness requirements), and maintenance and repair practices.
A good place to start with hazard control is workplace design, to help identify and assess potential hazards. Employers should take into account the volume of traffic in the work area – how many people will be working in the general area of forklift operation? Are aisles wide enough for the forklift to maneuver? Are areas adequately ventilated to remove exhaust fumes or byproducts from battery charging?
If shelving has components that could hit or intrude into the operator area, those components should be addressed, along with any obstructions at intersections and doors. Noise, odours, toxic gases, dust, poor lighting, and ramps or flooring with different surfaces can also affect a worker’s ability to operate a forklift safely.
Workers in the general vicinity must also understand safety protocols when working around forklifts. Keep them safe by separating pedestrian and forklift traffic with designated walkways, and restricting people from entering areas where the forklift is operating. If separation isn’t possible, develop safe work procedures to protect workers when they must enter areas where forklifts are operating.
Pedestrians should always let the driver know they are in the area – making eye contact with the driver to ensure their presence is known and wearing high-visibility clothing. Be cautious near blind corners, doorways, and narrow aisles, do not walk near or under raised forks.
To avoid mechanical failures and other incidents, regular inspections are crucial. An operator should inspect the forklift truck every day, including at the beginning of each shift, and before each use. Before starting the forklift, the operator should carry out a visual or “circle” check, followed by an operational pre-use check.
During the visual pre-use check, the operator is looking for things like: general condition and cleanliness, fluid levels and potential leaks, battery condition, and bolts, nuts, guards, chains, or hydraulic hose reels that are loose, damaged or missing.
They should check the condition of propane equipment, the battery, chain anchor pins, and that seat belts, restraints and overhead guards are functioning properly. Wheels and tires should be checked for damage, and forks not bent or at different heights. Latches should be in good working condition, and the load limit should be clearly marked.
During the operational pre-use check, the operator is checking for operational hazards, such as brake function (foot brake, parking brake, and dead man set brake), clutch and gearshift condition, that lights and gauges are operational on the dash control panel, horns, back-up alarms and lights are operational, and that steering and lift and tilt mechanisms work smoothly. Any problems identified during the daily check should be reported to a supervisor immediately.
There are a number of safety procedures that need to be followed when performing forklift maintenance and service. Follow the manufacturer’s service and maintenance schedule, and allow only qualified personnel to carry out the maintenance.
Wear proper personal protective equipment, such as goggles, face shields (with safety glasses), aprons, gloves and protective footwear. Before undertaking any work, disconnect batteries and prevent motion by raising the drive wheels off the floor, or using chocks or other truck-positioning devices. Before servicing liquefied petroleum gas forklifts, be sure to shut off the tank fuel valve. Run the engine until it stops, then disconnect the tank from the hose. Block the forklift securely when removing wheels, and support the forklift hood in the upright position or remove it. Keep the work area clean and well lit.
Other keys to performing maintenance safely: clean spilled oil or hydraulic fluid immediately, check all tools before using, remove all tools and parts before starting the engine, only use manufacturer-approved parts and components, and handle batteries with care, avoiding contact with terminals with metal objects.
Check the operator’s daily checklist before making repairs, and be sure to find out why a forklift is in for repairs before starting or driving it.
It is important to develop workplace procedures, based on the manufacturer’s instructions and legislation, for how to safely maintain and service a forklift. Procedures should also address activities such as battery charging, refueling and handling propane tanks, and how to respond in the event of an emergency. Once procedures are established, workers need to be thoroughly trained on them.
The safest workplaces have a common culture
The importance of thorough training for everyone who operates or works in proximity to forklifts cannot be understated. A great way to improve the safety of any workplace is to foster an “if you see something, say something” workplace culture.
One that encourages workers to come forward when they see something that could compromise their own safety or that of their colleagues, without fear of reprisal. Create clear and safe mechanisms for reporting potential issues, and ensure all concerns are investigated and resolved appropriately.
With a safety-focused culture and thorough training program as your foundation, your facility and your workforce will be set up for efficient, productive, and most importantly, incident-free operations.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) promotes the total well-being — physical, psychosocial, and mental health — of workers in Canada by providing information, advice, education, and management systems and solutions that support the prevention of injury and illness. Visit www.ccohs.ca for more safety tips.