Warehouses can be dangerous places to work. That's because equipment and products are in constant motion. The risk of injury is particularly high in warehouses with a lot of forklift traffic. One in six workplace deaths is forklift-related. And forklifts are connected to more than 100,000 serious workplace incidents a year nationwide.
As scary as these statistics may be, most accidents and injuries within warehouses can be prevented if workers simply follow the facility's established safety procedures. June is one time of year when our industry focuses on forklift safety, culminating in National Forklift Safety Day on June 13. (See our full online coverage here.)
While we pay particular attention to forklift safety this month, it is important that workers be reminded year round that safety should be their primary concern every time they strap themselves into a forklift seat. Fork truck manufacturers have worked diligently to make today's vehicles safer than they've ever been. It's up to workers to use the safety features found on their trucks and not take shortcuts to circumvent them.
There are many simple things to remember to assure forklift safety. First, it's important that operators always wear a seatbelt. This ensures that should a vehicle start to tip, the driver is secured in the best possible position. A worker should never attempt to jump from the cab during a tip. The risk of injury is much higher than if he or she remains within the cab.
When traveling, it's critical that forklifts stay within assigned areas. Facilities should clearly mark zones that are off limits to forklifts. Drivers should observe pedestrian pathways, and workers on foot need to be taught to stay within those designated areas. A forklift can travel much faster than a human can walk, which is why pedestrian strikes are a leading cause of injuries involving forklifts.
Many injuries also occur around storage areas. Hitting racks not only can damage the forklift and the rack structure, but it can also cause items stored on high shelves to topple onto the forklift below.
Docks are also vulnerable spots for lift trucks. Facilities should use dock restraints to keep trailers from drifting and make sure dock levelers are in working order to reduce impacts as forklifts roll over them. On top of that, they should be sure that spills are cleaned up immediately to avoid wet spots where trucks can slide when turning, and teach drivers to reduce speed when changing direction, especially under load.
Finally, it's critical to make sure that every operator is certified on the truck assigned to him or her. Just because someone can drive a counterbalanced truck doesn't mean he or she is qualified to operate a reach truck.
This month, and every month, safety must come first.