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Forklift safety tips: Data-driven advice for safer warehouses

Operating a forklift requires a high level of skill and attention to detail to ensure safety at all times. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive into the essential forklift safety tips that every logistics team needs to know.


Understanding forklift operation basics

Before we get into specific forklift safety tips, you have to understand the basics of forklift operation. If you don’t need a refresher, skip to the next section. 


A forklift, also known as a lift truck or a fork truck, is a powered industrial truck used to lift and move materials over short distances. It's a critical piece of operations in many industries, like warehousing, construction, and manufacturing.


Despite their usefulness, forklifts can also be incredibly dangerous if not operated correctly. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 100 workers are killed and another 60,000+ forklift-related accidents occur each year (just in the United States). 


Knowing the basics of forklift operation is the first step towards incident free operations.


What are the types of forklifts and other MHE?

There are several types of forklifts (and other MHE), each designed for specific tasks and environments. The most common include counterbalance forklifts, reach trucks, and side loader forklifts. Knowing the type of forklift you're operating is critical. Each type has its own unique load constraints, controls, and safety considerations.


For example, when you have a load on each type of equipment, there’s certain speed restrictions, turning restrictions, height to keep the load at — you get the idea. 


Make sure that the operator on a lift is trained for that specific type of lift.


Forklift safety tips

General forklift safety tips

Now that the basics are out of the way, let's get into specific forklift safety tips. These tips apply to all types of forklifts and should be followed at all times to ensure safety.


Make sure every operator is forklift certified

Firstly, only trained and certified operators should operate a forklift. OSHA requires all forklift operators to undergo training and certification before they can operate a forklift. This training covers the basics of forklift operation, safety tips, and how to handle emergencies.


Don’t skip your pre-shift forklift inspections

Before operating a forklift, it's essential to inspect it thoroughly. Check the tires, forks, brakes, steering, controls, warning devices, and safety devices to ensure they're in good working condition. Any issues should be reported immediately and the forklift should not be used until they're fixed.


A lot of times these OSHA forklift checklists are done on paper, which can lead to “pencil whipping” and the headache of dealing with stacks of paperwork. 


Instead, consider going digital. OneTrack offers a completely digital solution to perform your forklift checklists, randomizes questions to keep operators honest, can automatically alert your maintenance teams of any issues, and provides a digital record if OSHA ever comes knocking for an audit. 


Additionally, check the load capacity of the forklift. Overloading a forklift can cause it to tip over, leading to serious injuries or even fatalities. The load capacity is usually indicated on the data plate of the forklift.


Operate the forklift safely

When operating a forklift, always wear the appropriate PPE. Never exceed the speed limit, slow down at corners or where visibility is obstructed, and depending on the warehouse process, use your horn around intersections or when approaching another lift. 


When lifting a load, ensure it's secure and balanced before moving. Never lift a load that's not secure or exceeds the forklift's load capacity. Also, never allow anyone to walk under a raised load.


These are just the basics. Want a checklist of the top leading indicators of MHE safety events so you can coach your operators? Get your copy.


Workplace safety measures

Besides the general safety tips, there are also specific warehouse processes to keep in mind to ensure the success of your forklift safety program.


Create a Safe Working Environment

This is all about eliminating potential hazards that could cause accidents. This includes keeping the workplace clean and free from debris, ensuring proper lighting, and maintaining good ventilation. Also, ensure the floor is level and free from holes or obstructions that could cause the forklift to tip over.


You’d be surprised at how often a broken pallet or crack in the ground can cause a serious forklift accident.


Create designated walkways for pedestrians to prevent accidents and install safety signs and mirrors at corners to improve visibility.


Data-driven operator coaching 

Every warehouse needs a way to keep track of an operator's accident history and hold them accountable. With OneTrack, your team can get notified every time a safety event occurs, for real-time coaching


And this doesn’t just mean after a serious impact. You can also get email notifications for behaviors like phone use on a lift, eating while driving, not looking in the direction of travel, and not wearing all of the appropriate PPE. 


Coaching on these leading indicators helps you proactively get ahead of potential forklift safety incidents. 


Forklift safety is arguably the most important aspect of any warehouse. But by following the basics, implementing a forklift safety program, and using technology to help you coach operators and keep people safe, you can be on your way to an incident free warehouse.

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