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Training & Inspections Drive Safe Practices: Forklift Safety Should Be a Top Concern for the Industry
Forklift Safety: Often overlooked but frequently a problem, forklift safety should be a priority for your operation and training combined with proper inspections are the keys to success.

By Jary Winstead
Date Posted: 12/1/2013

                Forklifts are everywhere in pallet and lumber operations. They are so common that it is easy to ignore them when designing your safety program. But the statistics on forklift incidents in the workplace are shocking.

                According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) there are as many as 35,000 serious accidents and 62,000 non-serious accidents involving forklifts in the United States each year. OSHA also estimates that 11% of all forklifts are involved in some type of accident each year, and that approximately 90% of all forklifts will be involved in some type of an accident during the forklift’s operational lifespan.

                Over the years, we have all witnessed examples of proper or safe operation, and improper or unsafe operation of forklifts. I certainly remember the first lumber mill I completed a safety inspection on, and how amazed I was that people getting run over by a forklift wasn’t an everyday occurrence. Through the years, I have witnessed many close calls, and completed many accident investigations related to forklift accidents. Unfortunately, forklift accidents are an all too common problem. 


Accident Stat Analysis

                OSHA statistics show that 85-100 people are fatally injured each year in the United States related to a forklift accident. Statistics also show operator error, and or lack of required instruction is a common root cause of the accident.

                According to OSHA, the leading causes of forklift fatalities are:

                • Crushed by vehicle tipping over

                • Crushed between vehicle and a surface

                • Crushed between two vehicles

                • Struck or run over by a forklift

                • Struck by falling material

                • Fall from platform on the forks

                With the previous mentioned statistics in mind, it is no wonder that forklift safety is one of OSHA’s favorite subjects, as it should be yours.



                Employers are required to provide safety training to all employees relevant to doing their job before their initial assignment, and forklift safety training is no different. Employers are required per OSHA Standard 1910.178 to provide forklift operator safety training. OSHA Standard 1910.178(1) identifies training content requirements as follows:

                • Powered industrial truck operators shall receive initial training in the following topics, except in topics which the employer can demonstrate are not applicable to safe operation of the truck in the employer’s workplace.

                • Operating instructions, warnings, and precautions for the types of truck the operator will be authorized to operate;

                • Differences between the truck and the automobile;

                • Truck controls and instrumentation: where they are located, what they do, and how they work;

                • Engine or motor operation;

                • Steering and maneuvering;

                • Visibility (including restrictions due to loading);

                • Fork and attachment adaptation, operation, and use limitations;

                • Vehicle capacity;

                • Vehicle stability;

                • Any vehicle inspection and maintenance that the operator will be required to perform;

                • Refueling and/or charging and recharging of batteries;

                • Operating limitations;

                • Any other operating instructions, warnings, or precautions listed in the operator’s manual for the types of vehicle that the employee is being trained to operate.

                • Workplace-related topics:

                • Surface conditions where the vehicle will be operated;

                • Composition of loads to be carried and load stability;

                • Load manipulation, stacking, and unstacking;

                • Pedestrian traffic in areas where the vehicle will be operated;

                • Narrow aisles and other restricted places where the vehicle will be operated;

                • Hazardous (classified) locations where the vehicle will be operated;

                • Ramps and other sloped surfaces that could affect the vehicle’s stability;

                • Closed environments and other areas where insufficient ventilation or poor vehicle maintenance could cause a buildup of carbon monoxide or diesel exhaust;

                • Other unique or potentially hazardous environmental conditions in the workplace that could affect safe operation.

                The training must be provided by a qualified instructor. The instructor can be one of your staff members as long as that person is competent, has adequate knowledge of forklift operation, safety, training experience, and is able to evaluate the operators after the training has been provided. If you have any reservations about having a person qualified for the training, it is recommended that you hire an outside professional instructor to provide the required training components.

                The forklift operation and safety training must include the following instruction components:

                • Classroom instruction that involves some combination of lecture, discussion, interactive computer learning, videos or written material.

                • Written evaluation that tests the trainee’s knowledge of what they have been instructed.

                • Practical evaluation where demonstrations are performed by the trainer and practical exercises performed by the trainee.

                It is also important along with written materials to have the manufacturer’s operating manual available for operator review.

                OSHA does not require forklift operators to carry a certification card, but you must be able to certify, or have proof of the above mentioned training upon request. Therefore, you need to retain a copy of the training materials, the completed written test, and the evaluation. The documentation needs to include the operators name, the date of the training, the type of forklift used for instruction, and the name of the person or persons that provided the training.

                Forklift operation and safety training must be provided at the initial hire, and at least every three years thereafter. Refresher training is required if: the operator is involved in an accident or a near-miss incident; the operator has been observed operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner; the operator has been determined during an evaluation to need additional training; there are changes in the workplace that could affect safe operation of the truck; or the operator is assigned to operate a different type of truck.


Pre-Shift Inspection Requirements

                Each forklift must be inspected prior to each operating shift. If you only have one shift, the inspections need only to be carried out once per day. If you have multiple shifts, the inspections need to be carried out prior to each shift. For those forklifts that are not operated during every shift, they don’t require inspection during those shifts they will not be operated, but if those forklifts are operated, they must have been inspected prior to operation.


Inspection Components

                The inspection is simple, but its importance cannot be understated. In other words, management should not allow the inspector to simply fill out the paperwork. The inspections must be completed fully, with each component of the inspection visually and physically inspected, prior to checking it off. Drawing a line through the checklist is unacceptable!

                A good idea is to make or purchase a forklift inspection form. These can be created with spreadsheet software, such as Microsoft Excel. Each inspection sheet must be applicable to the type of forklift being inspected.

                The inspection form information needs to include:

                • Forklift model and number

                • Dates/times of inspection

                • Inspectors name or initials

                • Forklift hours

                The following is an example of the checklist form components of a pre-shift inspection:

                • Batteries charged & meet manu-facturer’s specifications

                • Battery & terminals secure & clean

                • Engine oil & coolant levels full & free of leaks

                • Transmission operational, level full, & free of leaks

                • Belts & hoses inspected for cracks & leaks

                • Hydraulic controls operating, level full & free of leaks

                • Fuel system full & free of leaks

                • Brakes operational, park brake holds & fluid full

                • Forklift free of rattles, damage & loose parts

                • Steering wheel checked & free of excessive play

                • Wheels & tires free of damage & lugs tight

                • Data plate clean & legible

                • Lights, gauges, horn, & signals operational

                • Forks & masts free of damage

                • Mast chains lubed, undamaged & tension equal

                • Glass & mirrors clean

                • Fire extinguisher charged & inspected

                Each forklift to be operated must pass the inspection, and if for any reason it does not, and is found unsafe, the forklift must being taken out of service. The forklift must remain offline until it has been properly repaired by a qualified person using parts equivalent to the original manufacturer’s parts.

                Employers must have a written Forklift Operation and Safety Training Program to identify and document their policies and procures. As you can see OSHA standards have a substantial list of requirements for employers having forklifts in the workplace. The list of requirements may look endless, but it is paramount that employers follow them in order to keep their employees safe. Once put into place, the requirements of the standards are easy to comply.

                A recent OSHA violation caught my eye; A Texas distribution company was fined $52,250 for failure to provide the required forklift safety training. The OSHA report stated: “This company jeopardized the safety of its workers by failing to provide forklift training,” “It’s imperative that employers adhere to OSHA’s safety and health standards to prevent injuries and fatalities by properly training their workers.”

                As you can see, failing to maintain safety really does cost big money!


                Editor’s Note: Jary Winstead is a safety consultant, author and trainer who serves a variety of industries including the forest products sector. He owns Work Safety Services LLC and can be reached at SAFEJARY@aol.com.

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