The term “forklift” covers a wide range of items and equipment used to move pallets and transport heavy loads. The term can be applied to anything from a simple, non-powered pallet lifter to a forked lifting device guided by a standing or walking operator, to a very large high-capacity lifting device with a seat for the operator and a covered, all-weather cabin. Different forklift designs come with different operational requirements, and of course, they also come with different hazards.

While handling propane- or battery-driven ride-on lifters, operators need to keep a close eye on equipment maintenance, the weight and position of the load, and the speed and direction of motion. Operators also need to pay close attention to another serious hazard: pedestrians in the work area.

In many ways, driving a forklift is like driving a car. 1) Pedestrians always have the right of way; 2) Pedestrians should be paying attention and taking responsibility for their own safety, but they sometimes don’t; and 3) pedestrians can appear behind or in close proximity to a working forklift without warning.

Workplace-specific pedestrian hazards.

In most warehouses and distribution centers, pedestrians and forklift operators need to occupy the same space, and both parties tend to be focused on tasks, easily distracted and compromised by ambient noise, sound-blocking ear protection and visual obstructions. But in a collision between the two, the pedestrian can suffer serious injury, even if the lift truck is moving very slowly. Forklift operators should bear in mind that very slow speeds and the presence of signaling equipment and mirrors are not sufficient to prevent injuries and accidents. Operators still need to exercise constant caution and situational awareness in active work areas.

Preflight equipment checks.

Before operating any form of ride-on lifting equipment, drivers should check to make sure all lights and auditory signaling functions are working properly. Mirrors and seating should be adjusted for maximum visibility (some lift trucks can be programed with customized settings for each user). Pedestrians should also be made aware of the presence of all vehicular hazards in the workspace, including lift trucks.

Safe operation in pedestrian areas.

No pedestrians should ever stand or walk beneath elevated forks, regardless of the presence of a load. Pedestrians should not stand or walk behind a moving lift truck, especially on an incline. And operators should not reverse or move in a visually obstructed direction without proper signaling. Operators should not allow any person to stand or climb on the forks or mast. Pedestrians should be forbidden to enter areas where forklifts are moving at high speeds.

For more information on maintaining safe operation in a workspace shared by pedestrians and forklifts, contact the lifting equipment experts at Liftow.