Many factors can contribute to forklift incidents. We’ve already covered what are generally considered as the 9 main causes of these occurrences.
It is absolutely necessary to acknowledge the impact on safety of factors like speeding or riding with the load elevated. However, it is dangerously misleading to uniquely focus on these aspects, without likewise considering the factors of your work organization that can increase the risk of accidents involving forklifts.
Accidents that statistically occur to one in every ten forklifts, every year and resulting in either serious injury or death.
1. Production factors
This mostly concerns those production factors that cause stress or incite haste. Such as:
- An irregular workflow that shifts between having too much time and too little.
- Having to make up for ‘lost time’.
- Inadequately conditioned, tempered or otherwise mitigated environmental stress. Think: temperature, air pressure, air quality, … .
- Unreasonable high workloads.
- Changes to the production process and procedures, new tools and machinery.
2. Poor maintenance and age
Worn tires, leaks, faulty alarms and broken lights, forklifts that are in need of repair, even those in need of service or maintenance, are unsafe to operate. All too often this represents a clear example of work organization that heightens the risk of forklift incidents. It can lead to breakdowns during heavy lifting or while transporting heavy loads. Resulting in forklift incidents with possible serious injury or worse.
Before climbing on board, drivers should always do a walk-around, check and communicate every defect. Including those that may not seem to interfere with the standard operation of the vehicle. These alerts should be promptly acted upon … and in some cases the time may have come to put an aging forklift out to pasture and replace it with a new one.
3. Inadequate training of forklift operators
An accident with a forklift caused by horseplay or blatantly irresponsible driver behavior can be (for the most part) blamed on that operator. Checking driver certification, out- or in-house training, safety-centric coaching and regular refresher courses have proven to significantly reduce unsafe practices and behavior. Also: factors like changes in the vehicle fleet, site layout, production process, … might warrant a couple of hours of coaching, that just might save you many weeks of absence due to injury.
4. Absence or shortage of the proper tools
This includes the actual tool for the job as well as accessories, attachments, extensions etc. When not provided with the proper tools, workers tend to improvise with makeshift solutions. These not only often reduce efficiency, but also increase the risk of damages and forklift incidents. Especially when those tools, attachments or accessories are in fact designed to improve the safety of the worker. A proper work organization will guarantee access to the proper tools and restrict dangerous improvisation.
5. Inappropriate assignment of forklift or operator
This one is plain and simple: exclusively use a forklift for those tasks it is designed for, and have it operated by certified operators. It is not a tow truck and it should not be asked to work with heavier loads than intended. Not even “just the once”.
Also: however alike they might seem, not all forklifts share the same specs or even the same features. This means that even experienced and appropriately certified operators need to first properly familiarize themselves with every new model. Same goes for some attachments. A slight difference in acceleration, control setup, even the height of the operator’s seat might present a risk if not taken into account.
6. Treacherous lows & dangerous highs
An unstable, slippery or uneven work floor presents dangers for the forklifts that operate over it. The same goes for puddles, debris, clutter and other obstructions.
Just as hazardous are overhead obstructions. Think: low doorways, mezzanine levels, overhead walkways or other structures. Transporting loads with the forks lowered is the preferred and safest operating procedure. Still, parts of the forklift or the load itself may pose problems for a safe, obstruction-free passage.