Accident prevention brought to the fore on Forklift Safety Day

by Krystyna Shchedrina

National Forklift Safety Day, hosted by the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) on June 14, aims to educate users and organizations on the importance of forklift operations safety.  

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that nearly 70 percent of forklift accidents can be prevented with proper training and safety protocols, and leaders across the industry are joining the ITA to reinforce the importance of operator safety and to promote pedestrian awareness.  

According to OSHA, nearly 100,000 workers are injured annually by almost 900,000 forklifts operating across the U.S. More than 10 percent of forklifts are involved in incidents, fatally injuring nearly 100 workers yearly. 

The issue is not limited to the U.S. alone. Motor vehicle incidents have been a leading cause of traumatic fatalities in Ontario over the past several years, said Norm Kramer, warehouse and distribution specialist at Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS).  

“Although not specifically lift trucks, it shows that powered vehicles operating around pedestrians are a high hazard. This is partly due to operators travelling near pedestrians and having limited visibility from obstructions from the load being carried on forks, operating in reverse and blind spots from pallet loads on floor.” 

In 2021 alone, Ontario reported 633 forklift or industrial powered vehicle lost-time injuries. Of those, 23 percent resulted from pedestrians being struck by industrial-powered vehicles, said Kramer.  

The Ontario Ministry of Labour identifies limited visibility, loss of control or lack of attention by either an operator or worker on foot and inadequate separation and traffic controls as the main causes of these incidents.  

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) says workplace designs sometimes contribute to forklift truck incidents. According to CCOHS, employers should be aware that narrow crowded aisles, intersection and door obstructions, ramps or flooring with different surfaces, as well as the volume of traffic in the operations area, can pose an additional danger to the operators, pedestrians, equipment and goods.  

Lack of training

Among the many incidents previously reported by Inside Logistics, a worker was injured in 2019 due to improper stacker use. The employee was not trained to use forklifts and had to use the stacker, designated for light weight goods, while the paper and glass rolls the employee was transporting were heavy and meant to be carried with a forklift. As a result, 823 pounds of rolls fell and struck the worker, who was critically injured.  

To help eliminate incidents like these, Mitsubishi Logisnext Americas announced plans to donate US$5,000 towards forklift certification and safety gear for Habitat for Humanity’s employees and volunteers in Houston as a part of this year’s NFSD campaign.  

Mitsubishi Logisnext Americas believes providing formal instruction and “hands-on” training in the work environment, conducting regular equipment inspections and evaluating operators’ performance in specific work environments can help secure safe forklift operations. 

The ‘Safety Drives Us’ campaign calls on employees, dealers and customers to sign a pledge created to uphold the highest safety standards and ensure safe forklift operations.  

“By signing the pledge, individuals are committing to never compromise on safety to get the job done, to read and follow OSHA safety guidelines and regulations, and to hold themselves and co-workers accountable for using safe practices,” said Mitsubishi’s spokesperson. After signing the pledge, individuals can download National Forklift Safety Day (NFSD) materials, including a safety training poster.  

 Toyota’s commitment

Toyota Material Handling (TMH) has also renewed its investment to celebrate the NFSD, focusing on operator safety training. In 2021, TMH offered no-cost forklift safety consultations to the dealers. This year, the company continues its commitment to safe operations and is offering free site survey audits.

 “The operator is the most important component of a forklift. Training and investing in these individuals is paramount, even for the most seasoned operators,” said Tom Lego, Toyota Material Handling brand ambassador, in a press release.

He added there is always something new in this industry because each setting is unique and different. “Proper training and ample opportunities to hone the skills of these essential workers are the most important investments in forklift safety.” 

New challenges

With the emergence of automated forklifts, new safety protocols and measures might come up in the future. And even though automation eliminates human error issues such as the loss of control, and lack of attention by an operator or worker, additional tech-related issues might arise.  

“Time will tell,” said Kramer. He added that automation might help prevent injuries because it will help separate people from the equipment.

However, Kramer pointed out that solid control measures and safety protocols have to be implemented in areas with operational automated powered vehicles. New, additional training might be required to direct workers and pedestrians away from the vehicles.