Forklifts have long been integral to warehouses. However, when handled inappropriately forklifts can be very dangerous. The heavy and sharp arms of the forklift can cause serious damage to people and materials if the machine is not operated correctly. Forklifts are also prone to tipping over if handled improperly or when goods are loaded in a manner that does not conform to the design of the machine.
Statistics from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reveals about 85 forklift fatalities and 34,900 serious injuries every year.
The following considerations can help to avoid forklift related mishaps in warehouses:
Different types of forklifts are available to suit various operational needs. For instance, electric forklifts are best suited for indoor operations and light lifting while a heavier-duty diesel forklift may be required for lifting heavier loads and in outdoor yards. In warehouses with tight mezzanines and densely packed facilities, a forklift with a good turning radius will improve safety, productivity and efficiency.
Operating forklifts on specific terrains, such as a rugged outdoor environment, may require specific hardware as well. A key consideration here is the choice of the tire. Rubber tires are best suited for internal operations and flat surfaces. Heavy lift operations require a more durable set of pneumatic tires. Polyurethane tires are the best choice for electric forklifts and specialized material handling applications. The wrong tires could cause tire burst, the forklift spinning out of control, and serious accidents.
Many warehouses try to cut costs by purchasing a second-hand forklift – and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, a tested “veteran” may be more suited for the job at hand as compared to a new untested model. Nevertheless, it is important to ensure the forklift is in good working order and is well-maintained. Inspect the tires, lights, signals and other critical parts of the forklift on a routine basis, as recommended by the manufacturer. Also make sure the forklift is equipped with all safety accessories like corner mirrors to improve operator visibility. Proper inspection and timely maintenance can eliminate accidents to a great extent. OSHA regulations recommends inspection of forklift vehicles after each shift, or at least once in a day.
Forklifts are versatile machines, but such flexibility increases the scope for accidents. Controlling the forklift requires great skill on the part of the operator and it is imperative for operators to be trained extensively before being allowed to operate the machinery.
Forklifts have complicated sets of valves and an equally confusing control panel. Familiarity with the controls and gauges are essential to avoid accidents. Failing to monitor the various gauges, for instance, may cause material handling operations to go awry, as well as damage the forklift.
Train operators to drive at a smooth and even pace, slowing down at intersections, ramps and other danger points. Make it standard practice to use horns in blind spots. Train them to be alert on wet and slippery surfaces, and not to cut turns too short. A key element of training depends on adaptability to the conditions in which the forklift operates. Train the forklift operators in maneuvering over rough terrain, and make them aware of the dips, slopes, narrow holes and other obstacles they might encounter on their routes. Such obstacles are the major cause of tip overs and rollovers.
By establishing rules and regulations for forklift operations, and enforcing it uncompromisingly, one can try to maintain safety within the warehouse.
Very often, it is non-compliance with the laid down rules and safety protocols that cause accidents.
An awareness about regulations and safe practices needs to be created among the entire warehouse staff. For instance, the raised forks of a lift truck are susceptible to fall without warning, even when empty. The “fall zone” is a full circle around the lift truck, which is twice the height of the carried load. Forklift safety is not the responsibility of the forklift operator alone. People in the vicinity need to keep a close watch on forklift movements and keep a safe distance.
Despite all the precautions, accidents might happen. Have a clear cut contingency plan in case of eventuality. In case of any accidents, it has to be reported promptly, and remedial actions need to be taken at the earliest.
Giving significance to even a single aspect such as the safety and efficiency of forklift operations, can add positively to warehouse management.
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