Safety is everyone’s responsibility.
That’s a mantra for many warehouses and distribution centers across the world, and is especially important when working in a warehouse with active forklifts.
In many facilities, there are scores of workers and perhaps dozens of forklifts, all busy, all focused hard on productivity. There must be a balance between the need to produce and the need for safety. Drivers need to operate the vehicles with the utmost care and pedestrians need to be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Why is safety around forklifts so important? Forklift-related injuries, including non-serious, serious, and fatal, in the U.S. is 96,785. That means about 11 percent of all forklifts in use in the U.S. are involved in an accident each year, and 36% of those accidents involve pedestrians.
With proper training and safety measures in place, most of these accidents can be prevented. Let’s look at five ways facilities can improve safety for pedestrians around forklifts:
1) Train both pedestrians and drivers
One of the easiest ways to help prevent forklift accidents is to train both operators and pedestrians (order pickers, managers, vendors, etc.). Many companies comply with OSHA’s guidance on driver training, but pedestrian training is sometimes neglected—and it’s just as important.
It’s essential that all employees understand—and are frequently reminded of—safety protocols. It’s not enough to train an employee during onboarding. Safety training should be a routine and recurring part of the job.
Remember that people don’t always perceive forklifts as particularly dangerous because they are relatively slow compared to cars. Fight that perception by reciting the statistics above. Part of the battle is helping people comprehend the dangers.
Employees need to be trained on how to stay aware of surroundings, walk in designated pedestrian areas and cross aisles in designated areas. Familiarity with procedures and safety mechanisms in place is key to overall facility safety. These training measures must also be enforced, both by management and through a culture of safety that helps employees protect themselves and their fellow workers from these accidents.
2) Increase visibility for drivers and people on foot
Creating ways for forklift operators and pedestrians to see each other better would prevent many forklift accidents. Many injuries occur because forklift operators and/or pedestrians were oblivious to each other. Implementing ways to increase visibility of the machine, as well as pedestrians, is essential.
Measures can be as simple as requiring all employees walking in an area with active forklifts to wear high-visibility vests. That’s an affordable and easy way to increase forklift safety for pedestrians.
Adding different elements to the forklift, such as blue safety lights attached to the front and rear of the machine, side zone lights, safety sensors and mirrors, can draw pedestrians’ attention to a forklift’s presence in the area. It’s all about helping the driver and the person on foot see each other more easily.
3) Use Marked Pedestrian Lanes & Crossings
Larger facilities with many forklifts often designate separate lanes and crossings for pedestrians and forklifts.
These efforts create awareness for both parties. Drivers expect to see pedestrians at crosswalks and in aisles, so they are typically more aware and tuned into their presence. Additional design features, such as protective islands, metal guards and automated control gates, increase forklift safety as well.
Employees need to be trained on how to use these “traffic lanes” within the facility and their use should be routinely enforced.
It is almost always better to utilize hard lane definition (guard rails, bollards, etc.) vs. paint stripes. The idea is to make it convenient for pedestrians to walk in the right aisles. Paint is easily stepped across and ignored. Keeping people out of the wrong place helps both pedestrians and drivers to have faith that the designated lanes are safe and that they can work more comfortably in them.
4) Install mirrors and safety sensors to increase visibility at blind corners or other limited-visibility areas
Blind corners are a common problem for warehouses. Tall storage racks, sharp corners, stacked pallets or other materials, dock bays with parked trucks, heavy machinery, and other impediments can create blind corners and limited-visibility intersections.
Forklift drivers and pedestrians can’t see around the corners and may not be able to hear each other approaching. Mirrors, motion sensors, or forklift activated warning lights can increase safety at these key junctions.
Encourage drivers to approach intersections with extreme caution and at slow speeds and use their horns. Pedestrians should heighten their awareness when walking around these areas.
5) Check your warehouse for overall safety
While there are many safety features and factors directly related to forklifts, it’s imperative to have an overall healthy, clean and safe facility. Clutter causes situations where a tragic accident can occur.
We discussed visibility previously and poor lighting conditions can limit a driver or pedestrian’s ability to see clearly. A well-lit facility is an essential component to an overall safe workspace.
Organization is the cornerstone of efficiency and it also plays an important role in safety. A cluttered facility can cause accidents and injuries because forklifts have to maneuver around these obstacles. Aisles should be kept clear of debris and not be treated as temporary storage or workspace. In addition to organization, dust, dirt and other messes need to be kept at bay with regular cleaning.
Other factors, such as excessive ambient noise within a facility, can also contribute to decreased safety. Loud facilities can mask the sound of an approaching forklift or pedestrians chatting near racks. Take care to choose machinery with noise reduction where possible. Curtain walls or noise-deadening panels can also separate noisy machinery and mitigate the acoustic impact on other areas of operation.
Forklift safety is a serious issue and one that should be of great concern to any company that operates forklifts as part of their operation. Thankfully there are many ways (both simple and complex) to improve safety throughout your facility and among your employees. It takes time, commitment, and bit of investment, but if done with consistency and purpose, facilities will avoid costly injuries as well as reap the benefits of a safer, healthier and more efficient operation.
Scott Stone is the Director of Marketing for Cisco-Eagle, Inc., a provider of integrated material handling and storage systems for industrial operations. Scott has 25 years of experience in industrial operations and marketing.