Forklift safety: 5 ways to reduce incidents

James Watters of Linfox shares his company’s policy on forklift safety:

One of the biggest hazards in a warehouse or distribution centre is the operation of forklifts. While forklifts are compactly designed to make them highly maneuverable, this can lead to low stability if they are not operated with caution. Fully loaded, a standard forklift can weigh approximately five tonnes. Even at low speed, a forklift collision or rollover can cause serious injury to workers and pedestrians, and even death.

Most forklift accidents involve workers who are not properly trained, not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), or have become careless or complacent.

In Linfox’s largest warehouse and distribution centres, up to 200 loaders and forklifts can be on the move at one time, with a similar number of pickers employed in their day to day tasks. With this much activity, a proactive approach is imperative. Linfox has categorised the use of forklift equipment as a ‘critical risk’ within the business.

Here are five key safety practices in place at Linfox to champion a culture of safety around the use of this equipment:

  • Make sure operators are well trained

A commitment to safety begins with proper training. In New Zealand Linfox has two in-house trainers qualified to conduct forklift training and licencing, as well as refresher training and ongoing coaching. In the busy environment of the logistics industry, this enables trainers to provide on-the-spot, situational coaching when needed. All forklift operators, even those who are trained and experienced, are routinely monitored and retested or refresher-trained when necessary to make sure they continue to operate safely.

  • Maintain and check forklift equipment

Workers should be required to conduct a routine check of each forklift before operating the equipment. Linfox’s forklift safety diligence is backed up by detailed policies and procedures outlining forklift safety steps, general hazards and pre-start checklists. Forklift operators must inspect forklifts before each job, by checking first the items that can be monitored without the engine running. This should include seat belts, tires, lights, horn, brakes, backup alarms and fluid levels, as well as the moving and load-supporting parts of the forklift.

  • Ensure workers wear appropriate PPE

When operating a forklift, operators should wear safety shoes and hi-visibility jackets at all times. Sometimes a hard hat is appropriate too. They should avoid loose fitting clothing that can catch onto machinery.

  • Invest in forklift safety technology

A commitment to forklift safety should be underpinned by an investment in forklift fleet and operator management technologies. At Linfox distribution centres and warehouse facilities, ‘Blue Light’ technology is used to indicate the 3-metre safe zone for operators and pedestrians. Flashing lights are used as a simple mechanism to heighten awareness of approaching forklifts. Speed limiters are used on all forklifts to control the speed, and CCTV cameras are in place for reach-machine operation. 

As these forklift technology and safety mechanisms continue to evolve, Linfox is constantly looking for safer ways to operate to keep people safe around material handling machinery. New technologies under review include forklift activated mirror alert systems, and LED light caution signs that warn pedestrians of approaching forklift traffic at pedestrian crossings, blind corners and intersections.

  • Consider the surrounding environment

While the onus is on the forklift operator to conduct their work safely in the designated pathways, it is also the responsibility of pedestrians to take care on when working close to these areas. Where necessary, change the layout of the work area to eliminate the need for pedestrians to be in areas where forklifts operate. Make sure signage is clearly displayed to mark pedestrian-free zones.

With a company-wide commitment to safety and a strong safety framework in place, forklift incidents are preventable. Proper training, regular equipment maintenance and clear policies and procedures are the best way to build and maintain a culture of safety around the use of materials handling equipment.