Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Forklift Facts for Improved Safety

Forklifts are involved in a large number of serious injuries each year, according to OSHA and BLS data. Here are some forklift facts from Cintas that can help employers improve the safety of employees who use and work near forklifts:
  1. Forklift batteries contain dangerous chemicals. "Lead-acid and nickel-iron rechargeable batteries contain corrosive chemicals, which harm skin if a worker is not wearing PPE," Cintas explains. "Employees should also know how to properly clean up chemical spills."
  2. Sites with battery-operated forklifts must install eyewash stations and showers under OSHA regulations. "Businesses must provide an eyewash station and, in some cases, an emergency shower within a 10-second reach of battery-operated forklifts. This helps minimize the impact of injuries caused by battery acid splashes or dust and flying debris," Cintas reports.
  3. Forklift batteries can weigh as much as 2,000 lb. "To ensure that employees don’t strain themselves while handling batteries, special equipment such as a battery cart should be used when recharging batteries," Cintas cautions, adding that employees should also wear protective footwear.
  4. Forklift operators must be trained. "Each operator must complete formal training that includes classroom instruction, trainer demonstrations, exercises and practical evaluation of individual operator performance," explains Cintas. In addition, organizations can use safety floor signs and wall posters to reinforce training. The company also notes that erratic driving and improper breaking, accelerating and turning can cause forklifts to crash, along with the materials they are transporting. "Training should encourage safe behaviors, such as proper driving techniques and how to keep the work area free of obstructions that can create hazards for drivers."
  5. One in four workplace transport-related incidents involves a forklift truck. Given this frequency, workers should understand what steps to take in the event of an incident. 
  6. Forklift batteries can emit toxic gases while charging. "While charging, batteries release oxygen and hydrogen gases, which can be highly explosive if the workplace is not properly ventilated," Cintas states. "Organizations should use fume hoods or exhaust fans to keep emissions from reaching volatile levels."
“With the proper precautions and training in place, forklifts are safe, efficient machines,” says Cintas's Jay Bruscato. “While general forklift operation might be part of a safety program, safety managers must regularly communicate with operators so that they can understand the hazards associated with the equipment and eliminate unsafe practices from the workplace.”

OSHA hosts a safety and health topics page on forklifts here that includes links to daily inspection checklists and other resources. The agency also has a eTool on forklifts and pedestrian safety.