Pedestrians and Forklifts - Awareness Can Help Reduce Accidents

Steel worker driving forklift to move steel
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Lift truck training is an OSHA requirement, but the importance of training pedestrians is too often overlooked. Have you considered offering basic awareness training to non-operators such as visitors, office staff or sales people who may venture into the warehouse or yard? While OSHA does not address forklift-pedestrian training specifically, the OSHA General Duty Clause would dictate that employers take measures to protect employees from recognized risks – including that of pedestrians exposed to lift trucks in action.

Pedestrian safety is not an issue to be overlooked. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), close to 20 percent of all forklift accidents involve a pedestrian being struck by the forklift, translating to almost 19,000 people per year.

However briefly or infrequently people come in the proximity of industrial trucks during the course of their work day, some basic steps should be taken to ensure their safety. One consideration is that pedestrian/forklift accidents often occur in situations where the pedestrian is ignorant of safety precautions, or alternatively when the pedestrian has become complacent through frequent interaction with forklifts. When it comes to avoiding putting yourself at risk of being struck by a forklift, here are some of the common situations to watch for:

  • Pedestrian did not see the lift truck. Many operations have varying degrees of intersections or blind corners of which the pedestrian should be aware.
  • Pedestrian did not hear the truck. Be aware of different forklift power sources. For example, while internal combustion forklifts may be quite loud, electric trucks may be much quieter. An uninformed pedestrian may equate a lack of noise with the absence of moving lift trucks.
  • Pedestrian came into too close proximity. Common sense tells us that in order for a pedestrian to be injured by a forklift, that pedestrian must be in close enough proximity to be struck. For a forklift that is running, a four-foot safety zone is recommended. This will address risks such as the machine driving over a pedestrian’s foot. The actual “kill zone” of the forklift may be much longer than four feet, however. Pedestrians should be aware that with rear wheel steering, the back end of forklifts can swing surprisingly quickly to the side. Additionally, forklifts with elevated forks require proportionately greater safety clearance. Another consideration is the horizontal length of a load. Long loads on a forklift such as a 20-foot long package of lumber will require an appropriate safety clearance when the lift truck turns.

    How to Improve Pedestrian Safety

    The good news is that the frequency of pedestrian involvement in lift truck accidents can be controlled through better traffic management, in conjunction safety equipment and awareness training:

    • Traffic Management – More effective traffic management can involve the demarcation of pedestrian-only routes to keep mobile equipment and pedestrians separate. This can involve signage and painted lines, but where possible, physical barriers to keep lift trucks from entering the pedestrian path provide a better solution. Even where physical separation is not possible, it is prudent to try to avoid forklift traffic around areas where there might be high levels of pedestrian activity, such as around the lunch room or the time clock. Establish and maintain safety rules around traffic right-of-way and pedestrian-only paths.
    • Safety Equipment – On the part of the pedestrian, this starts with always wearing a high visibility vest. Additionally, forklifts are required to have horns, and can be fitted with warning lights and forklift travel alarms such as a backup warning indicator – although there is some debate as to the actual effectiveness of too many warning devices on a truck. Curved mirrors can also be used to improve pedestrian safety at intersections. Another consideration is having the best forklift for the job at hand.
    • Training – When you think about training and pedestrian safety around forklift operators, there should be a three-tiered approach. One for management, which encompasses the larger picture of training for staff, plant design and safety equipment, one for forklift operators who may encounter pedestrians, and of course, training for pedestrians.
    • Training for pedestrians. Pedestrian training need not be exhaustive, but it should cover the basic hazards related to forklifts, and the rules that need to be followed. Knowing that trucks may appear suddenly around blind corners serves as a reminder to the pedestrian to stop, look and listen. Pedestrians should expect the appearance of a forklift with no warning. When encountering a forklift operator, the pedestrian should be sure to engage in eye contact before crossing the forklift’s path. Forklift operator vision can be obstructed. Another tip, if a forklift driver is facing away from you and your path seems to be adequately clear, you may want to verbally alert the operator and receive an acknowledgment back before crossing the path behind. Other common safety rules include never walking under a load, keeping clear of a forklift and load swing radius, and never riding on a lift truck unless specifically designed to accommodate a passenger. Communication and alertness are crucial.

      Forklift awareness training for pedestrians is an important step in making people aware of the hazards, and reinforcing those risks to veteran stakeholders who may grow complacent over time.