Forklifts are a critical element in supporting America’s economy. For the product distribution and warehousing sectors, forklifts are indispensable pieces of material handling equipment. Warehouses and distribution center activities would come to a halt if not for their trusty forklifts. Other industries also rely on forklifts in their daily operations.
As much as forklifts are the workhorses of many businesses, they should also be handled carefully. Forklift accidents causing product damage or worker injury in industrial or commercial workplaces are far too common. However, many of these accidents can be prevented through proper forklift training. This forklift operating guide will help train operators in knowing how to use a forklift safely.
This forklift operating handbook starts by looking at the many uses for forklifts in the workplace. It covers the basic forklift types and what they’re designed to do. A clear and concise forklift training handbook also needs to outline the principal regulations covering safe forklift operating procedures, identify the best forklift operation practices and give direction on how employers can effectively train workers to be accident-free every working day.
The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identifies forklifts as “powered industrial trucks." The OSHA definition says they are “mobile, power-driven vehicles used to carry, pull, push, stack, lift or tier material." By definition, forklifts don’t include pallet jacks or hand trucks, but they do take in these seven forklift classes, which cover a wide usage field:
Each forklift class has specific design characteristics intended for different applications or uses. For example, Class 1 forklifts are the most common and widely-used in American warehouses. This class takes in various-sized forklifts that move, stack and remove pallets containing virtually every product imaginable.
Class 2 forklifts are more specialized. Because of their compact design, Class 2 powered industrial trucks operate in confined spaces found in many distribution centers. These narrow-aisle forklifts are commonly called order-pickers as they’re almost exclusively used to pick products for outward-bound distribution.
Forklift classification distinguishes models based on their power source as well as their tire composition. While electric forklifts are commonly used indoors, internal combustion engine forklifts fueled by propane, compressed natural gas, diesel or gasoline find their best use outdoors where the exhaust fumes don’t present a health hazard.
Forklifts aren’t only found in warehouse and distribution facilities. Forklifts are used practically anywhere material or products require handling. Other common places using forklifts include:
The U.S. Department of Labor and Industries keeps statistics on forklift accidents. They report that approximately 20,000 serious injuries occur every year in American workplaces due to forklift misuse. Statistics also show the four main forklift-related fatal injury causes:
Most, if not all, forklift accidents are preventable. American legislators recognize this reality and formed forklift regulations to place a strong safety onus on employers who authorize workers to run forklifts, regardless of their class. Every employer using forklifts in their workplace must be familiar with these two primary forklift regulatory documents:
Combined, the publications from OSHA and ANSI make it clear that employees are required to develop and implement forklift operator training programs. Forklift training isn’t meant to be a general guide to safe operations. By law, workers must be trained on the specific forklift class and model they operate. Regulations mandate employers to document this machine-specific training and prove operator competency.
Aside from OSHA and ANSI material, other valuable forklift safety tips help prevent accidents and injuries. Here are five top tips every forklift trainer and operators should know:
Safely operating a forklift requires skill and experience. Developing proficient forklift skills takes time and comes with experience as well as competent training. Forklift operation can be dangerous, and no person should ever operate a powered industrial truck without sufficient training. That training includes the basic principles of how forklifts operate.
Operating a forklift is not the same as driving a car. Although there are many differences between automobiles and industrial trucks, the principal one is how they’re steered. Conventional autos have four wheels and steer with the front two. Most forklifts are tricycle designs and have three tires. The single rear wheel steers the forklift, and this allows the machine to operate in a tight turning radius.
Safe forklift operation is primarily about managing stability. Four elements contribute to forklift stability or instability. To be safe, every operator must know these components of a forklift’s design:
Once a newly-trained forklift operator understands the machine’s physics, it’s time to get practical with operation. Safely operating a forklift is then a matter of understanding the controls and always maintaining complete situational awareness of the working environment. Being alert and aware is paramount to safe forklift operating. Here are the basic steps in safely operating a forklift:
OSHA regulations and ANSI guidelines require every American employer using forklifts to instruct every employee who uses a forklift on how to operate a specific machine safely. Failing to formally train, practically instruct and finally evaluate a forklift operator could result in severe penalties and significant liability in the event of an accident. Laws also require refresher training to be done and documented every three years or immediately following an unsafe forklift operation incident.
Several competent and independent forklift training agencies operate across the country. No law mandates a forklift license, although any credible training agency will issue a certificate showing that a student has successfully completed an organized training program. OSHA and ANSI guidelines allow flexibility so any employer can develop and authorize their own in-house program provided it meets these requirements:
Training a forklift operator requires a dedication to safety and a corporate culture formed around committing to safe work practices rather than being merely compliant to OSHA rules or ANSI best practice recommendations. Although there are many aspects involved in training a forklift operator, certain fundamentals must be instilled through the formal, practical and evaluation process. The key takeaways to cover in forklift operation instruction are:
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