Forklifts are some of the most commonly used pieces of equipment in the supply chain, used to efficiently move product to the next link in the chain. However, like any piece of industrial equipment, there is always the risk of injury when operating forklifts.
According to OSHA, forklifts cause about 85 fatal accidents each year. Moreover, nearly 35,000 forklift-related accidents result in serious bodily injury, and about 62,000 injuries are classified as non-serious each year. To put that further into perspective, about 1 in 10 forklifts will be involved in some type of accident this year, according to the Industrial Truck Association (ITA).
However, despite all of these harrowing numbers, we also know roughly 25 percent of these accidents are due to inadequate or a lack of forklift operator training. Translation: 25 percent of these accidents can be completely preventable.
By renewing your focus on forklift operator training, you can have more peace of mind knowing your workplace isn’t adding to any of the aforementioned statistics. Here are 9 of the most effective tips for how to avoid all-too-common forklift-related injuries and to put forklift safety procedures into practice:
1. Create Forklift Certification Opportunities
Because many accidents are the result of poor or a lack of training, it is recommended operators be responsible for operating a forklift only after completing an OSHA-approved certifications class. This certification should be reevaluated every three years; however, investing in supplemental training, such as OSHA’s training resources, is encouraged to keep operators fresh on best safety practices.
2. Require Forklift Inspections Each Shift
Forklifts are put through stress each and every day, the weight of the supply chain hinging on its forks. They make the same movement hundreds of times while simultaneously balancing thousands of pounds of product over numerous hours each day.
Because of this tough work, it’s important to inspect lift trucks before each shift to ensure operators can start their day safely and effectively. Daily pre-shift inspections are recommended to identify any problems or hazards that could prevent potential injury. Here are a few things to check before operating a forklift:
Examine tires for any obvious damage
Check for any water, radiator, or oil leaks
Keep an eye out for potential environmental hazards (like grease stains or cracks in the floor)
Test operational controls like horn, lights, and brakes
Examine fluid levels (hydraulic, brake, engine, coolant, and fuel)
Check the condition of the forks
If the forklift needs repair, it should not be operated until the problems have been addressed. MH Equipment’s certified technicians can swiftly diagnose and address any issues you may find. Check out this list of five forklift parts to routinely inspect for wear and tear to help ensure safe operation.
3. Maintain High Visibility at All Times
Blocked or partially-blocked visibility increases the chance of accidents. Be sure to keep the forks low to the ground to provide a clear view moving forward. If the load restricts visibility, operate the forklift in reverse, your eyes looking in the direction you are moving. Here are some other best practices for maintaining high visibility:
Use spotters if help is needed positioning the load off the rack
Equip headlights if working at night, outdoors, or in any area with poor lighting
Make direct eye contact with pedestrians when operating a lift truck near them
Slow down, sound the horn, and cautiously approach facility blind spots, such as aisle intersections
Drive slowly into and out of warehouses or other buildings, as going from bright daylight into a darkened warehouse may temporarily blind drivers just long enough to be a hazard to other workers and property.
MH Equipment offers numerous ancillary products like safety lights and rear-view mirrors that can make an impact on the safety of your day-to-day operations.
4. Operate Forklifts at a Safe Speed
Be sure to operate the forklift within the pre-determined speed limits to avoid serious injuries from tip-overs and whiplash from stopping too abruptly. Tip-overs can occur when operators stop, turn, change direction, or make sharp turns at too high of a speed – each of these can result in the operator being ejected from the forklift or being crushed by the equipment or the load they’re carrying. According to the ITA, forklift tip-overs are the leading cause of forklift-related fatalities, with 42 percent of all major forklift accidents being caused by tip-overs.
5. Ensure Load Stability and Security
In addition to speed, off-center loads, overloading, and loading damaged loads are often the primary causes of unstable loads that can lead to a forklift tip-over. Each forklift has a center of gravity and is built on a three-point suspension (often referred to as the “stability triangle”), that operators need to stay within to prevent a tip-over. The heavier the load, the further the center of gravity is from the center of the stability triangle, and therefore, the less capacity your equipment can lift. Here are some tips for difficult loads:
Off-Center Loads: If a load cannot be centered on the forks, arrange the load so the heaviest part is close to the front of the wheels.
Overloading: Be mindful of the capacity of the lift truck and any attachments being used, and be sure to consult the manufacturer’s instructions before picking up a load (especially if it’s large or awkwardly shaped) to ensure you are not exceeding capacity. If the manufacturer instructions are not available, use OSHA’s Safe Load Capacity Calculation as a guide for safe loading.
Damaged Loads: Avoid picking up damaged loads unless they have been safely secured by wrapping or banding.
6. Know OSHA’s Floor Marking Requirements
Busy warehouses, loading docks, pedestrian traffic, and heavy equipment traffic can make it difficult for employees to work and move safely throughout the workplace. To combat this, floor marking can establish pedestrian-only paths, keep workers away from unsafe loads, and establish traffic controls for forklift operators.
OSHA specifically addresses floor marking in its standard on material handling and storage (29 CFR 1910.176), where it states, “Permanent aisles and passageways shall be appropriately marked.” This means a few things:
Floor marking lines must at least 2 inches wide to ensure high visibility, though it’s recommended lines be 2-6 inches wide.
Aisles should be at least 4-foot-wide, or at least 3 feet wider than the largest piece of equipment being used in that aisle.
If the facility has unusual surfaces (like dirt floors), flags, traffic cones, and other similar markers may be used as long as employees are trained on what the system means.
The color of the floor marks is incredibly important, too. Red identifies fire-related hazards, as well as emergency switches and hazardous machines. Yellow signals caution and marks physical hazards, such as falling or tripping hazards.
Make sure floors are marked appropriately throughout your facility, and make sure employees have a clear understanding of what the symbols and colors mean to create a safer workflow.
7. Refuel and Recharge in Specified Areas
Keeping equipment properly fueled and charged isn’t just important for maintaining productivity – it can also mitigate the risk of injury if the lift truck stops unexpectedly due to a lack of power. When recharging or refueling, also make sure you’re doing so in the designated area of the facility, which is usually well-ventilated and away from common workplace hazards. Remember to always turn off the lift truck before refueling, and to have the forks lowered to the ground and tilted downward.
For internal combustion engine forklifts, it’s important to have regular engine emissions tests to monitor any dangerous levels of carbon monoxide that can be harming employees, especially if the lift truck is continuously operating in an enclosed environment.
8. Listen to Your Body
Forklift operators’ bodies are put through a lot of stress when operating heavy equipment. Repetitive movements, sitting for long periods of time, and equipment vibration can all take a toll on the human body, creating issues like body pain, musculoskeletal injuries, and fatigue. Many of these can lead to chronic pain. Some of the common issues and tips for avoiding these injuries include.
Neck and Back Pain: Take breaks to stretch and use the seat’s backrest to avoid slumping.
Shoulder Pain: Keep elbows in while driving, stretch regularly, and use armrests, if possible. Holding your hand in a handshake position when using the controls can help, too.
Knee Pain: Be sure to walk for a few minutes every hour, and don’t jump on or off the forklift – opt to use three points of contact when entering or exiting the machine.
Musculoskeletal Injuries: These injuries can be caused by jerking or repetitive movements that damage discs, blood vessels, and muscular and nervous tissues over time. Stretch as much as you can, and use ergonomic seating, if possible, including suspension seats, armrests, and swiveling seats, to avoid injury.
Fatigue: When taking breaks, be sure to drink plenty of water. With long periods of time sitting, it’s important to walk as much as possible on your shift to boost energy levels.
When operators aren’t distracted by pain, they are more likely to make better, safer decisions throughout the rest of their work.
9. Wear Proper PPE
It is also important to dress appropriately before operating a forklift to avoid common workplace injuries:
Hard Hat: While the forklift’s overhead guard can provide some protection, falling objects can still cause significant harm. A hard hat can take much of the brunt of the impact and prevent serious head injuries.
Protective Eyewear: Wearing safety eyewear helps ensure no dust particles or other foreign objects can impair vision when operating a forklift. This is especially relevant for any operators who work outside and are exposed to wind and dirt or dust.
Steel-Capped Boots or Shoes: Reinforced footwear can prevent your foot from being crushed or being run over by a forklift or the misplacement of a heavy load.
High-Visibility Vest: Reflective, high-visibility clothing ensures you can be easily seen and identified by both pedestrians and other forklift operators, even in darker environments.
Hand Protection: Because forklifts have several moving parts that need oil and grease as part of regular maintenance, residue can often find its way onto the steering wheel or controls. Wearing gloves can reduce the slipperiness of any residues (while protecting the operator’s skin), as well as protect the hands when handing loads (avoiding splinters, chemical spills, etc.).
Also remember to tuck in any loose clothing to prevent potentially-hazardous snags on the forklift or its controls.
The Bottom Line
Regular, proper operator training is the best way to prevent accidents and injuries, as well as to promote a culture of safety, in the workplace. Accidents happen with all types of operators, no matter age or experience – that’s why keeping safety top of mind is never a poor investment.
If you are ready to renew your investment in forklift safety, MH Equipment offers two types of forklift training and certification classes to help ensure your operation is OSHA-compliant – a forklift operator certification class and a train-the-trainer course designed for individuals responsible for training other employees how to safely operate a forklift.
By Grant Wilkerson, Director of Safety and Loss Control
MH Equipment’s culture of safety follows our Safe in the Moment philosophy – take a moment to ensure you are doing your job safely before you act. We strive to educate and support each person at MH to achieve our most important safety goal: to help that employee have zero injuries throughout their career. While zero may seem like a difficult number to reach, injuries can be eliminated if we stay focused on being Safe in the Moment. You and your employees can also employ this philosophy to work toward zero injuries.
The most important tool, though, is ourselves. Individually, each of us is the only one who can make ourselves look twice, go a little slower, avoid straining, take time to correct a task hazard, or offer to help a coworker with a heavy load.
Be aware of these common contributors to workplace injuries:
Being in a Hurry. Sometimes there is more concern for completing a job quickly instead of safely. An injury will always take more time than the little bit you may save by hurrying.
Taking Chances. Daring behavior or blatant disregard for safe work practices can put the whole work team at risk. Follow all company safety rules and watch out for your fellow employees. Things like overexertion, “manhandling” heavy objects, refusing to ask for help or use a lifting device, as well as horseplay, are never appropriate on the job.
Being Preoccupied. Daydreaming, distractions, thinking about the weekend, and not paying attention to the task at hand can get you seriously injured. If your mind is troubled or distracted, take a moment to reorganize your thoughts and get refocused on the task at hand.
Having a Negative Mindset. Being angry or in a hostile mood can lead to severe injury because anger typically overrides caution and takes our minds off our tasks. Remember to stay cool and in charge of your emotions.
Failing to Look for Potential Hazards. Work conditions are constantly changing and often new, unexpected hazards develop. Always be alert for changes in the environment. Hidden hazards include spilled liquids that can cause slips and falls; out-of-place objects that can cause trips; sharp edges on components; and awkward positions that can cause undue straining.
Remember, each of us is in control of our own ability to stay alert for hazards, to slow and calm down, and to re-focus so we don't become just one more injury statistic. An injury-free workplace IS possible!
MH Equipment recently received two major awards from Hyster-Yale Group for its focused leadership and drive for success, despite the worldwide uncertainty last year – the 2020 Hyster Dealer of Distinction and 2020 Yale Dealer of Excellence awards.
MH Equipment had a record-setting year with seven recognitions being awarded across its regions. MH’s Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio South, and Indianapolis regions were recognized as 2020 Hyster dealers of distinction, and the Ohio North region was awarded the 2020 Yale Dealer of Excellence award. MH Equipment’s Iowa region was recognized with both awards.
To achieve the prestige of these recognitions, dealers must meet rigorous business practice standards and performance criteria that are modified regularly to ensure alignment with ever-evolving customer expectations and heightened industry demands. They must also demonstrate excellence in a variety of areas, including new unit sales, aftermarket options, customer satisfaction, and more.
To make those accomplishments even more significant, MH Equipment is also one of only two dealers to have received both a Hyster Dealer of Distinction and a Yale Dealer of Excellence award for its work in 2020.
“We are grateful to earn such recognitions and are proud of all of our employees,” said Woody Hartwell, President of Sales and Marketing at MH Equipment. “The standards to be a Hyster Dealer of Distinction or Yale Dealer of Excellence are very high and challenging to reach in a normal year. To have seven of our regions achieve this special accomplishment in such a challenging year is amazing – and we feel blessed.”
MH Engineered Solutions has been awarded the prestigious MVP (Most Valuable Partner) Award for 2021 for their accomplishments in 2020. For the eighth year in a row, MH Engineered Solutions has earned an MVP Award from the industry’s trade association, MHEDA (Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association).
Award recipients must satisfy a rigorous set of criteria with less than 10 percent of the association’s membership earning the award. As a 2021 MVP, MH Engineered Solutions has successfully demonstrated a commitment to business excellence, professionalism, and good stewardship.
To qualify for the annual MVP Award, companies are required to provide evidence of their commitment to their partners in business, including their customers, employees and suppliers. They must satisfy criteria in the following important areas:
• Industry Advocacy
• Customer Service & Safety Practices
• Business Networking
• Continuing Education
• Business Best Practices
“This award is difficult to achieve without a companywide commitment to excellence in education, networking, and community service. The companies that earn this distinction from MHEDA are the premier materials handling providers in the industry,” said Mike Wall, 2020 MHEDA Chairman of the Board and President of CSI Materials Handling in Westmont, IL.
In response to receiving the award for the eighth consecutive year, Scott Hennie, President of MH Engineered Solutions, said: “We are grateful to receive the MHEDA MVP distinction again, as this award supports our company Vison, Mission, and Values by providing the opportunity to support our clients by being consultative in nature and good stewards of their resources. Being an MHEDA MVP also supports our commitment to our employees by providing a safe and encouraging environment that recognizes integrity, inspires passion, and enables personal growth.”
For the sixth year in a row, MH Equipment has been awarded the prestigious MVP (Most Valuable Partner) Award for 2021 from the material handling industry’s trade association, MHEDA (Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association). The award is based on various accomplishments in 2020.
To earn the award, recipients must satisfy a rigorous set of criteria – so rigorous, in fact, that less than 10 percent of the association’s membership receive the award. As a 2021 MVP, MH Equipment has successfully demonstrated a commitment to business excellence, professionalism, and good stewardship.
To qualify for the annual MVP Award, companies are required to provide evidence of their commitment to their partners in business, including their customers, employees, and suppliers. To be eligible, the company must participate in a “give back” program or activity, as well as satisfy specific criteria in the following areas:
Business Best Practices
Customer Service & Safety Practices
Having met and exceeded that criteria in 2020, the recognition has MH Equipment looking forward to another year of delivering responsible, quality solutions to customers, growing relationships with suppliers, and supporting employees in both personal and professional growth endeavors.
“We are always thankful to be recognized as an MHEDA MVP Award recipient. This honor is made possible because of our employees and their commitments to providing innovative solutions, as well as our strong customer and supplier relationships. This year is especially gratifying, as it helps us celebrate the 11,000 hours of voluntary work our employees invested back into their communities during this challenging year. We look forward to earning this award next year,” said Woody Hartwell, President, MH Equipment.
Special Post from Grant Wilkerson, MH Equipment Director of Safety and Loss Control
You have most likely heard the expression, “Old habits die hard.” If you don’t believe it, just move your silverware to a different drawer and see how many times you keep going to the original drawer to get a fork. At my home, we remodeled our kitchen more than two years ago and I still can’t consistently find my favorite popcorn bowl.
Old habits are a key factor that continually leads to avoidable injuries. We tend to do things the way we’ve always done them, especially if there were no negative consequences.
For example, if you’ve worked on an engine while it’s running and weren’t cut by the fan blade, you often tend to go about it the same way the next time. You assume you will avoid the fan blade again. Just because we avoided an injury in the past by not controlling obvious hazards doesn’t mean we’ll avoid an injury in the future by not controlling those hazards.
Grab the Moment, MH Equipment's safety philosophy is specifically designed to help us interrupt and break our bad habits and keep ourselves safe. It isn’t hard, it doesn’t take much time and it definitely works. By stopping for just a moment to ask ourselves, “What could go wrong or possibly injure me?” we identifying potential hazards. We get a safe start before performing the task at hand. That, however, is not enough to stay safe.
To better ensure our safety, we must stop, Grab the Moment, and identify any potential hazards. It is of great importance that we take steps to eliminate or control any hazards. For example:
Your personal safety is determined by the amount of time you take to identify potential hazards and the effort you put into controlling or eliminating them. It is imperative you make a deliberate effort each and every day because after all, “our old habits die hard.”
Grab the Moment!
Stay Safe in the Moment!
National Forklift Safety Day is June 9th, 2020. To celebrate our CEO, John Wieland, and COO, Coit Edison, wanted to share the value our employees bring to MH Equipment and how we make it our goal for every employee to go home safely at the end of every day. Safety is important to think about every day - Do your part to Stay Safe in the Moment!