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.
A forklift’s job is to keep your operations moving – in many companies, forklifts are doing that around the clock. Because a forklift’s parts, components, and accessories are constantly moving, they inevitably develop wear and tear that, over time, hinder the equipment’s productivity and overall performance.
When your lift truck isn’t functioning at its best, you’re losing time and money to increased downtime. Not maintaining wear and tear can also create an unsafe work environment – the machine could cause injury to its operator, and internal combustion trucks could give off harmful emissions that can negatively impact your workers’ health.
To get as much life as possible out of your forklift, look in these five places that are especially vulnerable to wear and tear:
Forklift tires are designed to be durable and hold a lot of weight, but just like with car tires, need to be replaced when they’re worn out. Bad tires can cause truck and load stability issues, discomfort to operators, damage to forks and undercarriage components, and even facility damage. Here are a few things to look for that indicate you may need to replace your tires:
Worn low: Most forklift tires have a clearly-defined line beneath the tread, often referred to as the 50 percent wear line. If you are close to or have worn through that line, it is time to replace the tire.
Tearing: Look for obvious tears and punctures on the surface of your tires. This type of damage is often caused by running the forklift over debris – a clean and well-swept workspace helps prevent tearing.
Chunking: If pieces of your tires are breaking or peeling off the body, it is time to replace them. Chunking renders the wheel useless, causing truck instability and operator discomfort.
Flat Spots: Flattening typically occurs when the forklift brakes at high speeds. If you notice any bald spots, the tire should be replaced. If the abrupt braking continues more frequently, the operator likely needs re-trained on safe operation of the forklift at reasonable speeds. Frequent sharp halts will not only make you replace your tires sooner than expected but also your brakes.
Bond Failure: Cushion tires have a central metal band with the rubber of the tire bonded to the metal band. If wear and tear near the band is bad enough that you can fit a flat screwdriver head or knife between the tire and band, you are overdue to switch out your tires.
Oil or Grease Stains: The chemicals in oil and grease can eat away at tire rubber over time. Oil or grease on the tires can also hazardously affect control of the forklift. If you see these types of stains, inspect your facility floor and clean the affected areas to avoid other potential hazards.
2. Oil and Air Filters
Your forklift’s oil and air filters protect the engine from preventable damage. A functional air filter keeps dirt and debris from affecting the engine’s performance, and the oil filter ensures clean oil is running through the engine; contaminated oil can increase engine component friction. Both should be replaced at recommended intervals to maintain maximum efficiency.
If you notice you need to replace air filters at a frequent rate, consider investing in solutions to improve the cleanliness of your facility – if it’s affecting your equipment, it’s definitely affecting your operators, too!
3. Mast and Chains
A forklift’s mast and chains experience heavy and frequent demands when in operation. This stress to the machine means these components should be inspected and replaced regularly to maintain safety and efficiency.
The mast is the vertical apparatus at the front of the forklift that allows a load to be raised, lowered, and tilted. One clear sign of wear and tear is metal-on-metal contact. If you hear grinding noises during operation or see visible scrape marks, it may be time to replace the mast.
Forklift chains can perform for thousands of hours of work if properly lubricated. If you notice rust, plate cracking, protruding or turned pins, or broken links, the chain needs to be replaced. These issues can be prevented with proper lubrication.
If you have an electric forklift, battery maintenance is of the utmost importance in maximizing efficiency and minimizing lifetime costs. Batteries have a finite number of charging cycles, so sticking to a charging schedule is critical to maximizing a battery’s life and usefulness – not enough charge at the beginning of a shift means more downtime, and charging too frequently could risk shortening the battery’s life.
For optimal battery performance, regular fluid level checks are necessary. If there is not enough fluid in the battery, you will need to add water – water typically needs to be added every 10 charges. Watering batteries can be a delicate process, as both the type and amount of water are integral in making the battery work well.
MH Equipment can help you increase your battery’s life with preventative maintenance services and battery watering, as well as charger inspections and repair, on all brands of batteries.
A lift truck’s forks experience stress with each load. While they are heavy-duty in construction, they will still wear out over time. Waiting too long to replace worn-out forks will likely lead to more-frequent accidents, such as dropped loads, damaged products, and workplace injuries. Fortunately, these accidents are preventable with regular fork inspections. Here are five critical signs of wear and tear that tell you it’s time to replace or restore your forks:
Surface cracks: Over time, forks can develop cracks from picking up, unloading, and transporting heavy loads. The parts of the fork closest to the equipment and the fork heel tend to obtain the most wear and tear.
Bent or worn fork hooks: Using a caliper, checks the hooks for wear and straightness. If the lip of the hook touches the back of the caliper, you should replace your forks.
More than 10 percent wear: The metal on forks gradually wears down with consistent use, but eventually the forks can no longer handle their original load capacity. Just 10 percent wear can reduce your load capacity by 20 percent, at which point the forks should be replaced. Metal wear is not obvious to notice over time – use calipers to measure the shaft, and compare that measurement to the thickness of the fork blade, heel, and hook to calculate the wear.
Uneven blade height: The tips of both forklift blades should roughly be the same height. If one of the forks differs by more than three percent of the blade length, the forks need to be replaced.
·Bent blade or shank: All forks are delivered with a 90-degree angle. The forks need to be replaced if the blades or shanks are bent more than 93 degrees – while it may look fixed, simply bending the fork back into place will not repair it, as the integrity of the fork is already compromised.
Proper maintenance is the best way to mitigate the harmful effects of wear and tear and increase the longevity of your lift truck.
Regular maintenance can lead to these benefits:
A higher resale value
A safer work environment for operators and other workers
Improved performance of the forklift’s attachments, accessories, and components
Reduced downtime and increased productivity
Cost reductions from identifying smaller problems early on that could potentially lead to larger, costlier problems in the future
Choosing the right partner for high-quality service and responsible recommendations is the first step to combating that inevitable wear and tear. MH Equipment’s certified service technicians can repair all makes and models of material handling equipment and are entrusted to provide recommendations that are right for you and your business. We will also come alongside you to design a service plan that works for you to keep your equipment doing its job and doing it well.
Contact us today to help stop wear and tear from impacting your business.
Railcar movers are built to withstand decades of use as they contribute to keeping supply chains moving. To realize the full potential of your railcar mover, keeping your machine well-maintained becomes a priority to avoid breakdowns that can create costly downtime for your business.
Downtime is expensive, time-consuming, and interruptive to your operations. It is also often the repercussion of not effectively maintaining your railcar mover over time. In an effort to save you money, time, and other resources, here are three recommendations that can help maximize the usable life of your railcar mover:
1. Be diligent with your recommended maintenance schedule.
One of the best ways to protect your investment in your railcar mover is to be mindful of your operational hours and to follow the machine’s recommended maintenance schedule.
Having a periodic maintenance (PM) agreement with MH Equipment that aligns with your railcar mover’s recommended maintenance schedule can minimize any surprise breakdown costs that immediately halt your operations. In MH’s railcar mover PM agreements, our factory-certified technicians can complete a comprehensive maintenance check every 250, 500, 750, 1000, and 2000 hours, checking components like oils, filters, lines and fittings, couplers, and more.
Sometimes, however, maintenance emergencies happen on the clock, and you need to get back up and running. At MH Equipment, we understand the urgency of every service call because we know the importance of the railcar mover to your business. That’s why we offer 24/7 onsite service* options with our skilled technicians, backed with a vast parts inventory.
We know your time is valuable, and we understand you can’t always wait for repairs. MH Equipment also offers short- and long-term rental agreements to help you keep moving forward with your business.
2. Have your operators take a minute to visually inspect the railcar mover before operation.
Your operators play a crucial role in the life of your railcar mover – they are the eyes and feet on the ground that can identify any issues before they become a significant safety or maintenance problem. Here are a few items operators can easily inspect before operation:
While this is not a complete list, it is best to have your operators perform a “daily inspection checklist” before they start their shift. A visual inspection can indicate obvious maintenance issues, but following the recommended maintenance schedule will ensure you’re getting the most out of your railcar mover for as long as possible.
3. Empower your operators with the knowledge and skills to be successful.
One of the best things you can do to keep your railcar mover up and running is having trained operators at the helm. Proper training gives your staff a well-rounded view of all operational aspects, from safety best practices and troubleshooting and maintenance when something is not running as it should.
It is also important to offer refresher training to your employees. Over time, operators may develop bad habits, such as taking safety shortcuts – these bad habits can create productivity and safety issues, or even unnecessary maintenance costs, for your business. A trained operator will be a safer operator, which minimizes excessive wear and tear to the machine and keeps productivity high.
At the end of the day, your company is losing money if your equipment is not up and running. MH Equipment’s team of railcar mover specialists can assist you in finding effective solutions to your downtime and maintenance issues – visit www.mhrailcarmover.com or call your nearest MH Equipment location to get in contact with one of them today.
*Available for Rail King, Trackmobile, and Shuttlewagon models.
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!