Forklift Safety: Sharing Isn't Caring
As Americans, most of us drive to work on public roads every day. While driving, we generally give little thought to the risks of operating heavy machines at high speeds (and often within arm’s reach of other motorists).
The risks of driving a car become much clearer, however, when a friend asks to borrow the car. We accept the risks of driving because we all need to be at work on time, or be somewhere else, and driving is how we get everywhere. When a third party wants to takes those risks with your car, the calculus changes.
Drivers (“operators”) of forklifts and other powered industrial trucks (PIT) can (and do) find themselves in a similar situation at times:
A co-worker who is not trained or certified to legally operate a forklift—asks to borrow another employee’s forklift, access badge, key card, etc. This co-worker is a friend, who says they “just need to move one pallet out of the way” and that it will be “really quick.”
For employers and safety professionals, preventing unauthorized use of forklifts is a crucial safety and site security responsibility. By putting some best practices in place for operating training and the workplace safety program generally, facility leaders can help forklift drivers to avoid a potentially difficult or uncomfortable decision/situation.
Forklift Safety: Best Practices
While it's often referred to as the "forklift Standard," OSHA's regulations for Powered Industrial Trucks (PITs) in 1910.178 apply to more than the traditional fork truck, including:
- Motorized hand trucks,
- Platform lift trucks, and more.
As a safety manager, you want to set up your crew for success. The first step is designing a safety program, and the next one is to train your team on the fundamentals that are easy to forget—especially important for employees who may not come from a strong safety background.
When you certify your employees to drive forklifts, include a provision that access may not be shared. No, leaving keys inside a forklift is not a safety violation directly. Uncertified use is a safety violation, and OSHA's General Duty Clause places the responsibility on employers to create a work environment "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm."
Require the keys to be signed out. Encourage operators to be vigilant about protecting keys and access to keys. If you're in a retail environment, consider what actions need to be taken to ensure the safety of uncertified employees and pedestrians in the event of an emergency involving the lift operator. Train and re-train your employees not only on the how of PIT safety, but the why, too.
Employers should note that many of the PIT (i.e., forklift) violations cited every year are serious violations—these kinds of violations carry a max penalty of $15,625 per day, per violation. Repeat and willful violations can cost an employer $156,259 per day, per violation. By law, maximum penalties rise every year with inflation.
All of us take calculated risks every day of our lives—a clear and obvious risk to avoid is granting easy access to equipment that requires a certification to operate.
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