Powerful tools sometimes fall into dangerous hands. Just ask Barry Weissman about some of the bizarre things he’s observed people doing with forklifts:
He’s seen people try to use the forks as pry bars.
One fellow tried to pick up a 4,000-pound (1,814-kilogram) load with a 2,000-pound (907-kilogram) forklift. The machine toppled, but fortunately the operator was able to jump clear.
In another instance workers were hanging off the back of a forklift to try to counterbalance a load that was too much for the machine.
Someone tried to chain a large piece of equipment to a lift truck’s forks. The chain, which was not clamped to the forks, slipped and the machine crashed to the ground. Luckily no one was hurt.
More common, but also dangerous practices include not using a lift truck’s seatbelt, riding on the forks, or standing under a raised load.
Weissman, a certified safety professional who is vice president of the Hillmann Group, LLC, in Union, NJ, says if something can be done incorrectly, people will do it.
Here are some important points supervisors need to consider:
The American National Standards Association (ANSI) B56.1-1969 standard states that all forklift operators must be physically qualified and that they are to undergo annual physical examinations to test their hearing, field of vision, depth perception and reaction timing. Weissman suspects less than one percent of US employers follow this requirement – a situation which could come back to haunt them if a serious injury or fatality occurred.
If a forklift starts to roll, many operators have died while trying to jump clear. Do not jump. Instead, hold onto the steering wheel, brace your feet against the pedals or the front of the cab and lean away from the fall.
Never use an incorrectly powered truck in a hazardous environment. A spark could result in an explosion.
Operators must be trained to inspect and maintain forklifts. Trucks must be examined at the end of each shift. Inspection forms are available from manufacturers and OSHA’s website (www.osha.gov) These forms must be filled out, dated and signed. “If you didn’t document it, you didn’t do it,” warns Weissman.
While employers must maintain a safe workplace, employees are also responsible for following safety requirements. Weissman says an employee who wasn’t following the rules could be cited by OSHA if a serious incident resulted from that negligent behavior.
Classroom training isn’t enough. Operators must also receive behind-the-wheel training and demonstrate that they know their stuff.
If you don’t know how much an object weighs, find out before trying to lift it with a forklift. You must also know a load’s center of gravity to ensure that the lift truck and its load remain stable at all times.