There are several types of forklifts that can be used on construction sites. They include stand-up riders for use in narrow aisles, sit-down riders, motorized hand pallet jacks and rough terrain forklift trucks.
About 100 workers are killed each year as a result of forklift accidents. Overturning causes nearly one quarter of these fatalities. Other common forklift accidents include workers being struck by materials on forklifts or by the forklift itself, and workers falling from a forklift.
Unfortunately, those who operate forklifts day in and day out have a tendency to take short cuts and ignore basic safety rules. Their attitude says, “It can’t happen to me.”
Some factors to consider when driving a forklift include:
- Know the capacity of the forklift you are driving. Make sure it can handle the size and weight of your load.
- Determine if the load you are carrying has any odd characteristics, and plan ahead on how to handle them. Examples include loads that are top heavy, cylindrical or awkward.
- Know the condition of the forklift. Are the forks damaged, or is there some other problem that could cause an accident? If so, don’t use the forklift until it’s repaired.
- Determine the path you will be traveling with the forklift. Be aware of obstacles, bumps, ramps, people, cross aisles and narrow passageways.
When operating a forklift, keep the following safety guidelines in mind:
- Operate the forklift only if you’ve been trained.
- Maintain a safe following distance from other forklifts – about three vehicle lengths.
- Follow speed limits and other regulations.
- Drive with your load low – six or eight inches off the ground – and tilted slightly back.
- Exercise extra caution when driving over duckboards and bridge plates, and make sure your load is within their capacity as well.
- Raise and lower your load only when your forklift is completely stopped.
- Stop and sound the horn at intersections.
- Avoid sharp turns.
- Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle.
- Wear a hard hat and other protective equipment when necessary.
- Be sure your load is stable and secure.
- When leaving the forklift for any reason or any length of time, lower the forks, neutralize the controls, shut off the engine and set the brakes.
OSHA has two educational documents on forklift safety. The first is “Operating the Forklift: Load Handling,” and the second is “Operating the Forklift: Traveling & Maneuvering.” Both have good information that can help you safely operate your forklift.