By Jack Rubinger, Graphic Products

From time to time, we like to share perspectives from members in our connected communities. We’d like to thank Jack Rubinger, an expert in industrial safety, for providing this two-part guest post regarding forklift safety. Part 1 focused on forklifts and fire safety. Part 2 discusses forklift accident prevention:

As we learned last week in Forklift Fire Safety & Accident Prevention – Part 1, forklift-related accidents kill nearly 100 U.S. workers per year and seriously injure another 20,000. There are several forklift hazards/problems that commonly arise, including:

  • Forklift overturns
  • Not fastening seat belts
  • Forgetting to check surroundings before operating a forklift
  • Attempting to operate an unsafe or broken forklift truck
  • Using the incorrect size forklift for right load to be lifted
  • Exceeding safe operating speeds
  • Vehicle fires

How can facility owners and managers help to prevent forklift accidents?

1. Always Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Phil LaDuke, a partner in the ERM Group industrial consulting service, shared an avoidable and tragic forklift accident. A worker was walking through an area restricted to forklift traffic while talking on his cellphone to his wife. A forklift driver was moving a heavy load and the last thing he was expecting to see was a pedestrian.

The load made it tough to see where the driver was going, and his visibility was further limited by a scratched and cloudy windshield. The pedestrian ducked into an alcove because he was having trouble hearing his wife. Moments later, the driver dumped the load into the alcove on top of the man. The last thing he said to his wife was, “hold on a second, I have to duck in here for a minute because this forklift is making too much noise.” Several lives were destroyed that day: the man who was horribly killed, and the man who — through no fault of his own — killed him. Imagine the horror of the wife who had to listen to her husband die? What was her life like after that incident? What about the families of both individuals?

Too often we take safety for granted, but on that fateful day merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time got a man killed. All that had to be done to prevent that accident was for the man to stay out of an area he was prohibited from entering. A few well-placed signs might have saved his life. And the man KNEW there was a forklift coming toward him! Talking on his cellphone was a factor, and probably played a strong role in his death, but the bottom line is if he would have stayed out of the area he probably would not have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

2. Train, Train, Train

OSHA has addressed forklift training in great detail. OSHA requires employers to develop and implement a training program based on the general principles of safe truck operation, the types of vehicle(s) being used in the workplace, the hazards of the workplace created by the use of the vehicle(s), and general safety requirements. Trained operators must know how to do the job properly and do it safely as demonstrated by workplace evaluation. Formal (lecture, video) and practical (demonstration and practical exercises) training must be provided. Employers must also certify that each operator has received the training and evaluate each operator at least once every three years. Refresher training is needed whenever an operator demonstrates a deficiency in the safe operation of the truck.

3. Use Visual Communications

Forklift trucks are used at recycling centers, construction sites, scrap metal yards, warehouses, distribution centers, and factory floors – all noisy and chaotic places with miles of aisles. That’s why Boeing and other companies use bollards (short vertical posts), floor marking tape, and floor safety signs to direct forklift and pedestrian traffic lanes as part of a wider facility traffic and inventory plan. Some electric forklifts are available with or can be retro-fitted with speed limiting devices. Forklifts may tip over when operators accelerate too quickly in reverse, brake too quickly with a loaded forklift, or carry a load facing down a slope.

Here are several tips for improving your forklift safety program with visual communications:

  • Color coded helmet labels will identify your trained employees and set your company apart as one that is committed to professionalism and safe work practices.
  • Post forklift speed limit signs.
  • Print forklift daily inspection tags and labels.
  • Keep messages short and simple: Carry it low, drive it slow.

If you notice an unsafe item on your operator’s forklift or witness an unsafe act involving a forklift, notify your safety director and team members immediately. It very well could be your own life you save one day.

Industrial safety and visual communications go hand in hand. Graphic Products, the global leader in workplace labeling and signage, has many practical safety resources available including webinars, best practice guides, articles and videos. For more information, contact Jack Rubinger by email at, call 503-469-3024, or visit Graphic Products.