Powered Industrial Truck Safety

In the utility industry, we use various types of powered industrial trucks – also referred to as PITs and forklifts – to perform various applications. This equipment is used in material handling in warehouse operations as well as in field construction and maintenance operations. Safe operation of a PIT is critical to avoid injury, death, and material and equipment damage.

For the year 2020, OSHA reported that forklifts were the source of 78 work-related deaths and 7,290 nonfatal injuries involving days away from work. From 2011 to 2020, OSHA statistics reveal that an average of 7,243 forklift incidents occur annually. Regardless of the industry, the unwanted experiences are excessive.

Also for the year 2020, OSHA reported issuing 1,932 violations under the PIT regulation (29 CFR 1910.178). Of those, the leading violations included unsafe operation; failure to provide refresher training; missing or inadequate operator certification; failure to remove unsafe trucks from service; and no pre-operation inspection.

The most common PIT hazards include improper use; blind spots; unsecured, uneven and/or overloaded materials; improper maintenance; dock and ramp inclines; fueling; speed; pedestrians; attachment hazards; overhead obstructions and hazards; seat belts and tethers; and floor/terrain surface conditions.

In the rough terrain category, the most common PIT hazards include slopes, dips, holes, trenches, restricted access, and ground and overhead obstructions. Rollovers, tip-overs, collisions, and loss of or damage to materials and equipment are common incidents.

Eliminating and Mitigating Hazards
Tips to limit or eliminate unwanted PIT-related occurrences include the following:

  • Regulatory training, evaluations, refresher training and remedial training, all of which are OSHA requirements.
  • To help avoid pedestrian and other collisions, consider adding proximity detection in new PITs or retrofitting existing PITs.
  • If the operator is 25 feet or more from the forklift or cannot see it, the equipment is considered unattended and must be shut down.
  • If the operator’s view is obstructed, they should travel in reverse or ask a spotter to assist them.
  • An operator must be aware of the equipment’s blind spots.
  • Before lifting the load, place the forklift in neutral and set the parking brake.
  • Prior to operation, analyze and control the hazards of the operating location.
  • Prior to operation, be aware of any high-voltage electric clearances. Take an outage if necessary.
  • Always wear a seat belt on the PIT when provided.
  • Always inspect the PIT before use. If any safety or operational features are defective, they must be repaired before use.
  • Stay a safe distance from platform and ramp edges.
  • Be aware of and watch for other forklifts and pedestrians in the work area.
  • Ensure clear visibility of the work area when loading, unloading and operating a forklift.
  • Use three points of contact to safely enter and exit the PIT.
  • Know the clearances above, behind, in front of and on both sides of the PIT.
  • Be extremely mindful of operational speed and follow posted speed limits.
  • Use the PIT’s warning and visibility lights, mirrors and horns to warn others as necessary.
  • Never exceed the load rating, and make sure the load is balanced before moving.
  • Never use the forks to lift people.
  • Never allow anyone under a suspended load.

Conclusion
In closing, operator error is a leading root cause for PIT incidents, largely due to insufficient hazard assessments and human performance errors. Contributing factors are employers that fail to properly train operators as well as employers that improperly authorize employee operation of PIT equipment. Employers are expected to comply with OSHA regulations and safe operating practices. Further, it’s important to remember that authorization to operate is not transferable from one company to another. It’s the employer’s responsibility to train and authorize employees to operate their specific PITs.

About the Author: Charles Keeling, CUSP, is a 35-year safety professional in general industry and construction. He is a certified New York State Workplace Safety Consultant with over 15 years of experience with powered industrial truck training and compliance. Keeling earned a bachelor’s degree in fire and emergency management and currently works with PSEG Long Island conducting safety compliance duties. He can be reached at charles.keeling@pseg.com.

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