Forklift Safety for Pedestrians
Forklifts are very useful tools. They’re most common in warehousing and storage facilities, but they can be used in any industry that requires the movement of heavy materials. Unfortunately, forklift accidents are also common.
Forklift accidents are particularly dangerous to pedestrians. Pedestrians suffer 26% of all forklift-related injuries in U.S. workplaces. Many of these injuries are serious or fatal. Pedestrians can be struck or crushed by forklifts, hit by objects falling from a forklift, or fall off a forklift they are riding on. Pedestrians who are not trained to watch out for forklifts or who don’t comply with workplace safety policies have an increased risk of being struck by forklifts. However, most forklift accidents are preventable when pedestrians follow safe practices in the workplace.
Understand the Hazard
Pedestrians must understand the hazards that come with working around forklifts. Forklifts tip over easily and cannot brake quickly. The forks, mast, and cage can reduce visibility. Tall or bulky loads can severely restrict visibility as well. Forklifts are loud machines, and in noisy workplaces, it is hard for operators and pedestrians to hear one another. When forklifts are turning they are especially dangerous. The sharper the turn, the wider the angle the back of the forklift can take, and it can swing out and hit pedestrians. Each of these factors contributes to the risk of injury, but untrained forklift operators can also cause accidents. Speak to your supervisor if you see forklift operators acting in an unsafe manner.
Use Pedestrian Walkways
Some workplaces have designated walkways for pedestrians. Pedestrian walkways may have permanent railings or other barriers to keep pedestrians from entering forklift paths. If a permanent barrier can’t be put in place, there should be stripes painted on the ground to show where pedestrians should walk. In areas where pedestrians and forklifts have to travel the same paths, there must be enough space for pedestrians to walk safely. If there is not enough room, it must be closed off to pedestrians while forklifts are in use. Keep aisles and passageways clean. If obstructions occupy pedestrian paths, people may walk in the path of forklifts. Remove materials and debris from walkways immediately, or speak to a supervisor if you can’t remove them yourself.
It is important to remain out of the way of a moving forklift. Here are some practices to stay clear of forklifts at work:
- Do not approach a moving forklift
- If you must approach a forklift, approach it from the side AFTER it has stopped
- Keep your feet clear of the forklift
- Move away from the forklift before the operator moves it, do not wait for the forklift to move away from you
- Stand clear of a forklift while it’s turning
Communicate with Operators
If you can’t see a forklift operator, they probably can’t see you. Communication is key to your safety.
To communicate with forklift operators:
- Inform them that you’ll be entering the forklift area
- Before entering the forklift lane, stop, look both ways, and make eye contact with the operator
- Proceed through the area only when the operator signals that they see you
Obey Workplace Traffic Rules
Traffic rules apply to pedestrians as well as forklifts. Make sure you only walk in pedestrian lanes. In areas with no designated travel lanes, stay to one side to allow room for forklifts to pass. Forklifts are supposed to yield to pedestrians, but they may not be able to see you or stop quickly, so always yield to forklifts unless you have made eye contact with the operator and they have given you the signal to go. Before entering traffic areas, stop, listen, and look both ways to make sure a forklift isn’t coming towards you.
Follow Basic Safety Procedures
Consider wearing highly visible protective equipment to make it easier for forklift operators to see you. Avoid distractions when walking into forklift traffic areas. Never ride on forklifts unless you’re authorized and have a safe place to ride, and never pass under an elevated load. Stay out of the path that the load can fall. Even if a forklift stops, its load may not. Don’t take shortcuts between stacked materials, and never climb over guardrails. Your workplace may have installed controls to ensure safety such as convex mirrors, speed limits, or extra lighting for dim areas. Use these to your advantage to travel safely around the workplace. Finally, report any unsafe behavior by forklift operators or pedestrians to your supervisor.
Forklifts are useful, but dangerous. Working around them requires constant awareness. Forklift operators will do what they can to do their job safely, but pedestrians must take responsibility for their own safety. If you are a pedestrian in your workplace, remain aware of your surroundings, communicate with forklift operators, and follow workplace safety policies at all times.
For more safe practices for both forklift operators and pedestrians, see this resource from OSHA: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/pit/workplacehazards/pedestriantraffic.html
NIOSH provides data and recommendations to prevent forklift accidents here: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2001-109/