In November 2021, while walking across a lumbar company’s shipping yard in Alabama, a worker died after she was struck by a forklift. OSHA proposed $53,866 in penalties against the company for ignoring crucial safety measures. They were cited for allowing employees to walk in a struck-by hazard area where forklift drivers couldn't see them and failing to distinguish and mark the shipping department travel aisles for trucks, forklifts, and pedestrians.
Thousands of such cases where companies lack proper training for forklift operators or are neglecting compliance with forklift safety are under OSHA’s radar.
According to the Industrial Truck Association, more than 855,900 forklifts are operating in the U.S with the transportation and storage sectors being the major players. But forklift incidents that result in injury are rampant across the country.
In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 7,290 cases of forklift accidents involving an average of 17 days away from work when compared to an average of 12 days for other cases.
All medically consulted injuries including those due to forklifts cost companies an average of $44,000 in 2020.
According to OSHA, 70% of forklift accidents could have been avoided with standardized training and safety procedures. The training, maintenance, and operation of forklifts are regulated under OSHA’s Powered Industrial Truck standard, 29 CFR § 1910.178.
Forklift accidents are among the top ten OSHA violations every year. According to the International Labor Organization, the following are the accident hazards for forklift operators:
There are various other physical, chemical, biological, ergonomic, psychosocial, and organizational hazards that forklift operators are exposed to every day at the workplace.
Along with regulations for training and certification of employees, inspection and maintenance of Powered Industrial Trucks, and accurate recordkeeping, the following are the major OSHA requirements for forklift operation:
OSHA requires employers to provide forklift safety but does not specify any signage requirements. OSHA regulates most workplaces and requires safety signs at most locations where a worker is exposed to a hazard including forklift operation areas. Following are the categories, OSHA has presented for safety signs based on hazard risk:
Danger signs mark the most serious hazards. They indicate an immediate risk where special precautions are necessary; if the hazard is not avoided, it will result in death or serious injury.
Warning signs are used for a hazard that, if not avoided, may result in death or serious injury.
Caution signs indicate potentially hazardous situations that may result in minor or moderate injury if they aren’t avoided. Use them to caution against potential injuries from unsafe practices, or where a combination of injury and equipment damage is possible.
In its eTool, OSHA does recommend posting signs regarding traffic control, plant speed limits; and marking permanent aisles and passages warning pedestrians to maintain a safe clearance.
Workplace owners must always consider additional signage to improve safety awareness in accident-prone areas and be on top of the game in terms of safety signage. Consistent training and signs must go hand in hand to maintain a safe environment and prepare for safety inspections.
Forklift safety posters are a great tool to reinforce training and minimize liability in case of an accident.
OSHA recommends signage must be placed “as close as safely possible” to the nearby hazard so that workers are aware of the hazard and able to respond appropriately before exposure. Forklift signs must be placed along the forklift aisle, on the forklift itself (adhesive labels), on forklift crossing/intersection, etc.
When mechanical handling equipment is used such as forklifts, OSHA also requires that aisles and passageways shall be kept clear and in good repair, with no obstruction that could create a hazard. Permanent aisles and passageways shall be appropriately marked [1910.176].