5 basic forklift safety pitfalls & how to avoid them

6th March 2019

BITA analysis of recent RIDDOR reports show that, despite being a seemingly straightforward process, 1 in 25 cases concerning forklifts involved an incident which occurred when the operator was entering or exiting the truck.

So how can you reduce risk in this fundamental area to improve forklift safety for all, ensure compliance and avoid costly accidents? As a start, we’ve taken some key hazards outlined in the reports and suggested some practical solutions for each case. Take a look at our top tips below:

1. Slips and falls when mounting/dismounting truck 

A simple rule that should form part of any basic forklift training course is maintaining three points of contact when entering or exiting a truck. According to the rule, operators should keep either one hand and two feet or two hands and one foot on the truck at all times, until they are either in their seat or standing firmly on the ground. This free poster sums it up well as a handy reminder for operators on site.

Best practice for mounting and dismounting a forklift truck is as follows:
• Mount/dismount only when the truck is stationary
• Face the truck
• Use the handgrips and steps provided
• Look all around for hazards
• Get on and off the truck under control and one foot at a time
• Do not jump
• Take extra care in rain, snow, or icy conditions

Perhaps due to the frequency that they carry this out day to day, lift truck operators can become complacent during mounting/dismounting, whether they are trying to shortcut the process or don’t fully appreciate the risks and their consequences.

But care must be taken, as slips and falls are common. Forklift steps are cut relatively small and, as one HSL study confirms, the most wear occurs at the spot where the operator’s boot rotates over the step’s edge, meaning it’s slipperiest where there’s the greatest demand for friction.

2. Exiting truck into vicinity of a forklift or load

As we’ve seen, dismounting incorrectly can increase the risk of a slip or fall, but the consequences can be more serious when operators jump down from their cab.

Falls from jumping can cause broken bones and cumulative stress on the knees and back, which can affect mobility. Not only this, but by jumping out, operators are likely to put more distance between themselves and their truck and do so far quicker than simply stepping down, which can put them suddenly and unexpectedly in the path of another vehicle.

By facing the truck to dismount and maintaining three points of contact, they can better protect themselves should they end up in harm’s way. This constant contact gives them the ability to pull themselves into the truck’s cab and out of danger should a passing vehicle come too close.

And it’s not just vehicles that can pose a risk, its moving loads too. Sadly, many injuries resulting from forklift accidents occur when someone in the vicinity tries to manually steady an unstable load.

Operators exiting their truck to steady either their own or another load puts them at high risk of a serious harm, from pinch/crush injuries from putting their hands into a moving operation, to far worse should the load become unstable and fall.

If a load becomes unstable or needs to be adjusted in transit, it should first be placed on the ground, the forks withdrawn and the truck made safe. Then the operator can dismount and carry out any adjustments required to make the load secure. (If the unstable load is in the racking, the area should be cordoned off and the Manager or Supervisor informed immediately so that the risk can be dealt with before it can cause harm to someone in the vicinity.)

3. Operating the controls from outside the truck

Most modern lift trucks are now fitted with a weight-operated micro-switch, which is activated by an operator sitting on the seat to allow the controls to function. However, when this isn’t the case, operators may be tempted to access the controls from outside of the truck.

But doing so immediately puts the operator, and those working around them in a position of danger. To operate the controls from outside of the truck, the operator must stand outside the FOPs of the cab, with the mast operating next to them and where the load could potentially strike them. Their view will not be as clear as if they were sat up in the cab and their handling of the controls may not be as precise. If the drive is being operated, this means there is a high risk of the operator having their feet run over, or someone in the vicinity being hit by the truck as it lurches forwards/backwards.

All operators are taught during basic forklift operator training never to operate the controls from anywhere but the operating position, inside the cab, to reduce the risk of injuries (or worse) as a result.

4. Leaning outside the cab

As the above suggests, keeping themselves inside the truck during operation dramatically reduces the risk of an accident for your operators. But don’t forget, that risk is reintroduced as soon as they allow any part of their body to stray outside the confines of the cab.

Operators should never lean or reach outside of the cab, as this puts them at risk of contact with passing obstructions/vehicles. Rather than reach out to access something, they should stop their truck in a suitable place, make it safe, dismount and then access it on foot. If the load is obstructing the operator's view, and they need to lean out of the cab to see in front of them, they should be driving in reverse, giving themselves a clear view of their route and any upcoming hazards.

5. Unintended activation of controls 

This can be caused by controls becoming caught on the sleeves of clothing or by the operator leaning over to be handed/retrieve something, but the most common cause of unintended operation is exiting the lift truck incorrectly, on the wrong side.

If the operator squeezes past the truck's controls to dismount, there is a risk of unintentional operation, regardless of whether the power is engaged or not (as some functions are gravity fed). Dependent on truck type, this could involve mast tilt, forks lifting/lowering or reach extension/retraction. This could cause costly accidents and damage, so operators must ensure they mount/dismount safely, using the three points of contact rule, from the correct side of the truck (which will be fitted with the appropriate handles to aid them).

As we’ve seen, these fundamental safety principles should be covered during your operators’ basic forklift training course. But, as with your site rules or procedures, they’re only as effective as their enforcement.

In order to effectively implement best practice, make sure your staff are motivated and trained, and receive regular monitoring by their managers and supervisors to ensure safe operation sticks, for the long term. If your managers need any help gaining the skills, knowledge and confidence to recognise and rectify unsafe practice, take a look at our Managing Forklift Operations course.

If have need any guidance on improving forklift safety for your site and operators, please contact us here or on 01246 555222.


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