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Forklift Traffic sign on loading dock

Forklift Safety in the Warehouse and Working Yard

Forklifts and pallet jacks play a critical role in the handling of goods in supply chains. They are essential in moving palletized loads, crates, bundles of lumber, and other products.

Powered industrial trucks (PITs), such as forklifts and pallet jacks can raise, lower, and transport materials, expediting the flow of materials through various stages of manufacturing and distribution such as loading and unloading, transporting work-in-process, and storage operations.

PIT training is an OSHA requirement and the importance of training for people who work around forklifts, while also emphasizing the importance of facility design in promoting safety for others, is a priority. Consider not only your facility employees, but also visitors, customers, office staff, or salespeople that venture into the plant or yard. Pedestrians in the vicinity of forklifts can be at risk.

While OSHA does not address forklift-pedestrian training specifically, the OSHA General Duty Clause spells out that employers take measures to protect employees from recognized risks. For example, they point out the importance of clearly delineated travel lanes for forklifts with speed limits.

The following are some ideas for helping to ensure pedestrian safety in warehouse and working yard facilities:

Plan traffic patterns. The creation of routes that keep pedestrian injury.  Physical barriers, signage, and painted markings can help identify pedestrian-only paths. Be sure to create and uphold safety rules around traffic right-of-way and pedestrian-only paths.

Training for pedestrians. While infrequent visitors to your plant do not require an exhaustive session, pedestrian training should cover the basic hazards related to forklifts and the rules that need to be followed, such as sticking to designated pedestrian paths, engaging operators through eye contact or verbally when in proximity, and taking extra care at intersections.

Pedestrians should be mindful of keeping clear of material that might fall as well as ensuring that they are outside of the turning radius of the PIT and its load. In wood products industries, for example, they should be mindful of the wide turning radius of long lifts of lumber.

Utilize safety equipment. Personal protective equipment such as a high visibility vest, safety shoes, and in some workplaces, hardhats are required. Additionally, forklifts are required to have horns and may be fitted with warning lights and forklift travel alarms such as a backup warning indicator.

Onboard cameras and sensors are also increasingly available to help alert operators that a pedestrian is present. Curved mirrors can also be used to improve pedestrian safety at intersections and corners.

While forklift training in the past has largely centered on operators, we should also be mindful of risks to pedestrians. Effective communication among managers, supervisors, PIT operators, as well as pedestrians are essential to creating an effective network of safety in a busy warehouse and/or yard environment.

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