July 24 2006 10:18 AM

Lift trucks can be tremendously productive. But they can also be tremendously dangerous. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), about 95,000 workers are injured in lift truck accidents each year, and 100 are killed. To put that in perspective: If we�re talking just about lift truck operators, the 95,000 figure represents about one out of every six operators in the US injured every single year.
That stunning statistic is the main reason OSHA implemented new regulations requiring safety training for every lift truck operator. By now, all of your operators including the newest hires should have been professionally trained and certified with an OSHA-compliant program. Recertification of those operators looms somewhere down the road.
A Mandate for Safety
However, not all people injured in lift truck accidents each year are operators. Other workers, including order pickers, truck loaders and pedestrians in the warehouse, are among those injured. People simply underestimate the dangers associated with lift trucks. They don�t realize that even the smallest lift truck can weigh 3,000 pounds or more. When they occur, lift truck accidents don�t produce bumps and bruises; most often, they produce broken bones and death. Couple those sobering facts with the cost to the employer of a typical disabling industrial accident (it�s well into five figures), and managers are faced with one inescapable fact: Your workers must be safe around lift trucks. You simply cannot afford to have it any other way.
Spotlighting the Dangers
Here�s a list of some possible types of lift truck accidents:
� Vehicle rollovers, which can be caused either by an imbalance in the lift truck load or by dangerous floor conditions
� Products falling due to poor carrying or order picking procedures � falling products will typically injure either feet (low-level falls) or heads and arms (falls from higher levels)
� Limbs injured by the operator extending them outside of the vehicle cabin
� Pedestrians struck by lift trucks
� Collisions with other lift trucks, products, shelves, conveyors, poles, walls or other structures � collisions can be caused by skids on wet floors
� Accidents related to loading or unloading delivery trucks
� Accidents caused by running or backing off a loading dock or down a loading ramp
� Accidents caused by unsafe acts such as lifting too heavy a load, lifting or carrying people on the forks, etc.
� Accidents caused by operator misuse or abuse of the vehicle � misuse can either directly cause an accident or lead to a failure on the vehicle which can create a safety incident
� Accidents caused by mechanical factors such as vehicle component failures, fueling problems, electrical shocks, battery explosions, etc. � often, poor maintenance policies and practices are at fault here
Good Training Is the Answer
Two things are required to prevent lift truck-related accidents like these:
1. Good training for all of your workers, whether they operate lift trucks or not
2. Management emphasis on safety, supervision and, especially, follow up � this includes correcting any dangerous physical conditions such as poor floors, wet and slippery areas, etc. as well as continuous enforcement of safety procedures
A good lift truck training program, wherever it comes from, should do the following things:
� Conform to the latest OSHA regulations on lift truck operator training and recertification
� Explain the many ways accidents can take place in the warehouse � workers often don�t think of warehouses as dangerous work sites
� Explain the principles of center of gravity and overturning of lift trucks to operators
� Give operators practical, hands-on experience in the specific types of lift trucks they will be operating
� Test and evaluate each operator�s performance on the lift truck
� Subject the operator to OSHA-compliant written tests so that he or she can be certified
� Cover safety inspection of the truck before starting it
� Cover safety-related maintenance issues such as proper jump starting and recharging of batteries and how to handle fuels around equipment
You can get quality OSHA-compliant lift truck operator training from many lift truck dealers. Be sure to check on the dealer�s experience and commitment to training, and make sure he has invested in adequate training facilities. Some dealers offer �train the trainer� programs, which will train one of your people to train all of your lift truck operators.
Don�t forget to alert your non-lift truck operator employees of the dangers involved in working around lift trucks. This will also help to prevent accidents. After all, they are the pedestrians who have 3,000-pound vehicles cruising within inches of their workspaces � and their bodies.
Where maintenance procedures present safety problems, it may pay to outsource some or all of your lift truck maintenance to a qualified dealer. Some dealers even offer preventive maintenance plans, which essentially take full responsibility for maintaining your lift truck fleet off of your shoulders, and promise speedy repairs and replacements if lift trucks do break down.
Safety around lift trucks just plain makes sense � in human terms, in productivity terms and in dollars and cents.
Bob Levin is president and CEO of Material Handling Supply, Inc. (MHS LIFT) of Brooklawn, New Jersey. He can be reached by phone at 888-MHSLIFT (888-647-5438) or on the Web at www.mhslift.com.