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Besides being concerned that a forklift driver is properly
trained, employers of warehouses must also be concerned about the safe operation of the forklift itself. Just as OSHA has rules about training operators, the federal agency also has rules concerning the use of safety equipment in coordination with the forklift. There are also regulations on how the forklift operator can operate the lift.
What follows are answers to frequently asked questions concerning forklift safety.
Q: Is there a recommended speed for a forklift operated within a warehouse or manufacturing facility?
A: Although OSHA does not offer a specific speed limit; it required the forklift driver to take a variety of things into consideration. Factors that should be considered include the type of truck being used, the manufacturer’s limitations put on the truck, the load being carried, adequate stopping distance, the surface conditions, pedestrian traffic, and more. According to OSHA the speed of the forklift is driven should take all of these elements into consideration. OSHA notes that its regulations include certain standards. For example, there is a standard for low lift and high lift trucks pertaining to a stopping distance formula depending on certain known variables. This information along with other factors can be used to calculate a safe maximum speed.
Moreover, OSHA regulations address the issue of speed in a few places and in a general manner. These include:
· The warehouse can create their own authorized speed limits as well as other traffic regulations that must be observed by the forklift driver.
· The driver can be required to slow the lift down and sound the horn when he approaches cross aisles and other areas where vision is obstructed. If the load being carried obstructs the driver’s view, then the load must be trailing.
· Grades must be ascended and descended at a slow speed.
· The forklift must be driven at a speed that will allow it to be stopped in a safe manner.
· The driver is expected to slow down when operating on wet and slippery floors.
· The driver must reduce speed to a safe level by turning the steering wheel in a smooth, sweeping motion as he prepares to negotiate a turn. If the driver is already maneuvering at a very slow speed, the hand steering wheel should be turned at a moderate, even rate.
Q: Are powered industrial trucks required to have backup alarms or warning lights?
A: Although OSHA does not have a specific regulation calling for forklift vehicles to have backup alarms or warning lights, new forklifts are already equipped with such items. Moreover, according to OSHA, a forklift must have as a minimum some kind of horn that a driver can use at cross aisles and blind intersections where vision is obstructed to warn pedestrians and other forklift drivers that he is approaching.
Q: Does OSHA require that fire extinguishers be carried on forklifts?
A: OSHA does not have any regulations that specifically require that portable fire extinguishers be carried on forklifts. However, OSHA does require fire protection equipment in specific hazardous areas in which the forklift travels. If the warehouse equips forklifts with fire extinguishers, they must be properly maintained. The equipment cannot be removed or modified without written permission from the manufacturer.
In addition, OSHA requires that LP-Gas fueled forklifts be equipped with a portable fire extinguisher and the location of the extinguisher should be in accordance with the truck’s manufacturer’s recommendations. OSHA also requires that the driver be trained in the safe use of the equipment.
Q: How often does the fire extinguisher on the forklift have to be inspected?
A: Although OSHA does not specifically require fire extinguishers on forklifts. However, if they are provided, they must be visually inspected monthly and be given a maintenance check annually.
Q: Can a forklift driver use the tips of the blades of a fork to push a heavy load?
A: This is not allowed unless the forks are stable and safely arranged and there is no hazardous condition that can result due to the activity. However, OSHA also notes that forklifts are not designed to be used in a bulldozing manner.
Q: Is the warehouse required to mark a powered industrial truck before front-end attachments are added?
A: Adding a front-end attachment will affect the forklift’s capacity and safe operation. Trucks that have been equipped with the front-end attachment by the manufacturer should already be marked to identify the attachment and show the approximate weight of the truck and attachment combination at maximum elevation with load laterally centered. If the warehouse employer intends to add a front-end attachment, then he must obtain the truck’s manufacturer’s written approval and have the truck appropriately marked.
Q: Does OSHA permit the use of a suicide knob on the steering wheel of a forklift?
A: OSHA rules do not specifically mention steering knobs. However, there is an ANSI industry standard that does allow for steering knobs if certain criteria are met. In fact, there are some cases in which steering knobs may be necessary. For example, a steering knob can be used when steering must be performed with one hand. OSHA suggests that you refer to the equipment operating instructions.
Q: When are wheel chocks required?
A: The use of wheel chocks no longer apply to commercial motor vehicles that:
· Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater, or
· Is designed or used to transport more than eight passengers (including the driver) for compensation, or
· Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation, or
· Is used in transporting hazardous material in an amount requiring placarding under Department of Transportation regulations.
The FMCSA’s parking brake standard requires that every commercial motor vehicle manufactured since March 1990 be equipped with a parking brake system adequate to hold the vehicle or combination under any condition of loading.
However, agricultural commodity trailers, converter dolly, heavy hauler, and pulpwood trailers must carry and use chocking blocks to prevent movement when parked. The regulation also requires that the trailer’s brakes be applied automatically upon breakaway from the towing vehicle and maintained for at least 15 minutes.
Q: Can operators wear headphones while operating a forklift?
A: OSHA has issued Letters of Interpretations that do not recommend the practice. A major concern is that a forklift operator will increase the volume of the headphones high enough to drown out workplace noise. This can result in the driver not hearing alarms and shouted warnings and may cause him to expose himself to noise levels that exceed the OSHA permissible exposure levels.
Q: How often does a forklift have to be inspected?
A: OSHA requires that forklifts be inspected daily, or after each shift when used around the clock.
Q: How long is an employer required to keep forklift daily inspection sheets?
A: OSHA does not require that a forklift inspection be documented. However, using a written or electronic checklist is a good idea because you ensure that all essential features of the vehicle is inspected routinely and it provides evidence to an OSHA inspector that the vehicles are being inspected as required.