Operating a Forklift in Freezing Conditions Puts Drivers at Risk

Photo courtesy of Derek Pogue via flickr.com.

Most businesses operate all year round, regardless of the weather. But the cold temperatures, high winds, and freezing snow and ice of winter can make driving a forklift a miserable job.

Some forklift drivers who work in freezer warehouses have to put up with these conditions all year round.

Regardless of whether it’s only a couple of months per year or all the time, drivers unprotected from freezing conditions are going to be less productive. So it makes sense to invest in your employees.

This winter, protect your drivers with forklift enclosures, heaters, and other personal protective equipment.

Forklift Cold-Weather Risks

The risks of driving a forklift in wintry conditions are very real. According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, cold stress caused by cool temperatures, strong winds, and exposure to the elements can drive down the body’s core temperature and put drivers at risk of hypothermia.

These risks can be accelerated if conditions are damp or wet, if the driver is not wearing appropriate clothing, or if he or she already is tired or even exhausted from overexertion. Poor physical health or pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, or diabetes can make it even dangerous for forklift drivers to operate their vehicles in cold weather conditions.

Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can replace it. If the body temperature drops below 95 degrees F, hypothermia can put workers at risk of permanent injury or even death.

Protecting Workers from the Cold

Most forklifts work just fine in sub-zero conditions. But most humans don’t.

The first level of protection is how drivers are dressed. If they work outside, forklift operators need to dress for the weather. In the cold, this includes long underwear, multiple layers of clothing, wool hats, heavy insulated gloves, and possibly a thin layer of waterproof clothing close to the skin.

The next level is to create a barrier between the driver and the outside weather conditions. Forklift enclosure covers can be attached to forklift cabins when the weather turns cold to protect drivers from wind, moisture, and cold temperatures.

Portable heaters can add heat to the interior of the forklift cabin. Battery-operated heated clothing also can help keep drivers warm.

When It’s Too Cold to Work Safely

If your operators don’t normally work in extreme cold or wintery weather, you might want to wait until outdoor temperatures increase before resuming normal operations. Driving in snow and ice is dangerous. And freezing temperatures could cause workers to become injured or ill.

The best plan is to use common sense when operating forklifts during winter.

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