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When the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued its new guidelines for the safe operation of tractors, combines, and other agricultural equipment, they probably didn’t have forklifts in mind.
But the new safety recommendations dovetail seamlessly with the safe operation of forklifts and other heavy machinery used for materials handling in outdoor situations. That’s because the risks involved with using farming equipment are the same as those associated with forklifts working outside.
Similarities between Farms and Other Workplaces
Most injury accidents involving both forklifts and farming equipment result from collisions that occur between equipment and pedestrians. Often, inattention or not being able to see are the primary contributing factors.
Here, then, are the new guidelines released by OSHA to help prevent farm equipment — and forklift — backover accidents.
- Regularly assess each work location to determine if a traffic control plan is needed.
- Establish drive-through or circular turnaround areas. If this is not possible, provide adequate space for operators to perform a three-point turn.
- Ensure that all turnaround areas are level, firm, and well-drained to prevent vehicles from tipping over.
- Determine if a backup camera or system is needed.
- Never allow workers to eat lunch or rest near active working vehicles and equipment.
- Identify where workers might stand or walk unexpectedly.
- Determine if a spotter is needed.
- Instruct workers and operators not to use personal mobile phones, headphones, or any other items that could create a distraction.
Working at Night
Not having enough light to see can increase an operator’s blind spots, as well as impair their ability to see other workers.
Work areas need to be adequately lighted for the worksite and the vehicle. Both vehicle operators and workers on the ground should wear reflective vests or other high-visibility personal protective equipment to make them more visible.
Working in Bad Weather
Bad weather conditions — such as heavy rain, snow, and lightning — can pose specific hazards to forklift drivers and workers on the ground.
Driving rain can reduce a forklift operator’s visibility and make it difficult to see other workers or vehicles that may be nearby. If workers are at risk due to poor weather conditions, supervisors should stop the work and ensure that workers are kept away from moving vehicles until it is safe to return.
Backing Up Precautions
Forklift operators need to take special care whenever backing up their vehicles.
For both farm workers and forklift operators, OSHA recommends:
- Become familiar with backing up hazards and worksite safety measures
- Back up only when necessary and only for as short a distance as possible
- Check the surrounding area for obstacles, other workers, and equipment
- Understand the limitations of their vehicles and equipment and operate them only in the way in which they were intended
- Keep mirrors clean and properly adjusted to minimize blind spots
- Check that backup alarms, sensors, and cameras are working properly
- Be aware that some workers may not respond to verbal or mechanical warnings.
- Honk the vehicle’s horn and turn on the four-way flashers, if necessary, when backing up
- Understand that snow, mud, slush, or ice may prevent sudden stops and cause the vehicle to move in an unexpected manner.
Whether you are driving a tractor, a combine, or a forklift, following these safety recommendations can help prevent accidents and save lives.