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Many serious workplace injuries and deaths occur because of mistakes in operating forklifts and their load. Each year in the United States, tens of thousands of injuries occur in relation to the operation of forklifts, or powered industrial trucks, in the work place. Although the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the government body responsible for workplace safety, now requires formal forklift safety programs and training all too often companies do not devote sufficient resources or attention to making sure employees are properly trained and forklifts properly maintained. As a result, many of the injuries that occur can be attributed to a lack of safe operating procedures, lack of safety-rule enforcement, and insufficient or inadequate training.

In order to combat the safety issues that forklift operation presents, OSHA has, over the years, developed and implemented a series of safety regulations that specify the conditions for operating a forklift. Some of the more important safety regulations address the following issues:

  • ONLY individuals who are over the age of 18 and are properly trained and certified may operate a forklift. It is a violation of Federal law for anyone under the age of 18 to operate a forklift.
  • OSHA requires vehicle inspection on a daily basis, both prior to and during operation of the equipment. The pre-operation inspection examines at a minimum: fluid levels; leaks, cracks or other visible defects; tire conditions; condition of the forks; load backrest extension; finger guards; safety decals and warning labels; location of operators manual; and functionality of safety devices. The operational inspection checks such things as brakes, steering, drive control, tilt control, hoist and lowering control, attachment control, horn, lights, and the back-up alarm.
  • OSHA identifies maintenance as a critical factor in the safe operation of a forklift. Maintenance includes removing from service any vehicle that is not in safe operating condition as well as regular maintenance according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Forklift operators must also follow specific safety rules while running and maneuvering the forklift. These rules address: mounting and dismounting; starting and stopping; speed; steering, turning and changing direction; traveling on inclines; parking; safe travel practices; visibility; and tipover.
  • Finally, there are a number of OSHA standards that address how forklift operators should handle the picking up, transporting, stacking and unstacking of loads. These safety regulations address preparation; approaching; the mast and fork positions; lifting the loads; lowering the loads; high tiering; and working with truck trailers and railroad cars.

The use of heavy machinery, such as forklifts, in the workplace can present unique and serious safety issues. It is for this reason that proper training and then compliance with safety regulations established by OSHA or the state-level equivalent are so important.

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