Chain of Thought
Forklift Life Lesson #3: Master What Lands Down Under

Forklift Life Lesson #3: Master What Lands Down Under

We’ve written a lot about the dangers of working in a warehouse, but what about shopping in a warehouse—more specifically, a warehouse store or big box environment like Home Depot, Lowe's or Walmart? There have been a few high-profile cases of customer injuries in the news over the years. One ended the career of NASA astronaut Jean-Loup Chretien. He was shopping at a Home Depot store in Webster, Texas, in September 2000 when a 68-pound drill press fell 10 feet from a shelf right on top of him.

That reads like a freak accident, but what surprised me after posting a video of a more recent near-hit incident on our website is that there’s actually an area of law specifically devoted to these incidents. It falls under premises liability, and it was built on a case in the late 80s involving Walmart. Out of this, it was discovered that between 1989 and 1994, there had been 17,000 falling-merchandise incidents resulting in injuries to Walmart customers.

Home Depot is said to receive about 200 falling merchandise complaints a week, according to the law firm of Eckman, Strandness & Egan  (Wayzata, MN). They state that most such accidents happen between October and January, when additional merchandise is stacked in anticipation of the holiday rush.

The episode we posted in one of our video galleries (and included below for your reference) got forklift operator trainer David Hoover’s attention, and he decided to weigh in with the next in our series of lessons on forklift safety.

“This video shows one of two things: either poor stacking or a forklift push-through from the other side. (Watch it here then come back. We'll wait for you.)

“In the case of the former, many times workers are in a big hurry and don’t take the time to ensure loads are placed safely and securely. When that happens it is like setting the timer on a bomb—it’s just a matter of time until it goes off (falls). Operators need to be taught that the lives of others depend on the quality of their stacking and unstacking.  Companies also need to ensure their loads are stable and secure, either by the nature of the product itself or by things like stretch wrap or strapping. 

“The other issue that could be at play would be a forklift trying to access the loads from the other side. Such an operation can push loads on the far side (which is out of their sight) into the next aisle.  Most warehouse stores that allow the general public to walk their aisles now block off adjacent aisles during storage and retrieval operations, but most general industry and warehousing clients do not. That means someone walking or working in the next aisle could get blindsided.  Not only must forklift operators go slow and be careful not to push loads out the other side, but there should also be heavy duty netting in between rows for protection in case that does happen.”

Ensuring safe material handling and logistics procedures in the workplace comes down to respect for fellow human beings. Master this, and nothing else will come down unless you want it to.

(Let us know if there's a forklift safety issue you'd like us to cover. E-mail me at [email protected].)

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