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Mhlnews 1218 Labor0100
Mhlnews 1218 Labor0100
Mhlnews 1218 Labor0100
Mhlnews 1218 Labor0100

Safety: The Brass Ring on the Golden Thread

July 1, 2007
Ninety percent of operating a safe work environment is awareness. Alert employees are less likely to have lift truck accidents.

Summer can be a dangerous time in a distribution center or on the factory floor. Not because of the outside temperatures, in this case, but in regard to lift truck safety. Several factors lead to a higher rate of accidents in the summer months:
• Part time, untrained operators;
• Uncertified operators filling in for vacationers;
• Summer replacement workers unaware of lift truck traffic.

It's time to review your safety program and brush up on what the Department of Occupational Safety and Heath (OSHA) has mandated regarding lift truck operation and safety.

Powered industrial trucks are addressed in specific standards for the general industry, marine terminals and longshoring. Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, often referred to as the General Duty Clause, requires employers to "furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." Section 5(a)(2) requires employers to "comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act."

It should be noted that 24 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved state plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these states adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some states have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

Things to consider
What is a "safe" speed for lift truck operations? Adages such as time is money are often balanced by adages like haste makes waste. In response to what is a safe speed, Richard E. Fairfax, director of enforcement programs at OSHA told an inquiring manager, OSHA does not have specific speed limits set for safe operation. It takes many factors into consideration.

"OSHA would consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding the operation of a lift truck," says Fairfax, "including type of truck, manufacturer's limitations on the truck, load being carried, adequate stopping distances and pedestrian traffic among others."

While speed might be difficult to define due to a variety of factors, pedestrian injuries are more clearly regulated and easier to prevent. Working around lift trucks can be hazardous. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) notes that about 100 people are killed every year and another 20,000 are seriously injured in lift truck-related incidents. Trucks over turning account for about 22% of all deaths; workers on foot struck by a lift truck account for 20%; people being crushed by the truck are 16% of the deaths and 9% of the fatalities are from operators falling from the truck.

A typical case of pedestrian-versuslift truck from the NIOSH files is that of a 39-year-old female punch press operator at a computer components manufacturer. She was fatally injured while performing normal work tasks at her workstation. A lift truck, traveling in reverse at high speed toward her workstation, struck a metal trash bin. The bin was propelled toward the punch press station, which hit the press and rebounded back toward the lift truck. It was hit again, which shoved the truck back against the corner of the press, striking and crushing the victim against the press.

Looking for help
There are plenty of government agencies that can offer you guidelines to create a safety plan. There are also quasi-government agencies, such as the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP, that provide advice from a hands-on perspective. This particular organization is a nationwide network of resources transforming manufacturers to compete globally, supporting greater supply chain integration, and providing access to technology for improved productivity. MEP served 24,722 manufacturers in 2006, based on data submitted by the 59 MEP centers during fy2006.

One outstanding member of this organization is the Mid-America Manufacturing Technology Center (MAMTC, in Overland Park, Kansas. Sandy Johnson, CEO, says helping small and mid-size companies establish safety programs is one facet of its mission.

"One thing we do in the lean [manufacturing] programs is work with the 5S," says Johnson, "and some companies add a 6th S for safety because it relates to cleaning up and organizing. 5S is an easy program to start with because it's highly visual. You see what's wrong real quick."

Mike Niedenthal is a program director with MAMTC and works directly with client companies to establish safety programs.

Starting a program is easy, he says. All you have to do is look around. "First we try to assess their pain," he says. "Why are they calling us in the first place? Is it a gap in performance, lack of training, lacking knowledge and know how, new technology questions ..."

Then there is a lengthy set of questions Niedenthal asks just so he knows what it is the client needs. It might mean he'll look at the layout of a work cell and advise some changes or he might recommend a whole new training program on new machinery.

"We call safety the brass ring on the golden thread. It links with everything in the [lean manufacturing] program," says Niedenthal. "We take the visual workplace program and 5S and we relate these to lift trucks. If they [client companies] don't have good organization and good visualization in the work area, the first step is to clear the clutter away so you can see the process."

Visual workplace programs have a step in them called shine or scrub. It's intended to do a lot of things. "But we look to prevent the recontamination of the equipment," he says. "That means getting to the root cause of this problem or work area. At the same time we're looking for operating conditions that are unsafe."

Niedenthal says the mantra is: "We clean to inspect; we inspect to detect; and we detect to correct." Cleaner work areas are safer and operations are safer because you don't run the risk of missing something like a frayed cable or power cord.

Niedenthal says lift truck safety in the workplace begins with communication. "In the visual workplace we look for ways to communicate visually to a workforce so people see the instructions," he says. "Maybe they can't read English. So instead of a sign saying ‘no entry', we'll use the symbol of a lift truck in a circle with the line through it. Or a sign hung really low in a spot where there is a low ceiling. These reinforce safe operating conditions."

Niedenthal makes an important point about instituting a safety program—or making any change in the workplace. "When you are changing a culture you're talking about changing one person at a time."

Warehouse & Lift Truck Safety Guidelines
Editor's note: Larry Couperthwaite, president, Atlet USA ( and Elizabeth McClatchy, president, Safety Center (, offer this information on lift truck safety.

Employers work hard to avoid the costs, damages and injuries that occur with warehouse and forklift equipment operations. In addition, they strive to meet standards set by the U.S. Department of Labor and Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). In spite of this, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) investigates forklift-related injuries and deaths every year. This indicates that many workers and employers still are not aware of some of the risks, nor are they following the procedures set forth in OSHA standards, consensus standards, or equipment manufacturer's guidelines.

Many employees are injured when lift trucks are inadvertently driven off loading docks; lift trucks fall between docks and unsecured trailers; pedestrians are struck by lift trucks, and people fall from elevated pallets and tines. Most incidents also involve property damage, including damage to overhead sprinklers, racking, pipes, walls and machinery. Unfortunately, most employee injuries and property damage can be attributed to lack of safe operating procedures, lack of safety-rule enforcement, and insufficient or inadequate training.

As quick safety reminders, Atlet USA offers the following tips and guidelines to keep employees safe and costs down:
• Make sure all employees have up-to-date, equipmentspecific training and warehouse safety training.
• Take the time to perform pre-shift inspections. This is the time to identify any potential leaks or other hazards.
• Always wear the appropriate clothing when at work
in a warehouse. In addition to your company's dress code, wear protective footwear, not athletic shoes. Remove rings and jewelry and keep long hair tied back.
• Equipment operators: watch out for pedestrians and other vehicles, again particularly around aisles. When backing up, watch the direction of travel for potential hazards (people, equipment, etc.), not just the load.
• It is better to make too much noise than not enough. In a busy warehouse, back-up horns can become "normal" background noise, lulling other workers into false comfort zones.
• Forklifts, pallet jacks and hand trucks are not designed for passengers.
• Consider selecting lift trucks that provide the newer PIN code systems, which prevent unauthorized use of the truck.
• Remember, safety is everyone's job.
• It is a violation of Federal law for anyone under age 18 years to operate a forklift; and for anyone over age 18 not properly trained and certified to do so.

Other Resources
For more information, refer to the following resources:

For sample daily checklists for powered industrial trucks, and Request a free ‘You are Safe with Atlet' brochure by contacting Nikki Do, [email protected].

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