You'd think that lift truck operators would have enough to think about just getting through the day, lifting and positioning loads, and not hitting pedestrians. Unfortunately pedestrians are coming into contact with lift trucks all too frequently.
There's a difference between being behind the steering wheel of a lift truck and watching it whiz by as a pedestrian, says Jim Shephard, president of Shephard's Industrial Training Systems (Memphis, Tenn., www.shephardsystems.com). Shephard is one of the foremost spokesmen for lift truck and pedestrian safety in warehouses and manufacturing plants.
"In some companies lift truck operators are training other employees in safety. They're that concerned," says Shephard, "Management is saying, let's get the clerks, let's get the secretaries, and put them through a safety awareness course."
The Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training (PITOT) standard mandates that operators be trained in "pedestrian areas where the vehicle will be operated." The problem is that PITOT is a lift-truck training standard, not a pedestrian safety standard. Operator training can't do it all. A trained operator will be more in control of his or her vehicle and more aware of pedestrians, but there are limitations.
"Most of the accidents I've seen where there have been collisions or near-misses, it really wasn't the operator's fault," says Shephard.
Not only do pedestrians need to walk in designated aisles, says Shephard, but also to report hazardous conditions. "When these conditions are brought up to the safety committee, they can put together an action plan to make improvements," he says. Some recommendations may include painting a crosswalk or installing a barricade in likely accident areas, such as the doorway coming out of the cafeteria.
Pedestrian safety involves the safety department, the training department and plant layout. Stored material, especially palletloads, pose a threat to pedestrians, which brings the warehouse manager into any safety decision-making process.
Working against all of these initiatives is the glut of safety signs in many facilities, because 1) people start to consider these as part of the scenery; and 2), managers feel that they have done their duty simply by putting up the signs.
Shephard offers some basic guidlines for setting up a pedestrian safety awareness program:
- Teach employees about the warning lights and alarms being used in the facility, what these alarms mean, and what their response should be.
- Teach employees to watch for tripping hazards and for barricades.
- Adequately mark walkways that may be used at night and make sure they are properly lighted.
- Teach employees and visitors to make eye contact with the operators of mobile equipment when walking through a facility.
- Establish pedestrian safety policies that cover the movement of visitors walking through all buildings within a facility.
- Create policies that specify under what circumstances visitors, including contract personnel, are permitted to move across the site unescorted.
Of course lift trucks are not the only equipment that poses a threat to pedestrians in the plant. There are other vehicles and equipment, such as cranes, automated guided vehicles, and even personnel carriers. Some material handling equipment that cannot be moved around, such as conveyors, can be dangerous to pedestrians as well.
Bernie Knill Former MHM Editor who was instrumental in the passage, nine years ago, of the OSHA standard for lift truck training.