Frequently Asked Forklift Safety Questions
Is there such a thing as a forklift speed limit?
Unlike road legal automobiles, where speed limits are clearly defined by law, there are no arbitrary speed limits for forklifts. Instead, industry standards and guidelines such as ANSI B56.1, provide recommendations based upon theoretical safe stopping distances. For a flat, dry and clean asphalt, brushed concrete or equivalent surface, safe stopping distances for a forklift can be calculated using the following formula:
S = 0.394 V^2 / D-G where:
- S = distance to stop in metres;
- D = drawbar drag as a portion of the loaded truck weight, as a percentage;
- G = percentage grade (e.g., 5 for 5%);
- S = stopping distance in meters; and,
- V = velocity in km/h.
Note: this formula is intended for calculating safe stopping distances on flat, dry and clean surfaces like asphalt and concrete. The distance required to safely stop a forklift largely depends on momentum and traction, which means stopping distances will increase on surfaces with less traction than those mentioned above, such as wet or slippery floors or on top of loose sand/gravel. Regardless of the conditions, it is generally accepted that forklifts should not exceed 10km/h indoors and 20km/h outdoors.
Are there fitness requirements, physical or mental, that must be met to operate a forklift?
If an operator is impaired in same way that may affect their ability to safely perform their duties as a forklift operator, a comprehensive assessment should be made on a case by case basis
General guidelines to be considered during this assessment include:
- Vision – an operator must be free of visual impairments that may limit their ability to safely perform their specific role. Specific attention should be paid the specifics of the job as they relate to visual acuity (ability to read signs, instructions, labels, etc.), the ability to differentiate color (where necessary), peripheral vision, and depth perception as it pertains to judging depth, heights and distance.
- Hearing – an operator must be able to hear all warning signs within their workplace, as required by their specific job.
- Physical – an operator must be free of any physical, neurological or any other health disorder that may impair their ability to safely operate a lift truck, as well as have sufficient strength, endurance and coordination to meet the demands of their job.
Does a lift truck have require a back-up alarm or warning light?
While back-up alarms and rear strobe lights are standard features on most new models, there is no explicit legislation or standard that makes these a requirement for the safe and legal operation of a lift truck. However, lift trucks do need to be equipped with an audible operator-controlled warning device such as a “horn, whistle, gong, or other sound-producing device.” OHSA further states that employers must take “specific and reasonable precautions to protect workers who are working in the area of forklifts and lifting devices” which may include “warning lights, signs and audible vehicular devices.”
How often should a lift truck be inspected?
2 main types of lift truck inspection:
- Pre-operation inspections
- Inspection conducted by a trained forklift operator on a daily basis or before operation. Intended to identify potential safety hazards before the unit is placed into operation.
- Service report inspections
- Planned maintenance inspections (every 200 hours)
- Year safety inspections (once a year or every 2,000 hours, whichever comes first)
- Lift capacity inspections (before a lift truck is used for the first time, every time a lift truck changes owners or no less than once per year)
Can operators wear headphones while operating a forklift?
Although using headphones is not explicitly forbidden in any of the industry or safety standards, it is not a recommended practice all the same. Similar to any kind of hearing impairment, the use of headphones may limit an operator’s ability to hear warning sounds, horns or sirens, as well as decrease their situational awareness. As such, this practice is not advisable for obvious safety issues.
Are forklift operators required to wear seat belts?
Unlike with an automobile, the purpose of a seat belt in a forklift is to prevent the operator from jumping from the vehicle in the event of a tip over as they could become trapped underneath the forklift and suffer serious bodily injury. As such, forklift operators are required to engage an operator restraint system (i.e., a seat belt) before operating a lift truck and must keep it engaged while the unit is in operation. In fact, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that all of their operators use their seat belts at all times. If a forklift does not have a seat belt, OSHA (US) or OHSA (Canada) can mandate the installation of one. This requires the employer to be notified by the forklift manufacturer that mousetrapping hazard exists and that a retrofitting program has been initiated. If the employer does not take advantage of the retrofitting program, once it knows it exists, the company can be cited for failure to comply.