4 Common Forklift Safety Issues and How to Solve Them

Scott Carlin
Aug 23, 2023 9:30:00 AM

forklift-safetyWhen Morgan Weis, a TFS account executive, visits facilities to discover what’s on executives’ minds, she hears a lot about safety. That’s not a big surprise, since it has always been a major concern. However, when many businesses transformed the way they operated during the pandemic, they found their safety practices—already a touchy subject—just couldn’t keep pace.

For example, as many facilities saw organic growth from e-commerce, they also began keeping more inventory on hand. That meant warehouse space became tighter, making it more difficult to safely maneuver forklifts. Add the “Great Resignation” and employee retention into the mix and many companies realized they needed to get serious about workers’ well-being.

Of course, some other issues facility executives are grappling with have existed for decades.

“The number one concern is pedestrian traffic in forklift areas,” Weis said. “Another big safety issue is drivers who crash and just keep driving without checking whether the forklift is still safe and operational. And operator non-compliance with OSHA safety checklists is always a big pain point.”

In theory, all these issues sound easy to solve. However, as many facility managers have discovered, it’s difficult—especially in a time of labor shortages—to force operators to follow the rules.

Weis shared some solutions—many of them low-cost and low-tech—that she thinks are particularly effective. Let’s dive in!

How to approach the 4 most common facility safety issues:

1. Workflows - Every company should take a long, hard look at its processes for product flow and storage. When TFS works with clients, a facility assessment is one of the first steps. Facility managers can follow that same model to uncover many issues that have been flying under the radar. For example,

“Observe the ways pedestrians and forklifts flow within the facility and see if there are clearly labeled pathways,” Weis said. “You’ll probably notice some other things, like an unsafe rack or ways to rearrange product areas to avoid maneuvering in tight spaces. A few small changes can make a huge difference.”

For example, many facilities can optimize the location of frequently picked products vs. lesser picked products. That’s a relatively easy fix that can increase both efficiency and safety.

2. Pedestrian traffic - Some obvious and effective solutions are mirrors, clear signage, clear pedestrian walkways, and curtain lights on the forklifts, which alert pedestrians when a forklift is near them. All these things help workers raise safety consciousness and reduce accidents. 

Once those features are in place, consider capping the maximum speed of your forklifts. Most typically top out at seven or eight miles per hour; a maintenance provider can decrease that speed to four or five miles per hour, which helps operators stop more quickly.  Plus, preventing collisions with people or objects ties into one of the other major concerns, which is driving a damaged forklift.

Automation is another great option, especially if operators are driving the same route repeatedly. For example, Weis says she recently visited a facility where operators were running the same path every 12 minutes. She pointed out that an automated tugger could do that more efficiently and safely.

3. Damaged forklifts - Risky operator behavior is an extremely common concern that spans all types of facilities and industries. Telematics (a small device connected to the forklift to track usage & impact analytics), can be used to pinpoint which drivers are having frequent accidents. It can also prevent drivers from operating specific equipment if they lack the appropriate certifications. (You can learn more about how telematics works as part of a holistic system in another recent blog.)

TFS’s Business Intelligence Unit has done studies documenting telematics’ effectiveness in terms of accident prevention. Weis says she’s a big fan of the technology—although she points out that all the data in the world isn’t useful unless you have someone analyzing it and proactively applying the findings.

“For example, TFS works with all types of telematics systems for customers, but the one constant is that we always set up an easy dashboard interface. We don’t want customers to have to dig through numbers,” Weis said. “The goal is to have them look at a screen and understand what’s going on with their fleet and their drivers.”

If your budget doesn’t allow for telematics, start smaller by improving drivers’ safety checklists, stepping up training, and boosting communication about the importance of properly functioning equipment. If operators are regularly using damaged equipment, ensure your lockdown and tagout functionality keeps lifts out of commission until they can be repaired. 

Weis also pointed out that, while safety costs are a concern, there’s another cost that’s not as apparent.

“‘Abuse spend’ is a term used when operators cause damage by running into something or driving too fast and slamming on the brakes. At TFS, we like to say that abuse spend is always avoidable,” Weis said. “If operators aren’t driving safely, facility managers will definitely see a corresponding increase in maintenance spend.”

4. OSHA safety checklist - If you’re battling with operators over checklists, your first step is to ensure they understand why they’re filling out those checklists. 

Make it clear that skipping the checklist can result in an incident and/or a fine. In addition, communicate that the checklist process keeps equipment in good working order—and point out that no one enjoys working with damaged equipment.

If a messaging campaign doesn’t work, Weis says telematics can be a useful tool. For example, it can be configured to prevent the use of a forklift without a completed checklist. It also allows facility managers to view safety trends over time to ensure constant improvement and pinpoint repeat violators.

As you can see, there are many ways to improve safety that are relatively low-cost and low-tech. And while more sophisticated solutions like telematics or a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) can seem like big investments, there’s often a great ROI. After all, the data can be leveraged for many cost-saving improvements. 

“Most people are just thinking about forklifts in terms of the upfront purchase price, but maintenance is a significant ongoing cost, especially if your facility is dealing with abuse spend,” Weis said. “Telematics can track all that data, helping you pivot quickly if you see costs increasing. As I keep reminding my customers, the total cost of ownership is what matters most.”

Even if forklift safety issues feel overwhelming, you’ll find starting with a few small tweaks can pay off quickly. And you can start to document the changes you’re making, building a case for more investment in “bigger” solutions. The bonus? You’ll also see improvements in efficiency and employee morale. Now, that’s a win-win!

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