SAFETY SOLUTIONS: Fasten Those Forklift Seat Belts
Each year, tens of thousands of injuries related to
powered industrial trucks (PIT), or forklifts, occur in
US workplaces. Many employees are injured when
lift trucks are inadvertently driven off loading docks, lifts
fall between docks and an unsecured trailer, they are
struck by a lift truck, or when they fall while on 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.
I currently teach for California State University
Dominguez Hills OSHA Training Institute. One of the topics
I teach is OSHA Forklift Safety. Powered industrial
trucks are addressed in specific standards for the general
industry, marine terminals, construction and long shoring.
The OSHA standards also require that you train your
employees in the American National Standards Institute
(ANSI) B56 standards. One of the questions that I am
always asked when teaching a course is, “Do my employees
have to wear seatbelts when driving forklifts?”
Forklift operators should wear seat belts. Analysis of
forklift accidents reveals that the operators who were
injured or killed were often not wearing seat belts. While
seat belts can't prevent accidents, they can prevent serious
injuries and save lives. Here are three real accident
reports that tell the story:
An employee was using a forklift to move waste material
into a large, drive-in waste dumpster on the company's
outdoor loading dock. He'd just dumped a load and was
backing out of the dumpster when he backed off the side
of the loading dock, falling just under 4 feet to the pavement
below. Since he wasn't wearing a seat belt, he was
thrown from the forklift and was crushed under the truck's
rollover cage. He died 9 days later.
An employee was driving an unloaded forklift down a
ramp with a 13 percent slope when the forklift started to
tip over. The operator attempted to jump clear and the
rollover protective structure (ROP) landed on him and
killed him. The employee was not wearing the supplied
A forklift operator drove his truck down a ramp rapidly
and appeared to be attempting to make a sharp left turn.
The forklift overturned. Apparently, the employee was
unaccustomed to the quickness and sharp turning radius
of the new forklift. He was also not wearing the provided
seat belt and when he fell from the seat, his head was
caught under the overhead protective cage.
"OSHA's enforcement policy on the use of seat belts on
powered industrial trucks is that employers are obligated
to require operators of powered industrial trucks that are
equipped with operator restraint devices, including seat
belts, to use the devices. CSHOs [Compliance Safety and
Health Officers] will enforce the use of such devices under
Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act." What does this section
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".
Getting operators to wear their seat belts--easier said
than done! Some common complaints are that the seat
belts are restricting and that it's easy to forget to put the
belt on. Keep in mind that you are likely to hear the same
kinds of excuses you get from employees who fail to use
other kinds of required PPE. So use the same type of
approach when combating those objections. For example:
Tell forklift operators that they're required to use seat
belts and enforce your policy the way you do all your other
safety rules. (Lax enforcement is frequently cited as a reason
many operators fail to use them.)
Recount stories like the ones above and if you can, use
pictures of one of these accidents. Some employees may
scoff, but that ugly picture is going to stick with them
somewhere in the back of their minds--and it might just
make them snap on the belt.
Remind them that no matter how much of a nuisance
wearing a seat belt might be, it's worth it to ensure that
they can go home to their families and friends safely.
Another option is to refit your forklifts with seat belts
that won't allow the operator to start up the forklift unless
the belt is buckled. For a modest per-truck cost, you can
improve compliance. But you still have to monitor,
because operators can just buckle the belt and sit on it.
So you still have to get them to see the importance of
wearing a seat belt.
If you have any questions on the proper
use of forklifts, please write to me at jpodojil@podojilconsulting.
For more information, click on the author link at the top of the page.