When Lift Trucks And Workers Collide

Study finds the incidence of accidents can be reduced with proper training, use of safety devices.

Accidents involving a lift truck and a pedestrian are the most frequently reported and often involve serious or fatal injuries. Hyster Co., Greenville, NC, recently conducted a study of these types of accidents.

Lift truck accident data is published periodically by various sources, including state and federal government organizations. However, specific factual information concerning individual accidents is frequently vague and the factors that contribute to these accidents are difficult to identify.

Hyster's evaluation of its own accident reports indicates that approximately as many of these accidents occurred while the lift truck was traveling forward (including tail-swing accidents) as in reverse. Most reverse travel accidents occurred within the first 10 feet of travel, whereas most of the forward travel accidents occurred after the first 25 feet.

Many of the accidents involved injury to pedestrians who were not only aware of the presence of the lift truck but who were, in fact, working with the operator of the truck that struck them. Hyster found that some lift trucks involved in these accidents were equipped with audible and visible alarms, and that some lift trucks were equipped with alarms which were non-operational at the time of the accidents.

Accident Causes

The lack of detailed information concerning specific accidents makes it impossible to isolate a common or predominant cause of accidents involving a lift truck and a pedestrian. However, some of the factors that may contribute to these accidents include:
• Ambient noise levels;
• Ambient light levels;
• The number of lift trucks and pedestrians present;
• Level of training of lift truck operators;
• Level of education of pedestrians concerning lift truck operating characteristics and how to work around them;
• Physical workplace layout, including separate travel zones for pedestrians and lift trucks;
• Presence of audible or visible warning devices on lift trucks and other mobile equipment in the workplace;
• Presence of audible or visible warning devices on cranes, conveyors or other stationary industrial equipment;
• Lack of specific operating rules for lift truck travel, such as sounding the steering wheel horn at intersections or when changing directions;
• Lack of enforcement by management of safe work procedures for lift truck operators and pedestrians.

Operator, pedestrian training: OSHA regulations require specialized training and regular re-training for lift truck operators and remedial training for operators involved in accidents or near accidents. OSHA estimates that its current operator training requirements will prevent 11 deaths and 9,422 injuries per year.

Pedestrians should understand the operating characteristics of lift trucks when working in their proximity and should follow pedestrian rules that are established for their specific environment by their employers.

Separation of traffic: Unlike automobile and pedestrian traffic, there are no universal "rules of the road" for the manner in which lift trucks and pedestrians interact. Many of the largest and most sophisticated lift truck users have concluded that the most effective way to reduce these accidents is to separate lift truck and pedestrian traffic to the greatest extent possible, using travel lanes dedicated to the trucks and separate travel lanes dedicated to pedestrian traffic.

Travel lanes may be marked with paint on the floor, or separated by physical barriers. Limitations may also be placed in travel areas for lift trucks to keep them away from high-density pedestrian traffic, such as near washrooms, break rooms or time clocks.

Workplace rules to increase safety: Every lift truck application environment is unique. Yet, when it comes to reducing or preventing accidents involving a lift truck and a pedestrian, they all have common resources, including independent safety consultants, and your workers' compensation insurance company's loss control specialists. They can all assist you in developing appropriate rules that may help reduce or prevent the incidence of lift truck/pedestrian accidents in your particular workplace.

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