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Guide to Forklift Safety for Pedestrians

8 Tips for pedestrian safety near forklift operations

Pedestrian Safety Inquiry

Take a few minutes to watch this video from WorkSafeBC on how to prevent forklift injuries from a pedestrian’s point of view.

As a pedestrian in a forklift environment, it’s your responsibility to keep yourself safe.  Anyone who runs a warehouse or industrial facility understands the dangers, and drivers should be trained. Do you train the pedestrians, the order pickers, the managers, and vendors who sometimes roam your facility and are exposed to forklift traffic? Watch the video. It’s 12 minutes long, and worth every second.

What you can do to be safer around forklifts

See eye-to-eye

Make eye contact with the driver. Confirm the driver is aware of your presence by waiting for him to acknowledge you. Never cross or approach a forklift until you’re certain the driver has seen you.

Don’t trust your ears

Even large lift trucks can be silent. In particular if they are coasting, they’re nearly inaudible in a bustling warehouse environment. You can’t rely on your ears to tell you one is nearby, or perhaps about to come across that picking aisle. This can be an issue in particular in facilities where sound-reducing earplugs are used. As they tell quarterbacks, keep your head on a swivel, even if you don’t hear a thing. Be especially careful at blind corners.  Install mirrors or forklift activated warning mechanisms at blind corners to enhance the safety of these dangerous intersections.

Visibility is terrible on many forklifts, so make yourself stand out

Forklifts as originally designed were a separate machine from transports. They have morphed into the same machine, which may have put large attachments an, chains, bars, and other obstructions in the driver’s line of sight. Bright light can reduce visibility can hide a forklift from your view. Double check before crossing an aisle. Wear a high visibility vest to increase your visibility to an operator.

Use marked pedestrian lanes and crossings if you have them

And install some if you don’t. Drivers expect to see pedestrians at crosswalks or pedestrian aisles and they will typically be more cognizant when they cross them. Never assume the driver can see you, though: his vision is no better at a crossing than anywhere else.

Remember that forklifts aren’t cars

Even if it could stop as quickly as a car (which it can’t), its load cannot. That spilled load can be as dangerous as the forklift itself.

Remind yourself that  forklifts are like an angry bull: dangerous from all sides

In fact, the rear of a lift truck might be more dangerous than the front, since a driver is probably concentrating on the rack or load in front of him when he starts backing up. Don’t approach a lift truck from the side if you can help it. The back end can swing quickly if the driver backs up or changes angles. As you’d do dealing with lift  trucks in parallel conditions, establish eye contact with the driver and be sure he acknowledges that you are there.

If you can’t see it, it can’t see you

Expect a lift truck anyplace where you can’t see around a corner or past a rack aisle. Pay attention to your surroundings, not documents, not your cell phone, not the person you’re walking with.

Know a little physics

When a lift truck turns a corner, remember that the outside end of a long load travels much faster than the inside end. If you are on the outside radius of a turn, the driver may think the load is heading your way slower than it really is.

Ultimately, training drivers and installing visibility enhancements, automated warning devices, and clearly marked aisles will be helpful, but if you walk a plant floor, your primary concern has to be for your own safety.

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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