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How to Protect Warehouse Pedestrians from Forklift Rear Swings

The average car weighs roughly 3,000 pounds, while the average forklift is a whopping 9,000 pounds

Forklift Safety Inquiry

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Forklifts aren’t cars, and they don’t drive like them.

They don’t brake or accelerate like cars, and they certainly don’t steer like them, yet accidents occur far too often because drivers and pedestrians don’t understand the difference. Pedestrians misunderstand the way forklifts maneuver, and the danger of walking or working around them. Forklifts aren’t dangerous to pedestrians only from the front or rear — they can also hit someone on foot from the side, frequently due to rear-end swings, since forklifts swing wide when they corner.

How can your reduce the chances for this type of accident?

One of the most important differences is the way forklifts steer. Unlike autos, they steer from the read axle while their front wheels pivot. The massive counterweight at the rear of the lift truck swings wide when the vehicle turns. It’s very easy for an inexperienced, distracted or incompetent driver to swing the back of a lift into a pallet rack upright, a building column, a piece of machinery or a stack of materials in constricted space.

More importantly: the driver can easily strike a pedestrian with that rear swing

The sharper the angle, the more pronounced the swing is, meaning that the counterweight will swing even wider when the wheels are sharply turned. People used to the dynamics of a car won’t understand this. Warehouse workers standing near a forklift may not understand that its back end will swing much wider than you’d think looking at the relatively compact vehicle.

Drivers should begin turns as far as possible away from an obstruction as they can. Training is critical here, but what about training for people working around a forklift? Drivers should turn deliberately and slowly, but in a busy operation, we’ve all seen hurried drivers make mistakes. Since OSHA mandates forklift training, drivers are probably trained more frequently on these issues, but is it often enough to prevent these type of accidents?

Warehouse workers should be trained on the handling dynamics of forklifts, particularly to maintain a safe distance. One of the easier ways to do this reduce the guesswork on what a ‘safe distance’ actually means is to install side zone warning lights.

Front/rear collision “blue” warning lights have been around for far longer, and perform a different safety function. While the “blue light” warns pedestrians front and back , side lights are there to illustrate how closely they are allowed to stand or work near a forklift. Rather than training to a particular safe zone, these lights let you define that zone, set your distance, and train simply to stand outside the light line.

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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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