News | November 17, 1999

Safety and the ‘Industrial Pedestrian'

Source: BLR-Business & Legal Reports, Inc.
Much attention has been given to the importance of safe driving practices by forklift operators but much less to the responsibility of the employee or visitor walking through the workplace to look out for his or her own personal safety in the presence of industrial lift trucks.

This "industrial pedestrian" shares responsibility for injury prevention with the driver. Are the two necessarily on a collision course? No, says forklift trainer Joe Serratelli of Cranford, New Jersey, but danger and the potential for injury is lurking unless both parties are alert and follow some commonsense safety practices.

Serratelli explains that most lift trucks with their loads weigh more than a personal automobile and are much less maneuverable. Their speeds range from 5 to 10 miles per hour, faster than a pedestrian can walk, and, due to its weight and load, the truck is difficult to stop quickly. In addition, the driver's field of vision may be limited by the load height or the truck mast. Serratelli includes a segment on pedestrian safety in his forklift driver training program for the New Jersey State Safety Council where he trains more than 500 such drivers each year.

"Operators who perform their work around pedestrians have a higher responsibility of keeping them out of harm's way," Serratelli says. He makes a comparison with the automobile driver's need to be alert for children who may run onto a road from between parked cars. "If an accident occurs it may be the child's fault, but the greater responsibility is with the car driver," he believes.

OSHA's Stats and Regs
A 1994 federal OSHA study of 170 forklift-related fatalities in the United States (the latest specific statistics available) showed that the principal reason for forklift fatal accidents was the truck overturning (25.3 percent), with 18.8 percent of the cases involving a "worker struck by the forklift." That translates into the deaths of some 31 workers in the study who were struck by a forklift or its load. Other encounters with lift trucks resulted in injuries ranging from leg "brush burns" to crushed feet or legs.

OSHA recently finalized requirements for initial and periodic formal training of drivers who operate the nearly 1 million forklifts in the nation's factories, warehouses, construction sites, and lumber yards. But the safety of the workplace pedestrian received only passing comment.

The ‘Cowboy' and the ‘Clown'
What can you do in your workplace about the "cowboy" lift truck driver and the "clown" pedestrian? There should be "zero tolerance" for such behavior, says trainer Serratelli, as it is "a tremendous danger to the persons involved and co-workers." Safety rules properly enforced, however, will keep such exhibitionists under control.
One important rule is that, although there's a dual responsibility for drivers and walkers to be alert while the truck is in motion, the pedestrian should have the right of way at all times. On the other hand, the walker should be required to Stop, Look, and Listen until the way is safe and clear.

Protective Steps for the Pedestrian
Experts in the field suggest these further steps for the protection of workplace pedestrians:

  • Narrow walkways highlighted with yellow or white painted stripes can be established to provide a relatively safe haven for walkers, away from the paths of lift trucks.
  • Protection at entry doors to areas where forklifts are operating is important. An inverted U-shaped guard fabricated of sturdy pipe and attached to the floor forces pedestrians to detour around the guard and look before heading out into an aisle. Doors that open into forklift travel areas can also be fitted with alarms that sound when a door is opened, alerting both drivers and walkers.
  • Overhead STOP signs for forklift trucks at busy corners will help regulate truck traffic, and convex mirrors at "blind" corners or cross aisles help both truck operators and pedestrians be aware of traffic.
  • Visitors should be escorted through the facility. Some are "very naive about industrial processes and like to gawk or window-shop as if they were in a mall," says Serratelli.
  • Remind pedestrians to be particularly careful when walking in ramps and narrow passageways, which do not always allow for proper clearance for a moving lift truck.
  • Stress that workplace walkers should follow the same commonsense rules that they use—or should use—to cross the street.

Applying these suggestions should result in fewer forklift-pedestrian accidents, advises Serratelli. So should regular publicizing of the dual injury-prevention responsibility of drivers and walkers.

OSHA Compliance Advisor, #376 - Business & Legal Reports, Inc. - Author: Neville Tompkins

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