By Jack Rubinger, Graphic Products

From time to time, we like to share perspectives from members in our connected communities. We’d like to thank Jack Rubinger, an expert in industrial safety, for providing this two-part guest post regarding forklift safety. Part 1 focuses on forklifts and fire safety. Part 2 will discuss forklift accident prevention:

A leading German forklift manufacturer, Jungheinrich, recently reported a rise in the global demand of forklifts from three key industrial markets – Western Europe (+10%), Asia (+17%) and North America (+14%). While it’s good to see that the material handling equipment industry is showing signs of health, OSHA stats show that forklift-related accidents kill nearly 100 U.S. workers per year and seriously injure another 20,000. Forklift overturns are the leading cause of fatalities, representing about 25% of all forklift-related deaths.

There are several forklift hazards/problems that commonly arise, including:

  • Not fastening seat belts
  • Forgetting to check surroundings before operating a forklift
  • Attempting to operate an unsafe or broken forklift truck
  • Using the incorrect size forklift for right load to be lifted
  • Exceeding safe operating speeds
  • Vehicle fires

Forklift Fires

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), “during 2003-2006, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 1,340 structure and vehicle fires in which industrial loaders, forklifts, or related material-handling vehicles were directly involved in ignition per year.” The NFPA report on forklift fires in the workplace highlighted the need for companies to be vigilant in their safety procedures, with figures showing over 20 injuries each year and millions of dollars of damage from fires.

Causes for these fires include:

  • Mechanical failure
  • Electrical failures
  • Leaks or breaks
  • Flammable or combustible liquid gas, pipes, or filters at the ignition point – some involving electrical wire or cable insulation

NFPA report author, Marty Ahern, believes that forklifts and loaders need to be treated differently than open road vehicles. “Unlike most vehicles used on roads or open areas, these are used in close proximity with large quantities of stored goods,” he explained, “Because they move around, they can be a traveling heat source.”

Ahern added, “Forklift fire safety should address parking and storage. Machinery must not be kept or parked in their actual working place in the storage area or in places where there is a fire load or the danger of a fire spreading. Lunch hours and coffee breaks are the most common situations where these rules are broken. Safe parking and standing places, where a fire can’t spread to structures or to goods and materials being stored, must be clearly identified with signs and labels. Machinery must be visible, able to be monitored and extinguishable.”

For more forklift fire prevention tips, you can download a copy of the whitepaper, Six Ways to Prevent Your Lift Trucks from Starting a Fire.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where Jack will address Forklift Accident Prevention.