Every year forklift accidents cause tens of thousands of injuries and a forklift is involved in one out of six workplace deaths. Waiting until an accident occurs is far too late to take a look at improving how you’re managing warehouse traffic.
In order to protect pedestrians, equipment operators, facility visitors, and other employees, you must eliminate traffic hazards and work to prevent future accidents. As one of the very first steps of creating a traffic management plan, you want to design the facility in a way that eliminates or minimizes interactions between pedestrians and vehicles. Look at how traffic flows around the workplace, consider efficient routes, and wherever possible keep people and forklifts separate.
Following the ‘Rules of the Road’
For most forklift operators, adopting many of the common ‘rules of the road’ will become second nature in a facility environment. Creating traffic controls, you see out in the real world such as crosswalks at intersections, four-way stops, and marking vehicle lanes make the space easier to navigate for everyone.
For example, be sure to document who has the right of way when it comes to intersections and enforce this rule with traffic control signs. When looking at the intersections in your facility, use floor marking tape or paint to create safe crossing zones for pedestrians. Use common traffic signals such as one way only signs, do not enter signs, yield signs, and stop signs to better control the flow of traffic. Because these signs are universally recognizable, it’s an extremely simple step for improving warehouse safety.
Enforce Safe Speeds
Just like cars traveling on the highway, maintaining a safe speed is critical for preventing accidents. While OSHA does not have specific speed limits set for the safe operation of a powered industrial truck, they do give several factors you should take into consideration for evaluating and determining a safe speed such as the type of truck being used, adequate stopping distance, operating surface conditions, and other safety issues.
The safest speed for forklift travel will likely vary around for your facility. For instance, you may decide to maintain lower speeds in corridors and aisleways, require reduced speeds around corners and down ramps, and keep lower speeds in areas where the driver’s visibility is reduced. Be sure operators know what their traveling speed should be by posting several speed limit signs in the area that can be seen from either direction. Remember, even a forklift traveling at a very slow speed can crush and severely injure someone.
Keep Others Safe
Pedestrians, facility visitors, line workers, and those not operating a forklift will need to have their own safety plan to adhere to. For example, designating separate entrances and exits for individuals and vehicles can prevent blind corners and collisions. Installing barriers is an excellent and highly effective way to ensure people are physically separated from vehicle traffic; keep visitors out of areas are operated and vice versa. Another simple solution is to have workers in the area don high-visibility clothing so forklift operators can spot them at any time.
OSHA recommends operators yield the right of way to pedestrians and to sound the horn at blind corners or when backing up. This is information that should be included in your written traffic management plan and must be included in training. For pedestrians, they should be trained on keeping to the side of aisles, understanding where driver’s visibility may be limited, and what their role in preventing accidents.
Create Safe Areas
Demarcating spaces for different operations help to maintain order in the workplace and keep everyone in safe areas. Consider the following:
- To avoid serious hazards, all electric industrial truck will need to have an area set up specifically for charging large lead-acid batteries away from pedestrian walkways. Within the battery charging area, floor marking should be used to mark off individual parking spaces and warning signs posted detailing hazards, required PPE, charging instructions, and other safety procedure.
- It’s important to keep non-essential workers out of hazardous areas whenever possible. Designate “no-go zones” for both equipment and people based on movements to stop accidents. Post “Do Not Enter” signs and use floor marking tape so workers don’t accidentally enter spaces where they may be injured. These areas may include loading and unloading zones, parking areas, battery charging areas, etc.
- If your facility has outside loading docks, be sure to designate customer pick-up zones near pedestrian walkways to keep them out of loading dock vehicle paths. Another simple way to keep facility visitors safe is by posting signs outside work areas alerting authorized personal only; this will keep those unfamiliar with your traffic management plan from entering areas that pose a risk to them.
Continuously Improving Your Traffic Management Plan
Remember, once you have established a safety traffic system in your workplace it is not set in stone! Even after completing a risk assessment, writing a traffic control program, installing safety signs, conducting training, implementing new procedures, etc., there is always room for improvement.
Be sure to regularly talk to employees about safety issues they notice and work to address their concerns promptly. It’s important to take a proactive approach and encourage workers to report safety problems so future accidents can be prevented. Take regular inspections of the workplace and in addition to periodically reviewing and updating your plan, investigate all near misses. As defined by OSHA, a near miss or incident occurs when no injury was sustained and no property was damaged, but a worker could have gotten hurt had circumstances been even slightly different. Taking a hard look at near misses, identifying the root cause, and correcting the problem is one of the most proactive measures an employer can take.
The right time to work on your warehouse traffic management plan is sooner rather than later. By the time an employee is injured, or a collision has occurred, it’s too late. Be sure your employees are trained, your operators are trained, and your facility is designed to protect everyone.