Safety is top-of-mind for material handling professionals year-round, but winter weather can introduce some unique challenges including snow and ice, extreme cold weather, low visibility, increased maintenance needs, and wet, slippery outdoor surfaces.
While there’s nothing fleet managers and forklift operators can do to change the weather, there are plenty of precautions they can take to combat these cold weather hazards. Here are important safety considerations for material handling professionals to follow before, during, and after a shift:
- Ensure that forklifts are properly maintained and serviced over the winter months. Also, using pneumatic tires with chains or studs can improve traction on slippery outdoor surfaces.
- Wear proper PPE and dress appropriately with multiple layers, waterproof boots, gloves, and a hat, depending on how severe weather conditions are. It’s also recommended that operators wear clothing with brighter colors for increased visibility.
- Conduct a pre-operation inspection of the equipment and report any issues. The Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) requires that all forklifts be examined daily before being placed in service.
- Allow the forklift to properly warm up before operating. This is important for the engine and the hydraulics.
- Slow down and drive carefully. Most notably, operators should drive with caution when turning corners, driving over any slope or bridge, and driving near doorways, as they are often icier. Additionally, drivers should increase their following distance and slow down earlier when coming to a complete stop.
- Maintain proper visibility. Several factors can impact an operator’s visibility in the winter including shorter daylight, higher levels of fog, snow, rain, hail, ice, and wind. Operators should ensure that their facility has proper lighting and the forklift has working lights and windshield wipers.
- Stop working if conditions deteriorate including slippery driving conditions and limited visibility, to name a few.
- Clean the equipment, removing any snow and salt. This will help prevent issues like rust and corrosion.
- Store forklifts in a warm, dry facility or building between use or overnight to prevent ice formation.
- For crews operating propane equipment, store propane cylinders in a dry place, too. A local propane supplier can advise businesses with the safe placement of their cylinder cage.
Preparation and proper training are key to keeping crews safe through the winter months — and all year long. For more forklift safety information, or to learn more about propane-powered forklifts, visit Propane.com/Forklifts.
Matt McDonald is director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at email@example.com.