Creating a safe environment for pedestrians and lift truck operators

Key concepts Lift trucks are involved in nearly 95,000 workplace accidents a year, with injuries resulting about one-third the time.

By Michael E. Kelly, Sales and Product Training Manager, Toyota Industrial Equipment, Torrance, CA October 1, 2000

Key concepts

Lift trucks are involved in nearly 95,000 workplace accidents a year, with injuries resulting about one-third the time.

Pedestrians and operators share equal responsibility for creating a safe working environment.

Regular inspection of the lift truck is a key ingredient in a safe operation.

Industrial lift trucks are involved in nearly 95,000 workplace accidents each year in North America. Pedestrians are injured in about one-third of these accidents.

Plant pedestrians and lift truck drivers share equal responsibility for creating a safe working environment. There are several guidelines for each group to follow in order to develop an effective safety program.

Pedestrian guidelines

  1. Look both ways before entering an area where lift trucks operate. This consideration is especially important when entering the plant from an office area. .

  2. Never assume that a lift truck is not present. Lift trucks may not immediately be seen or heard, especially in noisy or limited visibility environments.

  3. Walk single file along aisles. Pedestrians should walk facing traffic and use the opposite side of the aisle in which lift trucks are operating. When walking in groups, stand to the side and never block an aisle.

  4. Only properly trained and authorized personnel should operate lift trucks.Never move a lift truck unless you are qualified and authorized to do so. OSHA regulations require specific application training for all operators.

  5. Lookout for oil spills. Lift truck engine and hydraulic systems use oil, and it is not uncommon for the liquid to drip onto the floor if a truck is parked in one spot for a long time. It is every employee’s responsibility to clean up oil spots to prevent injury.

  6. Stand a safe distance from lift trucks when a load is raised or lowered. The higher the lift, the greater the distance pedestrians should remain away. A truck may tip or the load may shift and fall.

  7. Stay uphill of trucks going up or down a ramp.A pedestrian should never get behind the truck or under the load when the lift truck is on an incline. Operators of sitdown rider trucks should always travel uphill with their loads. A guide person should keep pedestrians away.

  8. Always keep feet away from the lifttruck-especially the wheels.Even steel-toed work boots do not protect the feet.

    1. Operator guidelines

    1. Never allow passengers to ride on the lifttruck. Only use the forklift for the purposes for which it was intended. Forklifts are not designed or intended to carry passengers.

    2. Install convex mirrors throughout the plant to improve driver visibility. Tight operating conditions and rows of racking limit an operator’s line of sight. An obstructed view makes it difficult to see the entire work area. Convex mirrors help increase visibility around corners and into other blind spots.

    3. Always stop and sound the horn when approaching a blind intersection.If visibility is lost, other employees need to know the vehicle is approaching. Stop and sound the horn to get the attention of pedestrians and other equipment operators.

    4. Evaluate the work environment to determine whether to install backup alarms and/or flashing lights on the lift trucks. Each work environment is different. Number of lift trucks, ambient noise levels, and presence of pedestrians unfamiliar with lift truck operation are just some of the factors to consider in deciding whether one or more of these warning devices is needed. If required, then decide which type of backup alarm and/or flashing lights are appropriate for the application and operating environment. It is important that you base the assessment of safety requirements on the particular conditions of the specific work place due to the wide variety of manufacturing and material handling situations. Most lift truck manufacturers offer these safety items as options. Before operating a lift truck, check to see that the features work properly .

    5. Use extreme caution on loading docks. These areas are hazardous for a number of reasons. Loading docks are highly concentrated and in a constant state of motion with loading and unloading activities. In addition, wet conditions from rain or snow are extremely hazardous, and the slick surface caused by precipitation can prevent lift trucks from braking within a safe distance.

    6. A lift truck must never travel towards a person in front of a fixed object.Even though a lift truck operator has the ability to make sudden stops, momentum could cause a load to fall from the forks and strike a pedestrian after the truck stops. Keep pedestrians a safe distance from the lift truck.

    7. Use caution when turning to account for the lift truck’s tail-end swing. Lift trucks are equipped with a counterweight at the rear to offset heavy loads. The rear wheels do the steering, giving lift trucks the ability to maneuver in tight spaces. This design causes the back end to swing out in the opposite direction when turning. Operators must be sure to clear pedestrians and other objects from the direction of tail swing when turning their lift truck.

      1. Final thoughts

        As a final rule, both drivers and pedestrians should use common courtesy and good judgment. Pedestrians generally have the right-of-way, absent of specific workplace guidelines. It is the responsibility of the lift truck operator to ensure the safety of the pedestrians and clear the path of travel for their vehicle. Pedestrians must also be aware of their environment and the potential risks that exist there.

        When implementing and enforcing safety regulations, it is important to assess the requirements of the situation, whether it is the entire plant, warehouse, loading dock, or other material handling situation. Different conditions require different safety plans. When evaluating the specific requirements for the company, it is advisable to consult a safety professional familiar with your type of industrial setting.

        -Edited by Ron Holzhauer, Managing Editor, 630-320-7139,

        Safety inspection checklist

        To ensure the safe operation of a lift truck, it is important for the operator to follow proper driving practices, go slowly, and be aware at all times. Before starting the lift truck, there are several precautionary measures to take.

        A daily inspection should be conducted on the truck for usage,

        wear, and broken parts.

        1.Check for proper chain tension.

        2.Make sure forks are crack-free.

        3.Check the hydraulic system for leaking fluids, loose fittings,

        or damaged cylinders.

        4.Check the fluid levels of the oil, coolant, and fuel.

        5.Inspect the mounting hardware on the cylinders.

        6.Look at the floor or ground under the truck for signs of leaks.

        7.Check tires for excessive wear and proper air pressure, and

        whether wheel nuts are tight.

        8.Check the frame structure and overhead guard for cracks or


        9.Check operator restraints (seat and lap belts).

        10.Start the lift truck to ensure the gauges, brakes, steering, horn,

        lights, and back-up alarm are working properly.

        11.Put the truck in neutral before turning off the engine.

        12.Make sure all inspection forms are filed for reference.

        More info

        For additional safety-related information, visit the company’s web site more information on this general topic, visit the “Material handling”channel at