Happy Landing

Oct. 1, 2000
Forklift operators can avoid becoming statistics if they think safe, not fast, operation.In 1991 and '92, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 170

Forklift operators can avoid becoming statistics if they think safe, not fast, operation.

In 1991 and '92, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 170 forklift-related fatalities were caused by roll-overs, collisions and poorly landed loads. That those statistics covered only fatalities, not injuries, is startling.

Almost 10 years later, there still appears to be no shortage of dangerous situations related to lift equipment operation. The good news is, those statistics have not been ignored. Lift equipment is safer because newer machines are equipped with standardized seat belts, falling object and roll-over protection structures, and other operator-protective devices.

But it's not operators who face the greatest risk. Of the 170 fatalities reported in 1991-92, 88 percent involved workers other than lift operators.

Safe vs. fast A common dilemma on job sites is the balance between safe operation and fast operation. Careless, risky operation is never intentional but is often the result of pressing deadlines and excessive job demands. But the primary concern of every forklift operator should be the safe administration of the machine while effectively moving materials. Too many times poor operator judgment causes accidents.

Most accidents can be avoided by calculating the weight of materials being lifted, landing zone distances, the load chart of the machine, a structure's ability to support a load and the stability of the ground.

Another common mistake that causes job-site accidents is failure to follow forklift safety guidelines. Driving a telescopic handler with its boom raised and extended is risky, yet operators continue to do this with little concern. Telescopic handlers are designed to be stable when the boom is lifted and extended. But add the movement associated with driving to this equation, and the center of gravity shifts outside the stability area of the machine, which can cause tipping.

As the machine moves over rough terrain or as the forces of momentum act on the extended boom, the center of gravity is affected and turns a 42-foot extended boom into a 42-foot lever, which pulls the machine from side to side. The operator is relatively safe inside the cab, but workers in the vicinity are defenseless against a forklift roll-over. Accidents can be avoided if operators avoid this and other hazardous practices highlighted within equipment manuals.

Training in demand Alarmed by findings involving lift equipment fatalities, the Office of Safety and Health Administration has enforced rules standardizing equipment training for all operators. OSHA rule 1910.178 established training requirements for forklift operators in a number of groups. Telescopic handlers are covered specifically in Class 7 of the training regulations. The training consists of classroom exercises, a written test and a hands-on examination.

OSHA expects accidents to decrease dramatically with the enforcement of the new rules. Because most accidents can be attributed to operators' lack of equipment and job-site knowledge, officials assume increased training will lead to fewer accidents.

Booming technology Even with required training and an increased emphasis on safety, operators will make mistakes, and accidents will happen. But manufacturers are designing equipment to prevent these mistakes.

One technological advancement that has improved safety and lift efficiency is the movable boom carriage. Invented by Lull International, the movable boom carriage, or TransAction, hydraulically rolls the boom back and forth on steel rails, enabling operators to move a load forward up to 80 inches and land materials at the maximum lifting height. This cuts down on operators' driving telescopic handlers with the boom extended because loads can be placed without repositioning the machine. Also, on unstable or uneven terrain, TransAction encourages operators to position the lift in the most stable area and accommodate the movable boom. A movable boom carriage provides greater forward reach, allowing operators to place materials when they might be tempted to drive forward with a fixed-boom machine.

The movable boom carriage also allows for cleaner load landing. With a standard, fixed-boom machine, the operator has to retract and raise the boom to extract forks from a landed load. When maneuvering in a 3 1/2-inch space with forks 2 inches thick, there is little margin for error.

With the movable boom carriage, the operator can withdraw the forks horizontally and be confident that the load or landing zone will not be disturbed. This reduces the possibility of falling loads or collapsing landing surfaces while increasing job-site efficiency. Also, withdrawing from the load with a simple boom movement minimizes the danger of moving the entire machine away from the landing zone with the boom raised and extended.

Inexperienced operators will benefit from TransAction technology because they will find that difficult processes, such as fork withdrawal, are easier and less nerve-racking. Controlled by one joystick, TransAction increases the operator's ability to control the machine and the load, which is paramount for maximum safety.

Forklift-related accidents are often caused by

- Poor operator judgment.

- Failure to calculate the weight of lifted materials.

- Not measuring landing zone distances.

- Ignoring the load chart.

- Not calculating load support and ground stability.

- Failure to follow safety guidelines.