Video clips abound on social media (and most have gone viral) related to careless forklift driving that usually end with catastrophic results. Often, they occur when an otherwise good forklift operator forgets the safety basics of knowing what is behind him or what tight clearances may exist while the driver is backing up. The end result is clearly illustrated in the first four accidents shown in this video:
One of the easiest means of assuring safe forklift operations (or any other moving vehicle like construction vehicles on the job) in tight quarters is by using a spotter. Spotters are a proven method of protecting employees on foot behind vehicles with an obstructed view, but spotters themselves can be at risk for injury or even death. Employers can implement the following actions to help keep spotters safe:
- Ensure that spotters and drivers agree on hand signals before backing up.
- Instruct spotters to always maintain visual contact with the driver while the vehicle is backing.
- Instruct drivers to stop backing immediately if they lose sight of the spotter.
- Not give spotters additional duties while they are acting as spotters.
- Instruct spotters not to use personal mobile phones, personal headphones, or other items which could pose a distraction during spotting activities.
- Provide spotters with high-visibility clothing, especially during night operations.
Suggested Spotting Signals:
|Back up||Back – turn left||Back – turn right||Move forward|
|Distance left to back||Slow down||Stop|
Note: The following list of solutions is not required by any OSHA standard. It is provided for informational purposes only.
Other Technological Advances:
Most vehicles (and some types of mobile equipment) can accommodate a camera that provides operators with a view to the rear. Some vehicles come equipped with cameras or may be offered with them as optional equipment. Camera systems can also be purchased as after-market equipment for vehicles. Viewing screens may be dash-mounted but must not block the driver’s view out the windshield. Harsh environments, such as some construction sites or mines and chemical plants, may require more rugged cameras. Determining where to mount a camera for maximum effectiveness may be difficult, especially on large vehicles. For example, dump trucks may require two or three cameras to monitor the blind spots on the front, rear, and side of the vehicle.
Proximity Detection Systems
Radar and ultrasonic technology both are used in backing safety systems. A radar system transmits a signal, which is bounced off an object. The signal is then received by a receiver. These systems alert the driver with a visual and/or audio warning. These systems must be positioned so that they won’t detect harmless objects, such as the concrete slab of a driveway, which can interfere with the detection of an object or person behind the vehicle or mobile equipment. Also, the composition of an object can affect detection, with some materials being virtually invisible to radar. Like cameras, this equipment can be mounted on most vehicles and may be an option from some manufacturers.
Ultrasonic systems, such as sonar, emit bursts of ultrasonic waves in a frequency above the hearing threshold of humans. When the waves strike an object, they generate echoes used to determine the distance to the object. These systems alert the driver with a visual and/or audio warning.
Another type of proximity detection system is an electromagnetic field-based system, which is a type of tag-based system. This system consists of electromagnetic field generators and field detecting devices. One electromagnetic field-based system uses electromagnetic field generators installed on a vehicle and electronic sensing devices (a tag) worn by persons working near the vehicle. Another electromagnetic field-based system uses field generators worn by persons working near the vehicle, with the sensing devices installed on the vehicle. These electromagnetic field-based systems can be programmed to warn affected workers, stop the vehicle, or both, when workers get within the predefined danger zone of the vehicle.
Internal Traffic Control Plans
An internal traffic control plan (ITCP) is another method used to address backover hazards. These are plans that project managers can use to coordinate the flow of moving equipment, workers, and vehicles at a worksite to minimize or eliminate vehicles and employees from crossing paths. These plans can significantly reduce, or possibly eliminate, the need for vehicles to back up on a site.
Whichever technique you use, never “back down” from safe operating practices.