Is Your Propane Forklift Causing Headaches…or Worse?

Every year, there are hundreds of accidental deaths in the United States from carbon monoxide poisoning. Some of these deaths occur in the workplace. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports every year worker deaths in private industry from carbon monoxide exposure.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-irritating gas, so you don’t know when you are breathing it. Normally, when we breathe, the hemoglobin in our blood combines with oxygen and transports it throughout our body. When CO is present, it combines 200-250 times more readily with hemoglobin, depriving the body of necessary oxygen.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include headache, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and coma. Because some of these symptoms are common to other illnesses, CO poisoning is often misdiagnosed. Severe poisonings can result in permanent damage to the brain, nerves, and heart or even death. Even at low levels of exposure, where the worker may not experience any symptoms, CO may contribute to heart disease and have adverse effects on the fetus of a pregnant woman.

How much CO is too much? Cal/OSHA has two exposure limits for CO. The average exposure for an 8-hour day cannot exceed 25 parts per million (ppm) and exposures may never exceed 200 ppm. Worker exposures can be measured easily and inexpensively with color diffusion tubes. More sophisticated equipment is also available.

All propane-powered forklift trucks produce some carbon monoxide because of the incomplete combustion of fuel, but a poorly maintained truck can produce extremely high concentrations of CO. In a poorly ventilated area, dangerous levels of CO can build up even with a well-maintained truck. So what can you do to protect your workers from carbon monoxide poisoning?

To protect workers from CO:

  • Use electric forklifts indoors or in enclosed spaces. This is essential in cold storage rooms or other poorly ventilated areas.
  • Set up a regular maintenance program for your propane forklift. Various maintenance problems can lead to higher CO emissions.
  • Check CO emissions when tuning your engine. Tuning by “sound” and “performance” is likely to result in a rich fuel mixture, which produces higher CO concentrations.
  • Install a three-way catalytic converter in conjunction with an air-to-fuel ratio controller. In addition to removing up to 99% of the CO emissions, toxic NOx and hydrocarbons are also removed.
  • Allow your engine to warm up outside. A cold engine produces more CO.
  • Ensure the work area is adequately ventilated.
  • Train your employees to recognize the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning.
  • If you suspect someone has CO poisoning, remove the person to fresh air and call 911.

If you need assistance identifying or controlling carbon monoxide exposures in the workplace, your loss control representative can put you in touch with a State Fund industrial hygienist.

Appropriate Tools to Promote Warehouse Safety

November 19, 2013

No matter what the industry, safety procedures and good housekeeping practices are key to the wellbeing of employees and company profitability.

In fact, the two are intertwined. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created to assure safety standards and to protect American workers. Many furniture companies work with their warehouses and distribution centers to meet and exceed those standards to ensure their workers’ safety. However, what do companies do to ensure compliance?

Steinhafels_Oval_Logo-13Based in Wisconsin, Steinhafels employs 245 warehouse employees in its Wisconsin and Illinois facilities. To ensure staff safety, human relations specialist Linda Malmberg said their safety committee “makes recommendations to the owners as to things that need to be improved. We also do semi-annual [safety] drills,” as well as provide regularly scheduled safety training.


Steinhafels offers 10 online training courses annually. Reports detail those who have and have not received training. This allows managers to ensure staff can verify their safety knowledge for their areas. Malmberg added, “Safety posters are all over. When an employee gets hurt, we ask him to describe the event and tell how he could have [handled] that situation better to avoid injuries.”

The company shares safety results and their implications with its employees. “We do a lot of education about how results impact insurance premiums,” said Malmberg. “We tell them ‘Here’s how you can keep insurance premiums to a minimum’ and ensure we stay financially viable and they can stay employed. For a lot of people, this was a real eye-opener.”

In addition to workplace postings and weekly safety meetings at Steinhafels, they hold weekly safety drawings after weeks when no injuries occur. “If we have a better workman’s comp claim year than the prior year, each associate gets a gift card,” Malmberg said. “It may not sound like a lot, but [staff] can get quite competitive to do better than last year.”


roomplace-logoWith its 21 stores in Indiana and Illinois, The RoomPlace has a distribution center staff of 125 members, including a full time safety inspector. Safety is stressed from the first day of work.


“At our startup meetings, we have conversations about safety—like trip hazards, especially with things that are seasonal,” said Mike Yanke, RoomPlace distribution center director. “We do audits and spot checks and have zero tolerance. Any infraction, even something as minor as not filling out their inspection sheets on a daily basis, will result in them being taken off equipment and require them to recertify. These are pretty strict rules, but, in my seven years here, our damage on the forklift has gone down drastically. We would rather terminate someone immediately than see them be killed.”

Safety Bingo is one fun way Yanke helps reinforce the safety messages (see the sidebar to learn how to play). Yanke consistently engages his staff in other ways too. With the safety inspector also involved in training and acting as an integral part of the team, Yanke is in the process of reinstating what he calls behavior-based safety. “It is kind of a peer review process where people watch others do their jobs and try to identify the risks we put ourselves at so we can change or fix the process. A lot of companies are reactive after someone gets hurt; we are trying to get ahead of that curve and fix things before someone gets hurt.”

These methods have paid off for The RoomPlace; Yanke’s team just celebrated one year with no loss time and awarded each employee $100 for this safety success. “Safety involves everyone,” said Yanke. “We are very focused on safety, not only for our employees but also for our customers.”


ArtVan_logoAt Art Van Furniture in Michigan, the director of loss prevention, Michael F. Case, CESCO, oversees two facilities and five hub stores with more than 650 employees. Its extensive safety training includes “a number of [customized] training videos and presentations featured on our in-house TV, called AVTV. Any associate in any location,” he said, “can access the training simply by selecting the loss prevention channel and identifying the training they need.” Handouts accompany most training sessions and both the employees and their managers must sign off on any training they receive.


The warehouse director and vice president of operations lead monthly warehouse safety meetings, including representation from all staff areas as well as from property management, loss prevention and workman’s compensation. Case explained, “Each brings their own perspective as it relates to their jobs and provides insights and suggestions on how to make the overall operation a safer one. It is important that our warehouse associates know that safety, as well as their ideas, are important to a safe environment and are supported by leadership at the highest levels.”

In addition to meetings, training and compliance audits, Case said managers are continually on the lookout for safety violations. “Those observed are immediately counseled and, in most cases, [offenders]receive corrective action or discipline,” said Case. “We have a goal for each associate to go home at the end of the day as healthy and safe as when they arrived at work that morning.”

Art Van is “not big into incentive programs but does recognize locations for high scores on their audits,” said Case, “and individual departments are recognized for injury reduction.” The company also sponsors safety poster and banner creation contests, as well as general recognition or pizza parties for departments with low and no injury rates. Case explained they do not want to create an environment that suppresses “injury and near-miss reports to keep a zero injury rate. We would rather recognize good behavior and performance.”

“Quality practices include continuing to integrate safety into your culture and keeping safety awareness top-of-mind,” said Malmberg. “If you do that, you will have a successful safety program.” She added, “If [employees] are happier with us as a company, they feel good about coming to work because they know we care about them and that this is a safe place to work. It is just a better overall employee experience.”

Employers Responsible for Forklift Certifications

Most employers throughout the U.S. are demanding previous forklift operator training or certification from individuals applying for employment who want to be forklift operators. The OSHA Federal Regulation, CFR1910.178, para. (L), Operator Training, Powered Industrial Trucks, clearly and repeatedly states that it is the employer’s responsibility to train and evaluate each operator regardless of previous experience or prior training. All training and evaluations must be site and equipment specific. The word certification rears its “ugly head” only one time in the OSHA Powered Industrial Truck Regulation. It states: “Certification. The employer shall certify that each operator has been trained and evaluated as required by this paragraph (L)”. The above word “that” implies the process. The process being that the present and current employer is certifying to OSHA that each operator has been trained, tested, evaluated and authorized (again, site and equipment specific).

During an OSHA audit or investigation, the employer, in most cases, will be required to provide certification. The certification shall include the name of the operator, the date of the training, the date of the evaluation(s) and the identity of the person(s) performing the training or evaluation. If OSHA finds the employer to be non-compliant or for a willful violation, severe OSHA fines and penalties can be imposed. In the event of an injury or death accident, consider the implications of a liability lawsuit if you, the employer, are not in compliance or the accident resulted from an employer’s willful violation or gross negligence.

These tips came from For more information, visit their website or call (800) 494-3225.

What Is Workplace Safety?

Workplace safety is about protecting public sector employees from work-related injury and illness.


1. Protects the employees’ well-being

2. Reduces the amount of money paid out in:

  • health insurance benefits,
  • workers’ compensation benefits and
  • wages for temporary help.

3. Saves the cost of:

  • lost-work hours (days away from work or restricted hours or job transfer),
  • time spent in orienting temporary help,
  • programs and services that may suffer due to fewer employees,
  • stress on those employees who are picking up the absent workers’ share or, worse case,
  • suspension or shutting down a program due to lack of employees.

4. Addressing Safety and Health Hazards in the Workplace

To make the workplace safer, determine where and what and how a worker is likely to become injured or ill before it occurs.

Job hazard analysis
Examine the relationship between the worker, the task, the tools and the work environment.

Start with analyzing individual workstations and program areas for hazards—the potential for harm—be it a frayed electrical cord, repetitive motion, toxic chemicals, mold, lead paint or lifting heavy objects.

5. Co-Workers Affect Each Other’s Safety

Employees’ health and safety are affected not only by their own actions but by those of their co-workers.

Senior management must:

help employees manage hazards associated with their work (tasks or responsibilities).
determine that employees are fit for work. Fitness for work involves:

  • drug and alcohol issues,
  • physical and emotional well-being, and
  • fatigue and stress.

6. Create Ownership of the Program

People need to be involved in the creation and use of the workplace safety program for it to succeed.

For example:

The entity is responsible for supplying appropriate safety equipment, but employees are responsible for wearing personal protective equipment at the appropriate time and place.

The entity should provide training to help employees carry out their assignments, but workers are responsible for attending this training, asking questions and telling supervisors if they do not understand what is being explained.

Allow for Continuous Improvement

In workplace safety and health, continuous improvement is about:

  • seeking better ways to work;
  • measuring performance;
  • reporting against set targets;
  • evaluating compliance with procedures, standards and regulations;
  • understanding the causes of incidents and injuries; and
  • openly acknowledging and promptly correcting any deficiencies.
  • Measure Performance

Performance can be measured by:

  • reduction in frequency of lost-time injury
  • reduction in frequency of medical treatment (beyond first-aid care) injury
  • reduction in number of sick days used
  • lower workers’ compensation costs
  • lower medical benefits payments (doctor’s visits, prescription drugs)
  • ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act establishes an employer’s affirmative duty to accommodate qualified employees or job applicants in performing the essential aspects of a job.

It is important that the employer’s commitment to reasonable accommodation is emphasized in writing in the safety manual, and in the employee handbook. The Title I employment provisions apply to private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions with 15 or more employees. Some accommodations can be achieved by making changes in personnel selection and training procedures to eliminate requirements that are not essential to a particular job.

Accommodations can also be achieved by restructuring the job to eliminate nonessential tasks and modifying work schedules.


Occupational Safety and Health Act (29 CFR, 1970) covers all employees in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other territories under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. Many states have created their own programs under this law, which are required to meet all the requirements of OSHA. There are currently 22 states and jurisdictions operating complete state plans that cover private sector employees.

The general duty clause reads, “Each employer shall furnish…a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
Agencies with full regulatory powers to assure compliance have a right to visit and conduct workplace investigations, and to impose fines for noncompliance.

Nearly every working man and woman in the nation comes under OSHA’s jurisdiction (with some exceptions, such as miners, transportation workers, many public employees, and the self-employed).

Seek assistance through OSHA’s consultation services.

Consultation services are not enforcement! This is an important distinction, so don’t overlook this important opportunity to gather knowledge from the experienced.