Working Safely Around Forklifts

Forklift vehicles are not like automobiles; they’re about twice as heavy, due to the counterbalance weight needed to carry large loads. Because forklifts are so heavy, when a pedestrian worker gets injured by a forklift vehicle, the injury is often very serious and sometimes fatal. To avoid becoming a victim of a forklift accident, be constantly aware of the forklift activities around you both in your immediate work area and in other areas of the workplace you may need to go.

Forklifts don’t maneuver like automobiles. Forklifts can turn in a very small radius. They’re rear-wheel driven, so their rear end swings out wider than an automobile’s pathway. So, always give a forklift PLENTY of room to maneuver. Don’t stand near a forklift when it begins to move. Their extra weight means a forklift can’t stop as fast as an auto. Don’t try to squeeze by an operating forklift; their unexpected movements can crush you between the vehicle and a stationary object.

Forklifts have limited visibility. The forks and lifting mechanism block the line of sight for the driver. If there’s a load on the lift, visibility is even more limited. So, it’s up to YOU, the pedestrian, to watch for and avoid forklifts. Don’t rely on the forklift driver to see you. If you MUST move around near an active forklift, maintain eye contact with the driver at all times. And, always provide enough space for the forklift to move safely out of your way.

Never stand near or under loaded forklift tines/forks. Forklifts can drop their load or knock over a stack of materials, causing a possible caught/crush injury. Always wait until a forklift is idle and the parking brake is ON, before entering an active forklift working zone. Evaluate work areas around you to ensure that forklift activities can’t impact you. For example, a forklift in one aisle can push a product off a shelf from that side of the aisle into the adjacent aisle you may be in and crush you.

Listen carefully and look both ways before you step out from an aisle, around a corner, or across a pathway. Avoid crossing in front of a moving forklift and don’t try to “beat” one to a crossing. Install mirrors in blind entry areas to help pedestrians and forklift drivers keep track of each other. Paint wide, safe pathways on work area floors to separate pedestrians from forklift travels zones. Adequate lighting can also ensure that drivers and pedestrians see each other.

Finally, stay alert and work at a safe pace; distracted or hurrying workers and quick paced forklift driving can lead to an accident or injury. Get periodic training on forklift safety to remember safe work practices and the consequences if you don’t follow them. If there are forklifts present where you work, think about your surroundings and how you can keep yourself safe from a forklift injury.

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.

Avoiding Back Injuries

Advising employees to be careful when lifting makes sense both from a health standpoint and a financial one. The U.S. Department of Labor states that back injuries are the second most common reason for lost work days (behind only the common cold). Back injuries cost businesses up to $100 billion a year. But there are some things you can suggest to employees––and do yourself––to curb such injuries in your small business.

  1. Test and examine heavy objects before lifting or moving. Tip the object to determine its weight. Sometimes lighter but more awkward objects can be just as hard on the back as heavy objects.
  2. When an object is heavy enough to present a problem, look for alternatives before moving. Call for help. Use equipment such as forklifts or dollies. Move a package piece by piece rather than all at once.
  3. Never extend your arms when attempting to lift or lower heavy objects from a height. This puts undue pressure on the back.
  4. Make sure that you’re on solid footing. Slipping or twisting while lifting can cause injury.
  5. Use correct lifting procedure: Keep the back straight, kneel to grasp the object and lift with the legs, not the back.
  6. While carrying a heavy object, take short steps, maintain a firm center of balance, don’t attempt to go up or down stairs and don’t strain by carrying the load too far. Before lifting, plan in advance your route and where you will put the load down–– and know how far you can easily carry the load.
  7. Never reach high for a heavy load. Call for help before attempting.
  8. Don’t count on support belts to prevent back injuries. Using belts has not been found to reduce back injuries (Source: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, December 2000).
  9. Don’t hurry while lifting and don’t let others hurry you. Think about what you’re doing before starting to lift. Saving a minute or two is not worth a permanent, painful injury to the back.

Back and neck injuries are not confined to heavy lifting. Retail sales personnel and others who spend long hours on their feet often run the risk of back strain and injury, even when not involved in heavy lifting. To help out:

  1. Stand straight; don’t slump. Don’t bend over a table or counter while reading or writing. Sit down instead, at least while completing the task.
  2. Avoid putting all or most of your weight on one leg for long periods. This can put a strain on your hips and can cause lower and upper back problems.
  3. Wear proper shoes. If you know you’ll be on your feet for hours, don’t wear high heels unless you absolutely must. Shoes should provide good overall support, proper arch support, protection from the environment and have adequate cushioning to protect the foot against the unrelenting hardness of concrete flooring.
  4. Take frequent breaks and sit down, even for a few minutes at a time. While sitting, put your legs up to relieve pressure and fatigue caused by standing. Some retail stores discourage employees from sitting during work shifts. This practice causes undue mental and physical fatigue and can lead to back strain and injury.

Accidents and injuries are bound to happen, but by following the suggestions above and educating your employees on the best way to prevent back injuries, you’re reducing the likelihood of missed days and productivity due to back pain.

6 guidelines to prevent workplace slips, trips and falls

It’s probably happened to most of us. That momentary lapse of inattention thinking about a personal problem or distracted by an activity that ends in a slip, trip or fall. A stumble down a stairway. A trip over an uneven surface. Slipping on the ice. It can lead to a variety of regrettable events ranging from a simple bruised shin to an extremely serious injury. It’s just one of a variety of conditions and situations that set the stage for slips, trips and falls in the workplace.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, slips, trips and falls make up the majority of general industry accidents, which account for:

  • 15 percent of all accidental deaths per year, the second-leading cause behind motor vehicles
  • About 25 percent of all reported injury claims per fiscal year
  • More than 95 million lost work days per year – about 65 percent of all work days lost

In general, slips and trips occur due to a loss of traction between the shoe and the walking surface or an inadvertent contact with a fixed or moveable object which may lead to a fall. There are a variety of situations that may cause slips, trips and falls.

  • Wet or greasy floors
  • Dry floors with wood dust or powder
  • Uneven walking surfaces
  • Polished or freshly waxed floors
  • Loose flooring, carpeting or mats
  • Transition from one floor type to another
  • Missing or uneven floor tiles and bricks
  • Damaged or irregular steps; no handrails
  • Sloped walking surfaces
  • Shoes with wet, muddy, greasy or oily soles
  • Clutter
  • Electrical cords or cables
  • Open desk or file cabinet drawers
  • Damaged ladder steps
  • Ramps and gang planks without skid-resistant surfaces
  • Metal surfaces – dock plates, construction plates
  • Weather hazards – rain, sleet, ice, snow, hail, frost
  • Wet leaves or pine needles

Here are six guidelines to help you create a safer working environment for you and your employees.

(1) Create Good Housekeeping Practices
Good housekeeping is critical. Safety and housekeeping go hand-in-hand. If your facility’s housekeeping habits are poor, the result may be a higher incidence of employee injuries, ever-increasing insurance costs and regulatory citations. If an organization’s facilities are noticeably clean and well organized, it is a good indication that its overall safety program is effective as well.

Proper housekeeping is a routine. It is an ongoing procedure that is simply done as a part of each worker’s daily performance. To create an effective housekeeping program, there are three simple steps to get you started

  • Plan ahead– Know what needs to be done, who’s going to do it and what the particular work area should look like when you are done.
  • Assign responsibilities– It may be necessary to assign a specific person or group of workers to clean up, although personal responsibility for cleaning up after himself/herself is preferred.
  • Implement a program– Establish housekeeping procedures as a part of the daily routine.

(2) Reduce Wet or Slippery Surfaces
Walking surfaces account for a significant portion of injuries reported by state agencies. The most frequently reported types of surfaces where these injuries occur include

  • Parking lots
  • Sidewalks (or lack of)
  • Food preparation areas
  • Shower stalls in residential dorms
  • Floors in general

Traction on outdoor surfaces can change considerably when weather conditions change. Those conditions can then affect indoor surfaces as moisture is tracked in by pedestrian traffic. Traction control procedures should be constantly monitored for their effectiveness.

  • Keep parking lots and sidewalks clean and in good repair condition.
  • When snow and ice are present, remove or treat these elements. In some extreme cases, it may be necessary to suspend use of the area.
  • Use adhesive striping material or anti-skid paint whenever possible.

Indoor control measures can help reduce the incidence of slips and falls.

  • Use moisture-absorbent mats with beveled edges in entrance areas. Make sure they have backing material that will not slide on the floor.
  • Display “Wet Floor” signs as needed.
  • Use anti-skid adhesive tape in troublesome areas.
  • Clean up spills immediately. Create a procedure for taking the appropriate action when someone causes or comes across a food or drink spill.
  • Use proper area rugs or mats for food preparation areas.

(3) Avoid Creating Obstacles in Aisles and Walkways
Injuries can also result in from trips caused by obstacles, clutter, materials and equipment in aisles, corridors, entranceways and stairwells. Proper housekeeping in work and traffic areas is still the most effective control measure in avoiding the proliferation of these types of hazards. This means having policies or procedures in place and allowing time for cleaning the area, especially where scrap material or waste is a by-product of the work operation.

  • Keep all work areas, passageways, storerooms and service areas clean and orderly.
  • Avoid stringing cords, cables or air hoses across hallways or in any designated aisle.
  • In office areas, avoid leaving boxes, files or briefcases in the aisles.
  • Encourage safe work practices such as closing file cabinet drawers after use and picking up loose items from the floor.
  • Conduct periodic inspections for slip and trip hazards.

(4) Create and Maintain Proper Lighting
Poor lighting in the workplace is associated with an increase in accidents.

  • Use proper illumination in walkways, staircases, ramps, hallways, basements, construction areas and dock areas.
  • Keep work areas well lit and clean.
  • Upon entering a darkened room, always turn on the light first.
  • Keep poorly lit walkways clear of clutter and obstructions.
  • Keep areas around light switches clear and accessible.
  • Repair fixtures, switches and cords immediately if they malfunction.

(5) Wear Proper Shoes
The shoes we wear can play a big part in preventing falls. The slickness of the soles and the type of heels worn need to be evaluated to avoid slips, trips and falls. Shoelaces need to be tied correctly. Whenever a fall-related injury is investigated, the footwear needs to be evaluated to see if it contributed to the incident. Employees are expected to wear footwear appropriate for the duties of their work task.

(6) Control Individual Behavior
This condition is the toughest to control. It is human nature to let our guard down for two seconds and be distracted by random thoughts or doing multiple activities. Being in a hurry will result in walking too fast or running which increases the chances of a slip, trip or fall. Taking shortcuts, not watching where one is going, using a cell phone, carrying materials which obstructs the vision, wearing sunglasses in low-light areas, not using designated walkways and speed are common elements in many on-the-job injuries.

It’s ultimately up to each individual to plan, stay alert and pay attention.

Communicating Safety to Your Multi-Lingual Workforce

Cal/OSHA requires employers to provide safety training in a language that is understandable to their workers.  With today’s multilingual workforce, the attempt to comply with this regulation can be a challenge.  In order to assure that all workers understand important safety information, employers first must be aware of their workers’ native languages.  They also need to assess their workers’ ability to understand English in written and verbal forms. Then they need to provide instruction in those native languages, provide translators, or translate the safety materials.

In order for employers to identify the best way to communicate to their multi-lingual work force; they can test worker understanding using simple and complex written documents and verbal instructions. Workers may be uncomfortable demonstrating that they don’t understand the information presented in English.  They may be reluctant to ask for instructions in their own language or for repeated English instructions.  A worker may nod their head or say “yes” while you explain something, but may not understand you. Ask the worker to repeat instructions back to you.  Ask them to demonstrate the technique, etc. that you just taught them. Encourage workers to ask for help or clarification when they need it.

If an employer translates or offers training in another language, the same materials and amount of detail must be covered as the English language training.  Interactive training provides workers with hands-on experience and allows them a chance to ask questions.  Give simple, direct verbal instructions such as “wear your hardhat” instead of “hard hats are required onsite to protect your health and safety” and give directions in the order that they should be performed.  For example, “First, open the door. Then, remove the hardware.”  Don’t say, “Remove the hardware after you open the door”.

Workplace documents that must be translated include hazard warning signs and lockout-tagout devices and signs.  Safety and hazard signs should have pictures and words that everyone can understand.  Confirm that all of your employees understand the signs’ directions.  If the job has many technical terms for material and equipment, teach workers what the words mean.

Translate company safety policies and procedures.  Translate equipment manuals and instruction booklets.  Provide material safety data sheets (MSDS) in appropriate languages so your workers know how to properly handle, store, and dispose of chemicals.  When you have materials translated, ask a bilingual reader to review them for mistakes.

Identify bilingual workers that can serve as interpreters on the job site, during training, or act as resources for reviewing written materials.  Make sure workers know who is bilingual on the job and encourage them to use interpreters as a communication resource.

By Judy Kerry, State Compensation Insurance Fund

Stimulants and Workplace Safety

Stimulants – such as energy or caffeinated drinks and supplements or prescription and recreational dugs – can affect workplace safety. Caffeine is the most common stimulant. In moderation, it can increase energy, but it affects people differently. If you overuse caffeine, you can feel nervous and irritable, anxious, and get an abnormal heart rhythm. You may have difficulty concentrating and sleeping, leading to mistakes on the job.  You may miss your body’s signals that it is tired and you should slow down, leading to strains, sprains and injuries. Because caffeine is a diuretic, it can cause frequent urination, dehydration, and heat illness, if you’re exposed to hot work environments or heavy exercise. You should know your caffeine tolerance.

Energy drinks are another popular source of caffeine. Overuse of a high caffeine content energy drink can lead to dehydration, nausea, vomiting, and heart irregularities. Never mix an energy drink with alcohol; the combination can mask the effects of alcohol, causing you to over-indulge. Energy drinks may contain other additives like amino acids, carbohydrates (sugars), vitamins, and herbs that can have their own side effects. Read product labels to get the ingredients, potential side effects, and directions on amounts you can drink in a day.

Energy supplements available in pill or tablet from that contain caffeine, sugar, herbs and vitamins claim to boost strength, alertness, energy, and/or weight loss but they too can have mild to serious side effects.  Read supplement labels for ingredients, use, and dose directions.

Control the amounts of stimulant drinks and supplements you use. Don’t drive or operate machinery if you are feeling the effects of stimulant overuse.  Know the signs and symptoms of overuse in yourself and coworkers.

What Is Workplace Safety?

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

Benefits

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.

OSHA

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.