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Three Essential Topics for Forklift-Related Toolbox Talks

Warehouse workers talking to their manager in front of forklift

Forklifts are often the machinery of choice in sit-coms for comedic purposes (Michael Scott making a complete mess of the warehouse in The Office comes to mind.) The ease with which a forklift can jeopardize the safety of not only workers but also the area that it is operated in delivers the type of scenario that is successful in eliciting a laugh. Just ask a safety professional—they can name a number of issues when it comes to forklift safety and will remind us that there’s nothing funny about the real-life outcomes.

Perhaps you’ve heard a safety talk like the one in this clip from The Office because workers have become complacent to the risks.

In fact, forklift-related citations are consistently among OSHA’s top ten most-cited violations. One way to crack down on forklift safety is to deliver a toolbox talk that will speak directly to employees (but maybe try a different approach than Darryl). 

Inadequate training is often cited as the main reason for forklift incidents. Since toolbox talks are considered a form of training, tailor your talk to include the recurring problems forklifts seem to create. Here are three topics to consider discussing for an effective forklift-related toolbox talk.

1. Pre-use checklist

Daily inspections are key when it comes to safely operating a forklift—it’s especially important for the forklift driver to do an inspection before each use, even if the daily inspection has already been completed. Your toolbox talk can give a rundown of the checklist that needs to be followed for a pre-use inspection (providing a handout of the checklist makes a great visual for your talk and allows better comprehension). 

Visual Inspection

This checklist will include a visual inspection to assess the general condition of the forklift, cleanliness, ensure the fire extinguisher is present, that the forks are not bent or cracked and that the tires are clear of any visible wear or damage and are not flat. The visual inspection should also check the area around the forklift for any housekeeping issues that may pose a risk to the operator, ensure there are no overhead obstructions in the area where the forklift will be operated, and check to make sure there are no leaks or drips under the forklift.

Physical Inspection

The physical inspection involves checking to make sure the forklift is operating correctly. The most important checks include ensuring that all brakes are functioning, all lights and gauges are operational, the steering moves smoothly, and the backup alarm and horn sound properly. It’s also a good idea to ensure that the hoses are securely connected (not crimped, loose or worn) and that lockout/tagout equipment is in place to prevent forklifts from accidentally starting up.

Any problems detected in a pre-use inspection need to be reported to a supervisor immediately. Machinery must not be operated until the all-clear to do so has been given. In fact, inspections and checklists could be a viable topic for a number of forklift toolbox talks.

2. Common hazards

The most common workplace hazards surrounding forklift safety may not be common knowledge to everyone in your facility. Giving a first-hand account is the best way to attain general comprehension. Telling workers not to stand on the forks is not as effective as telling the story about John, a former employee, who broke his arm after falling while “riding the forks”. If you don’t have a story that resulted in an injury, check the near-miss reports. Hearing an account of what could have happened is often enough to relate how common these hazards are. Other common hazards include: 

  • accidents between forklifts and pedestrians
  • excessive speed or imbalanced loads that cause the forklift to tip over, or unsecured loads that fall off and cause damage to the product, the area or equipment—or worse, injure the driver or pedestrians, or
  • lack of communication or missing floor markings that cause accidents.
3. Communication

Communication is the most important element of maintaining safety in the workplace when it comes to forklifts.  

Floor Markings

Floor marking is essential to creating boundaries for forklift safety—so much so that OSHA states that permanent aisles and passageways must be properly marked. Color coding helps with enforcing the relevant standards. Red is the basic color for identifying fire protection equipment, emergency stop devices and dangerous materials containers. Yellow is the color to caution against all physical hazards, typically used for traffic lanes, aisleways and work areas.

Floor Signs

In addition to floor markings, signage is a great way to warn forklift drivers and pedestrians of potential hazards. Stop signs, speed limits, pedestrian walkways and other traffic control signs are vital to avoid hazards. Floor signs should also include safety instructions, caution/danger signs marking a particular area (like a loading dock) and any precautions that are necessary. Safety posters and bulletins may also be used in this capacity. Taking people out to the floor to see the floor markings and signs first-hand or having pictures of some will go a long way in your toolbox talk on forklift safety.

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