Forklifts are driven in environments which can be challenging for the operator, both physically and mentally. Employers (PCBUs) must take measures to reduce the impact of these.
WorkSafe’s recommendation for the maximum average noise exposure in an 8-hour day is 85 dBA with a peak sound pressure level of 140 dB. If an operator wears hearing protection, it reduces the perceived volume by around 20-30 dB (depending on the hearing protection). The hearing protection should have a label or sticker either on it or on the packaging that states the class (e.g. class 5) and what sound dBA level it’s suitable for. For example, suitable for 110 dBA Leq (8 hours), meaning the hearing protection is good for around 25 dB noise reduction as it takes 110 dBA down to 85 dBA.
Reversing alarms can be as loud as 97 dB because they need to cut through the noise of a warehouse or factory. This is more than twice as loud as 85 dB (10 dB = doubling the perceived volume), plus they tend to be at a frequency where they are perceived even louder (around 1 kHz). If there are multiple forklifts working together, each forklift can add 2-3 dB to the overall volume level (twice the sound power = +3 dB).
Temperature and environment
Depending on the type of forklift, where the forklift is being driven and what the business does, there could be multiple different types of atmospheric pollutants and airborne particles, such as fumes from the fuel source, pollen, dust from driving or business operations, etc. The weather could be snowing, windy, raining, hailing or sleet, with extremes of hot and cold. Sunburn and dehydration can be an issue.
Shift work affects people in different ways. Studies show that shift workers struggle with tiredness due to sleep disturbance. Fatigue management training can help you identify whether employees are suffering from fatigue and to develop strategies that help mitigate the effects of fatigue.
Dangerous goods and hazardous substances
If an operator is moving hazardous goods, including loading and unloading, then they need to have, at minimum, a dangerous goods handler qualification. If you have a spill kit, then spill kit training should be included and refreshed every 2 years. If you use LPG forklifts, operators must have training how to change a forklift LPG cylinder.
Visibility and eyesight
Eyesight adjustment can reduce visibility when an operator drives from inside to outside and vice versa. An operator’s pupils need to adjust to let the right amount of light in, and this can take several minutes; the older an operator is, the longer it takes.
Time pressures due to scheduling can increase the risk of accidents due to stress factors. Operators may need additional training or practice if they are under-performing in relation to their peers.
Musculoskeletal and physical impacts
Driving a forklift outside often means a bumpy ride on a machine with little or no suspension. Poor posture can cause back and hip pain. Neck strain can happen if operators are looking up all the time at high racking. Manual handling of boxes can cause back strain.
Drugs and alcohol
Some people may have dependencies on legal or illegal drugs. Some prescription medications can affect a person’s reactions and shouldn’t be used when driving.
Diet and hydration
Dehydrated operators have a higher risk of accidents. Poor nutrition causes fatigue. Check out this diet and nutrition course for machine operators.