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Human factors in forklift driving – how to keep operators safe

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.

Industrial noise

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.

Reversing alarms can be as loud as 97 dB, which is more than twice as loud as 85 dB (10 dB = doubling the perceived volume). 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).

Ensure forklift drivers use hearing protection, if required.

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.

Use closed-cab forklifts with pollen filter outside where possible, and ensure operators use the correct PPE and stay hydrated.

Fatigue

Shift work affects people in different ways. Studies show that shift workers struggle with tiredness due to sleep disturbance.

Schedule rest breaks and make sure operators adhere to them

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.

Operators must be trained if they are exposed to dangerous goods

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.

Operators should use sunglasses when outside. Ensure lighting is adequate at door thresholds. Implement systems to warn other people that a forklift is entering or exiting a building

Stress

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.

Schedules should be realistic. Take time to understand an operator’s personal challenges.

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.

Ensure operators are practicing safe manual handling techniques and take breaks where they can stretch. Check the seat on the forklift is in good conditions

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.

Have clear policies and education processes around drug and alcohol use. Use random testing if you are concerned.

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Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

Posted in Advice, Forklift
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