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New Employee Safety

40% of employees injured at work have been on the job less than one year! It seems like a high percentage, doesn’t it? Why is it so high? In a nutshell, new employees lack the knowledge and experience that is gathered by workers who have spent more time on the job.

Employers must protect their new employees and prevent them from getting injured:

Employers assume that new employees know more than they really do–and that common sense will prevent most accidents. Many of them have specific knowledge or special skills, but they don’t necessarily know how to translate this knowledge into safety in their new environment.

Certain jobs require precautions that may seem like common sense to someone who has spent years at a job. For a newcomer, however, these jobs may present brand new hazards they have never even thought about.

All too often, there is insufficient training for co-existing with material handling equipment. The employer must train, evaluate, and certify, and must re-train in the event of an accident, near-miss, observed unsafe behavior, or change in equipment or operating conditions. The employer must re-evaluate every 3 years.

New employees are often afraid to ask questions. They are afraid they will sound foolish–they may even fear that they will sound so foolish that they will be fired. This may be especially true of young workers. Supervisors need to remind them over and over that they are happy to answer questions–any time. One safety instructor puts it this way: “Students’ questions often remind me of things I didn’t explain as thoroughly as necessary–or something I forgot to mention.” He feels the more questions, the better. Everyone will learn more.

New employees do not thoroughly understand the necessity of being cautious around lift trucks. Year after year, work accident statistics show that an alarming number of injured workers were not trained and the accident could have been prevented, or lessened the severity of their injuries. Convey horror stories about new workers who were injured because they weren’t paying attention to their environment.

Other reasons new employees may get injured include:

  • Employee training for a particular job often focuses on what to do–but neglects training about the job hazards to avoid.
  • Employees do not know enough about hazardous substances in their workplace.
  • The workplace does not send the message that safety is a high priority.
  • Forklift operators should always be aware of conditions in their workplace, including pedestrian traffic.
  • Forklift traffic should be separated from other workers and pedestrians where possible.

Potential hazards of insufficient operator training:

  • Danger of striking pedestrians and objects.
  • Incorrect use of material handling equipment can damage product.
  • Operators risk tip-overs due to improper loading and travel practice.
  • Operators don’t yield right of way to pedestrians.

Why operator safety training?

  • 70% of all industrial accidents are caused by operator error (National Safety Council).
  • Effective training may reduce accident rates by 25-30% (OSHA).
  • Following forklift operator training, OSHA found a 61% improvement in operator performance scores (OSHA).

When operating a lift truck among pedestrians and one walks across your planned route:

  • Stop.
  • Wait until the pedestrians pass by.
  • Proceed cautiously through any congested area.
  • In anticipation of operating in a cluttered area, walk the route first to spot problems.
  • Check for situations that require a spotter and use one when traveling.
  • Warn pedestrians, by making eye contact and asking them to move if there is not sufficient safe clearance.
  • Sound the horn at blind corners, doorways and aisles.
  • Sound the horn or other alarm when you back up.
  • Yield the right of way to pedestrians.
  • Slow down, stop and sound horn at intersections and wherever your vision is obstructed.

Reminders for the operators:

  • Signs posted in areas with high pedestrian traffic.
  • When necessary, use flashing warning light, and backup alarms when traveling in reverse, but do not rely on them.
  • Do not move the truck if you do not have a clear view of travel.
  • Always look in the direction of travel.
  • Keep a clear view.
  • Start, stop, travel, steer and brake smoothly.
  • Do not allow anyone to stand or pass under the load or lifting mechanism.
  • Never transport employees on the forks.

Reminders for the pedestrians:

  • Be aware that lift trucks cannot stop suddenly. They are designed to stop slowly to minimize load damage and maintain stability.
  • Stand clear of lift trucks in operation.
  • Avoid a run-in. The driver’s visibility may be limited due to blind spots.
  • Be aware of the wide rear swing radius.
  • Use pedestrian walkways, or stay to one side of the equipment aisle.
  • Never ride on a forklift.
  • Never pass under an elevated load.

Reminders for plant safety managers:

  • OSHA requires that permanent aisles and passageways be free from obstructions and appropriately marked where material handling equipment is used. [29 CFR 1910.176(a)]
  • The OSHA standard [29 CFR 1910.178(m)(3)] states that unauthorized personnel are prohibited from riding on a forklift. If riders are authorized, a safe place must be provided.
  • Fair Labor Standards Act regulations prohibit people under 18 years old from operating forklifts in non-agricultural settings. The minimum age for agriculture is 16 years.

Consider separating pedestrians from lift trucks by providing:

  • Pedestrian walkways.
  • Permanent railings or other protective barriers.
  • Adequate walking space at least on one side, if pedestrians must use equipment aisles.
  • Pedestrian walkway striping on the floor if barriers cannot be used.
  • Install convex mirrors at blind aisle intersections.
  • Post traffic control signs.
  • Post plant speed limits.