Dangerous Distractions in the Warehouse

We can all agree that driving a car while distracted is risky behavior. Dan Clark, from The Safety Brief, accurately states that “Forklift safety starts when the driver understands a forklift is not a car.” While they’re definitely not the same, similar rules apply to both.

  • Pedestrians always have the right of way.
  • Obey speed limits.
  • Stay in designated lanes.
  • Keep a safe distance from other vehicles.
  • Drive slowly in wet or slippery conditions.

The differences, however, far outweigh the similarities, and safety protocols should be followed, including limiting distractions. Cell phones, MP3 players and even eating while operating a forklift, pose a threat to other workers, equipment and the facility itself. These are not the only distractions, of course, but the same bad driving habits people use on the road have now made their way into the warehouse, so let’s look at a few.

Smartphone Use
Did you know you are four times more likely to be in an accident if you’re using a cell phone while driving a car? In fact, an episode of Mythbusters confirmed that driving while using a smartphone is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated! On a forklift, the risk is even greater. These machines take skill and concentration to drive, especially in the busy environments of warehouses. Keep in mind, too, the major difference between cars and lift trucks. To allow for a tight turn radius, forklifts are steered from the rear axle and the back end will swing more than that of a car. These machines also steer easier when loaded, because of the counterbalance and the center of gravity is towards the back, but shift forward when the forks are lifted. Though these machines are usually driven with one hand, that doesn’t mean the other should be operating a phone! Even with a hands-free device, concentration shifts from the task at hand. The safety hazard, however, is not limited to those driving. Workers on foot are not only in danger from operators using smartphones, but put themselves in harm’s way when distracted by these devices. Keep your attention on your job, whether you’re driving a forklift or not.

Music and Headphones
Warehouses can be noisy environments, but drowning out the sounds with earbuds is not the answer. While OSHA gives workers discretion on headphone use in the workplace, they explicitly state that earbuds over ear protection is a violation of safety protocol. Use of MP3 players not only puts workers at risk for missing sounds of horns, beeps and verbal warnings, but the cords from these devices could get caught in machinery.

When most people think about distracted driving, smartphone use is probably the number one example that comes to mind. A valid example, and even the first one we mentioned, but let’s not ignore the obvious. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, research shows that drivers are 80% more likely to get into an accident when eating on the road! If the percentages are that high when you’re cruising down the highway, what about when you’re moving a load in a warehouse? That quick sip of a Coke or coffee could lead to it spilling on the driver, equipment or floor. Eating and drinking while operating machinery also takes your mind off the task at hand, and could lead to other being seriously injured in the event of an accident. Keep food and drink in the break room.

Even though forklifts aren’t traveling the same speed as cars, the brakes aren’t as efficient and the machine is less maneuverable than a vehicle. So, what’s the bottom line? When you allow distractions, you’re doing the workers a disservice. When you’re driving a forklift, drive the forklift. It’s that simple.