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Forklifts and Shoppers

Be vigilant when forklifts, shoppers share space

What happened?

On September 27, 2008, a worker was using a forklift outside a big-box store in Barrie, Ontario to place skids of bottled water in the main entrance. The forklift struck a customer, injuring the customer's feet.

A Ministry of Labour investigation found that the worker did not have full view of the forklift’s path of travel or its load.

The company pleaded guilty to the charge under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The company failed to ensure that:

  • WHEN the operator of material handling equipment does not have a full view of the intended path of travel of the equipment or its load,
  • THEN the material handling equipment must be operated only as directed by a signaller who is
    1. 1. a competent person, and
    2. 2. stationed in full view of the operator with a full view of the intended path of travel of the vehicle and its load.

How extensive is the problem?

According to a July 2007 article that appeared in Occupational Health and Safety News,

  • Forklift incidents that happen at big box stores are frequent. A recent U.S. statistic from a major big box retailer points to the degree of danger and extent of risk that can occur in stores where retail customers and warehousing operations occupy the same floor space.
  • During a three-year period, as reported under court order, 100 persons were injured by forklifts in its Florida stores. The chain had only 65 stores in the state. The victims of these accidents were often shoppers. Fourteen of these incidents eventually became civil suits, and 80 of the incidents became worker's compensation claims. Remember, this was only one chain in only one state.

Controlling hazards

IHSA member firms that operate lumber and builders' supplies retail outlets must recognize the hazards associated with sharing floor space with shoppers. Having customers and material-handling equipment in close proximity to each other is a hazard that needs to be constantly controlled by the employer and workers.

In most cases, it is possible to put off material delivery until there are no customers in the store, but big-box stores have special needs. They often move material while the store is occupied by customers. Block off aisles and have a signaller available at all times whenever a forklift is used.

What can employers do?

There are precautions that employers can take to reduce the risk of hazardous incidents:

Train workers
  • Provide adequate training to workers who operate a forklift.
  • Produce a comprehensive written safety program that includes worker training and operator licensure. Be sure to plan dates to update the existing program periodically.
Protect your customers
  • Whenever possible, separate forklift traffic and customers.
  • Improve the visibility of forklift operators for customers and workers on foot by evaluating whether overhead dome mirrors could make intersections and blind corners easier to see.
  • Use horns, audible backup alarms, and flashing lights to alert customers and workers when a forklift is nearby. Flashing lights are especially important in areas where the ambient noise level is high.

General safety

  • Ensure that a competent signaller is available when a forklift or other material-handling equipment is used while the store is open to the public. A signaller is vital in big-box operations. The relationship between the forklift driver and the signaller is unique. The signaller becomes the driver's eyes and also maintains eye contact with the driver. The signaller also stops pedestrians from walking into the path of the forklift.
  • Finally, once the forklift has arrived in an aisle where it will be used, isolate the forklift by closing the aisle to pedestrians. When the work is completed, move the forklift back to its assigned parking spot to prevent trip-and-fall injuries.

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