Forklifts, excavators, aerial lifts, dump trucks – many of us work around these machines on a daily basis, whether it be as an order picker in a warehouse, a flagger on a construction site, or an inspector. After a while, if we’re not careful, the equipment could begin to blend into the background. When that happens, people get careless. While there need to be safety precautions in place that make the operators of mobile equipment responsible for the well-being of people on the ground, the pedestrians themselves need to adhere to rules as well, in the interest of self-preservation.
The first thing needed to keep pedestrians safe is a simple “rule-of-thumb”: never assume an operator knows you are there. Whether the operator actually knows or not is irrelevant if you don’t know that they know. It would not take much for one of these machines to end your life, so why take the chance? Even if you think an operator is aware of your presence, make sure they know. Wave them down. Make eye contact. Indicate where you are going. Let them know when you are clear. We all know the old saying about assuming, but I assure you, if you assume wrong in this instance, it’s going to be a whole lot worse than just looking silly.
Operators can’t look out for us if we aren’t visible. Street clothes, muted colors, or colors that blend into the background all cause dangerous situations. Anybody that needs to be on the ground near mobile equipment should be wearing high-visibility clothing. Whether that means reflective vests or brightly-colored T-shirts really depends on a hazard assessment of your operation. Once you determine what you need, however, enforce it. Ensure your management personnel adhere to it, too. They’re no more immune to being run over by a 5,000 lb. machine than is a member of the labor workforce. Finally, have extras. People are going to show up and need to get around your facility. Some of them will not bring their own high-visibility gear. Make sure you are prepared to offer them something you’ve got ready to go.
Limited Personnel and Dedicated Walkways
One of the best ways to protect pedestrians on your site is to keep the number of pedestrians there are to an absolute minimum. An operator can’t run over somebody that isn’t there. Ensure that work areas are only being accessed by the necessary personnel. Ensure that anybody else accessing your work area is escorted by somebody who is used to your operations. And, where possible, limit the places they can travel. This may be easier in a warehouse than it is on a construction site, for example, but if you can delineate areas that are acceptable for pedestrians, then do so and enforce it. If possible, a permanent barrier like railing and safety gates may be a good option. Make sure your delineations are easily recognizable and maintained. A painted line on the floor is no good if it’s been worn away. A flagged off area is no good if the rope has snapped and the flags have blown away.
Where operators have limited visibility, use spotters who can stand somewhere that gives them a better vantage point on what’s going on around the equipment. Train your spotters on hand signals so that your equipment operators can quickly communicate with them even if you have electronic communication. Remember, electronics can fail and words can be misheard. In an emergency situation, you may not have time to account for that. One issue with spotters, though, is that they, too, are pedestrians. Your operator needs to be trained that if they are working with a spotter and they lose sight of that person, they stop the equipment immediately.
I put backup alarms low on this list for a reason. First, they only operate when a piece of equipment is backing up. They are there because the operator cannot see clearly (if at all) behind their machine, but it is assumed that they can see just fine moving forward. Obviously, this isn’t always the case. Second, on a construction site or in a warehouse these can be so prolific that people just start ignoring them. These are great to have, but you cannot be dependent on them.
This one is going to pop up on just about every list we make. None of the things we’ve listed do any good if the people involved are not properly trained. In this case, that could apply to somebody who is just making one quick stop to your site or facility. It isn’t necessary to have a 2-hour long training, but talk to the person, make sure they’re wearing what they need to be wearing, and make sure they know about your walkways or controlled areas. Do not allow anybody to walk out onto your site blindly.
Remember, in the battle of man vs machine, when it comes to a matter of brute force, the machine is always going to win. People may need to be reminded of this. There is a reason why “struck by” is one of OSHA’s Focus Four – because these terrible accidents occur. Don’t allow your people to be careless around mobile equipment.