Lifting People and Expectations

Lifting People and Expectations covers everything you need to know to safety use forklifts to elevate personnel and the rules and regulations covering it.

Using forklifts to elevate personnel is common practice in industry but it is a task to which some rather uncommon and, judging by what I have witnessed, unknown requirements apply. Typically, the rules and regulations around elevating people with a forklift differ between regions, so I thought I would run down some of the base line requirements and some things to consider beyond the written regulation.

First of all, don’t use a forklift to raise people at all if you have another safe way to get the job done. Forklifts are designed as material handling devices not personnel elevating devices so if you have a more traditional way to get people into the air, like a ladder, scaffold or aerial lift (boomlift, scissor lift, etc.), use it. If you have no other way and must use a forklift consider the following:

  • Does MOM allow it?
    MOM is the Manufacturer’s Operating Manual and you must never disobey her. If she says no then it’s no – end of story. Usually there are no issues with MOM until you get to rough terrain telehandlers where you will find that there are as many manufacturers that flat out prohibit lifting of people with the unit as not. Regardless of what ITA class you are using, always consult MOM first and do whatever she says.
  • Is the machine up to it?
    I don’t know about you but if someone wanted to put me up in the air with a forklift the first thing I’d want to do is meet the forklift. Is it in good shape? Has it been inspected and found safe to use? Is there anything at all about the machine that makes me think perhaps I shouldn’t use it?
  • Is the operator up to it?
    Once again, if it’s my butt going into the air I want to know there is a trained and capable operator at the controls who is knowledgeable on what and what not to do when carrying a person, especially me! I would also want to meet with the operator to work out a communications system and what the plan is if something goes wrong.
  • What about the platform?
    If I’m just supposed to stand on the forks, I’m outta there. If it’s a pallet, I’m still outta there. If it’s a pallet with alleged guardrails nailed to it I’m outta there and looking for another place to work. If it’s anything but a purpose built elevating work platform specifically designed for use as such with all of its ratings and relative specifications clearly displayed on it, inspected and found safe and properly mounted on the forklift, I would respectfully refuse the work and politely ask to be reassigned.
  • Sighting the site.
    Equally as important as inspecting your equipment and gear is inspecting the area in which you plan to use it. Check out the usual suspects like local obstacles/obstructions, ground conditions, grades, vehicle/pedestrian traffic, etc. and don’t forget to look upward because that’s where you’re going. Nasty hazards like power lines live up there, not to mention all kinds of things to run into like fans, heaters, ductwork and on the list goes. Look for these things and do all that you reasonably can to eliminate or reduce the risk of injury they pose.
  • Practice makes perfect.
    Well, practicing the right things does but that’s a topic for another time. In this case we can borrow a page from the smart crane operator’s playbook and do something they call a “trial lift.” That is, with no actual load run through all of the movements of the lift to be sure it can be done safely before actually doing it with the load. And remember, when elevating personnel, that thing we so impersonally refer to as a load is a living, breathing human being so let’s do all we can to make sure those two criteria are maintained when “the load” comes back down.
  • PPE me.
    Personal Protective Equipment is just that, personal. You actually need to put it on your person and wear If there are overhead hazards that could fall on you or that you could be raised into, a hard hat is a good idea. Preferably one with a chin strap so it doesn’t slip off your head and plummet down onto someone else’s. Depending on where in the world you are, you may need to use a personal fall protection system. Not every regulatory jurisdiction requires it but some do so do your homework and find out. Depending on the task and the conditions, the PPE requirements could be varied and many.
  • Nothing to see here.
    Ever notice the first thing TV cops do with a crime scene? They cordon it off. Although the area where people are working at height is not a crime scene, allowing some terrible incident to occur because we didn’t cordon the area off beforehand could turn it in to one. Barrier tape, flagging, signage, spotters or anything you can do to either keep people and/or vehicles out of the area below or raise the awareness of overhead work being done to those on the ground is a great practice.
  • Follow the rules.
    Regulatory authorities are absolutely nuts about enforcing their regulations on working at height and good on them, they should be. Every year falls account for a huge proportion of citations, injuries and fatalities in the overall scope of things. Make sure you find out what your local occupational health and safety regulations have to say about elevating people with forklifts before you do it. As importantly, seek out the industry standards they reference because they can contain even more requirements than those listed in the regulation. Here are a few such requirements related to lifting people paraphrased from ANSI B56.1, a very widely referenced industry standard across North America:
    • Platform must be securely attached to the carriage or forks.
    • If the forks can pivot upward (like on a telehandler) they must be secured against it.
    • The mast must be kept vertical.
    • Only move the platform at the platform occupant’s request (unless there is an emergency).
    • You can move the forklift with an elevated platform to facilitate minor positioning of the platform but you cannot drive around with someone in the air.
    • Make sure the gross weight of the load does not exceed one half of the forklift’s rated lifting capacity, one third if it’s a rough terrain telehandler.

That’s pretty much it for the ‘need to know/do’ stuff. I’m sure many of you have items to pile on to the ones listed here and if so, please do.

In summary, using a forklift to elevate personnel is dangerous so don’t do it if you have a better/safer way. If you must, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use a platform specifically designed and approved for the task. Consult your local regulations on the topic and follow them as well as any relative industry standards they may reference. Most importantly, take the time to think about what it is you need to do and plan things out with the operator that is lifting you up because ultimately the operator will also be the one to return you safely to the ground. Respect the law of the land and respect the law of gravity even more.

Rob Vetter
Director of Training
IVES Training Group

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