Protect the Pedestrians

That’s you and I when we’re walking through a plant or warehouse. Or workers walking to their jobs or on coffee breaks. Clerks, secretaries and engineers who work in the plant. Even a visitor, like a writer researching an article. Protection for all of us is something that falls through the cracks between most industrial standards.

Some pedestrian accidents are recorded. In the introduction to the Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training (PITOT) standard, there’s a table showing classification of fatalities. One of these is a category “Worker Struck by Forklift.” That means pedestrians who have been killed.

And PITOT mandates that operators will be trained in “pedestrian traffic in areas where the vehicle will be operated.”

As this column stated in March, “The point is that a standard like PITOT generates a safety mindset that goes beyond memorizing rules. A trained lift truck operator is alert to the possibility of pedestrians crossing his route, or even being able to address some condition that isn’t spelled out in the regulation.”

But operator training can’t do it all. Yes, a trained operator will be more in control of his or her vehicle and more aware of pedestrians — but there are limitations.

“Most of the accidents I’ve seen lately where there have been collisions or near-misses, it really wasn’t the operator’s fault,” says Jim Shephard, president of Shephard’s Industrial Training Systems Inc. “I think that companies are doing a good job training the operators. I think they’re missing the big picture by not training the mass of employees.”

Think about that for a minute. A lot of pedestrians have never been aboard a lift truck; they don’t know that an operator of a 60,000-pound-capacity vehicle has a blind side. And when lift truck operators are taught pedestrian safety in the classroom, pedestrians aren’t invited.

Lift trucks aren’t the only vehicles that put pedestrian at risk. In April, this column discussed personnel carriers and complained that their low profile poses a risk to pedestrians. Also, personnel carrier operators tend to park in access areas, forcing pedestrians to walk out of the safety zones to get around them.

Pedestrians can find danger lurking outside as well as inside. Weather, speed of equipment and poor visibility are sources of risk, says a report on yard handling (May issue).

Pedestrian safety isn’t just a matter of not getting hit by a vehicle. The responsibility is broader than that. The whole plant or warehouse is a workplace, and even the most automated conveyor system needs safe access. The safety department, the training department and plant layout need to be involved. “For example, does a stairwell empty off into an aisle? Or does it parallel the aisle? Is there a zone at the bottom, a place to stand?” Jim Shephard asks.

Stored material, especially palletloads, also pose a threat to pedestrians, bringing the warehouse manager into the safety loop. Asks Jim Shephard, “Do you think that office workers really know what an unsafe condition is with stored material?”

His solution is that pedestrians need to be trained. Not only to walk in designated aisles but also to report hazardous conditions. “When these conditions are brought up to the safety committee, they can put together an action plan to make improvements, like painting a crosswalk or installing a barricade. Maybe you put up a metal barricade so that you can’t enter with mobile equipment,” says Shephard. “Look at the doorway coming out of the cafeteria — you have a big traffic flow there.”

A pedestrian should be using all senses to detect hazards. Listen for equipment starting, water spattering, steam releasing. Smell hot wires. Watch for leaks from pressure vessels.

As mentioned, pedestrian safety has been a sentence in standards like PITOT. Currently, Shephard is working on an Employee/Pedestrian Safety Awareness Program for General Industry.

PITOT is doing its part. Now we should offer pedestrians equal protection.

Bernie Knill, contributing editor, bernknill@aol.com