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Working With Hazardous Materials on Forklifts

Posted by: admin on December 16, 2015

forklift safety

Operating a forklift can be risky, even when moving everyday products.  When the job involves moving hazardous materials, the risks increase. Even one minor spill can result in a serious injury.  Forklift workers and employers need to know how to recognize hazardous material signs and handle them safely. They also need to protect themselves from exposure to toxic chemicals and waste. 


What Are Hazardous Materials?

OSHA defines a hazmat as any substance or chemical that is a health or physical hazard. This includes carcinogenic chemicals, toxic agents, irritants, corrosives, and more. For a complete list of all types of hazmats, read the Hazardous Materials Regulations guide at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) web site


Hazardous Materials Regulations

Five U.S. agencies are involved in creating hazardous materials regulations. Each has its own definition of hazmats. Each regulates different aspects of the materials.

Hazardous material regulations often overlap from these five agencies. When in doubt, contact the agency that deals with type of hazmats you handle.

Transporting Hazardous Materials

Hazmats pose three types of management challenges: transportation, handling and storage.  Transportation refers to the movement of hazmats from one discreet location to another. Because forklifts work onsite, transportation regs are not an issue.

Forklift workers are involved in the handling and storage of hazmats, so it’s important to train them in these areas. Chemical hazards and toxic substances can be harmful to one’s health. They also pose a threat to the environment if they are flammable, corrosive, or reactive. Unsafe handling of compressed gasses can result in fires, explosions, and exposure to toxic gas. Driving a forklift with combustible fuel in a poorly ventilated area can lead to toxic buildups of carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.

Hazardous Materials Signs: Managing Hazmat Emergencies

Hazmat safety starts with adherence to OSHA regulations. These are outlined in 29 CFR 1910 (see subpart H). Topics covered include:

  • What are hazardous materials
  • Safety management of hazardous chemicals
  • Hazardous waste operations
  • Emergency response
  • Protective equipment
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE), clothing, and gear

Workers need to be prepared if a hazmat emergency occurs. Employers must have a written emergency response plan. Workers must know how to communicate with each other during an emergency.

Other precautions during an emergency include:

  • Handling chemical substances with care
  • Using splash guards on equipment
  • Wearing protective goggles and gloves working with chemical goods
  • Knowinghow to fuel and refuel forklifts properly
  • Never operating a gas-powered forklift in an unventilated area

Also, make sure all containers are labeled. Allow only authorized equipment to enter marked areas containing hazmats. Make sure workers wear respirator masks when working in spaces with low oxygen. Masks should also be worn around harmful dust, mists, sprays, vapors, and gasses. This will protect workers from breathing in harmful substances.

Hazardous Materials Signs: How to Determine a Hazardous Load

Any load containing hazmats is a hazardous load. Forklift workers that move these types of loads need special training to handle them safely. But loads can be hazardous even when moving items that aren’t dangerous. Any load becomes hazardous if packaged and shaped in a way that makes the forklift unstable. For example, the load is off-center. The load exceeds weight limits. The load is damaged, not secured, or has loose parts. Forklift workers need to be on the lookout for signs of unstable loads even when they aren’t transporting hazardous materials.

Hazardous Material Disposal: How to Handle a Warehouse Spill

Even when forklift workers follow hazmat safety guidelines, spills can happen. That’s why OSHA requires a written hazmat spill plan that includes:

  • Safety data sheets for all job site chemicals
  • What PPE is on hand and how to use it
  • Who to contact when a spill occurs
  • How and when to evacuate
  • Steps to contain, clean up, decontaminate, and safely dispose of the spilled hazmats

When a spill occurs, follow these hazardous material disposal steps:

  • Identify the spilled hazmat. Materials oozing from marked containers are easy to identify. For unknown spills, workers should keep a safe distance away, then contact someone who can identify the spill.
  • Help the injured. If a worker has been injured, call 911. Spill responders should remove and treat the injured worker until help arrives. Hold frequent training drills so people know what to do in an emergency.
  • Protect workplace responders. The responding workers must know the type of PPE needed for the spill. If the hazmat can’t be identified, use all PPE available.
  • Contain the spilled hazmat.To keep the spill from spreading, place dikes around the edges of the spill. Depending of where the spill is coming from, turn off spouts or valves. You may also need to patch a seam or roll a leaky drum so the leak is on the top. Any drains near the spill should be covered.
  • Clean up the spill. Make sure the spill is stopped at the source. When cleaning, work from the outside in toward the center. Use mops, shop towels, mats, and other absorbent items to mop up small spills. Shop vacs can be used for larger spills.
  • Decontaminate the spill site. Set up a decontamination area before entering the spill site. Thoroughly clean the entire area. Finish by cleaning the tools and equipment used to clean up the spill.
  • Report the spill. Not all spills need to be reported. Consult the Code of Federal Regulations for the amounts and types of hazmat spills that must be reported.

Improve Safety With Forklift Training From CM

All forklift workers should be trained and certified. When they know how to recognize hazardous material signs and what to do, they will be prepared to handle a hazmat emergency. The online program with offers a fully OSHA-compliant certification course. Workers can take the course anywhere they have access to the Internet.  It only takes about 60 minutes to complete the course. After passing the course, workers can print their certification card right away.

The training includes everything workers need to know, including what are hazardous materials.  Other topics include how to recognize a hazard, communicate for help, and take appropriate action. With CM training, workers can stay safe on the job. Employers get peace of mind knowing their people are safe and their business is compliant with OSHA guidelines.

How to Handle a Warehouse Spill

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