Elevating Workers with Fork Lifts

Lift trucks (fork lifts) are frequently used to elevate employees.  However, it must be done under certain conditions to protect the worker from falling.  According to Title 8, CCR, Section 3657(b) a work platform on the fork lift must:

  1. Be of sufficient size to accommodate the personnel and material being elevated and not less than 2 feet by two feet.
  2. If the platform is not attached to the boom of the lift truck, the platform must be secured to the forks or the base of fork carriage to prevent tipping, slipping for falling.
  3. The platform must contain guardrails and toe boards as specified in 8 CCR, Section 3210. A safety belt with lanyard or harness with lanyard may be used (in accordance with 8 CCR 3656(e).
  4. The platform must have a slip resistant surface and the floor shall have spaces or holes greater than one foot.

Cal/OSHA cited an aerospace parts manufacturer recently for “elevating” a worker on a pallet which was used as a work platform on which the worker stood.  Reportedly, the employee was given the task of dumping scrap metal into a dumpster and sustained a serious injury when the pallet was not secured to the forks of the forklift and as a result the employee fell.  The cited employer contended that the employee gained elevation by climbing the dumpster and then moved to the platform (pallet) at “substantially” the same height as the dumpster.  That is, the employee was not “elevated” by the fork lift.  The employer therefore appealed the citation since §3657(b)(2) did not apply because the platform from which the employee stood was not being used to raise or elevate the employee.

A valid means to appeal a citation is to show that the standard was mis-applied.  The employer argued therefore that the fork lift was not used to elevate the employee, and therefore the standard was improperly applied.  The Administrative Law Judge, hearing the appeal, rejected the employer’s “narrow interpretation” of elevation stating is was not consistent with the plain meaning of the word and to accept the employer’s interpretation would not provide protection for a worker that uses a fork lift-mounted platform who descends to the ground from a height.  The ALJ stated it would be inconsistent and contradictory to the intent of the regulation which is to protect workers while working at height and there is no evidence that Cal/OSHA Standards Board only intended to protect employees while ascending.

An employer may argue that another safety order more closely addresses the facts of the matter. The employer contended that instead, the pallet on which the worker stood should be categorized as an “elevated work platform”.  Therefore the work platform should be governed by §3210(b) – Guardrails at Elevated Locations.  Generally, when there are two or more safety orders that may cover a violative condition, Cal/OSHA must cite the more specific one.  However, the employer must demonstrate that it was in compliance with the more specific safety order.  In this case, it was unnecessary to even consider whether §3210 was a more specific safety order because by its own admission the employer failed to comply with it.  It is important when using a fork lift to raise and/or lower workers that the work platform comply with requirements listed above. These requirements are essentially a solid platform with standard guardrails and toe boards and with the platform securely attached to the fork lift.  In addition, though not discussed above, pursuant to §3657(e) ensure that the fork lift operator is in the control position on the fork lift while workers are on the elevated platform.

Tim Bormann, CIH, FAIHA