Elevating Workers with Forklifts

Lift trucks (forklifts) are frequently used to elevate employees and there are certain requirements that must be followed to protect employees from falling off forklifts.

Title 8, CCR, Section 3657(b) states Where a forklift is used to elevate personnel…A work platform shall be used in accordance with the following conditions:

  • The platform shall be of sufficient size to accommodate the personnel and material being elevated but not less than 2 feet by 2 feet.
  • Where the platform is not attached to the boom, the base of the platform shall be secured to the forks or the base of the fork carriage to prevent tipping, slipping, or falling.
  • The platform shall meet the guardrail and toeboard requirements of section 3210.

Exception: Guardrails need not be provided where a clearance restriction or the nature of the work prohibits the use of guardrails, provided that a safety belt with lanyard, or harness with lanyard is used in accordance with section 3656(e).

  • The platform floor shall have no spaces or holes greater than one inch.
  • The platform floor shall have a slip resistant surface.

Recently Cal/OSHA cited an aerospace parts manufacturer for “elevating” a worker on a pallet which was used as a forklift “work platform” but was not secured to the forks of the forklift.  Reportedly, the employee was given the task of dumping scrap metal into a dumpster and sustained a serious injury when falling off the unsecured pallet.

A valid means to appeal a citation is to show that the standard was misapplied.  The cited employer argued that the forklift was not used to “elevate” the worker, contending that §3657(b)(2) was improperly applied. The employee gained elevation by climbing up the dumpster (i.e. was not “elevated” by using the forklift) and only moved onto the forklift work platform (which was at “substantially” the same height as the dumpster) when being brought back down to ground level after work was completed.  The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health

Appeals Board, 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.

Generally, when there are two or more safety orders that may cover a violative condition, Cal/OSHA must cite the more specific one.  An employer may argue that another safety order would better apply to the citation circumstances.  However, to do so the employer must then demonstrate that it was in compliance with that other safety order.  In this case, the employer exercised that option stating that the pallet on which the worker stood should be categorized as an “elevated work platform” and therefore governed by §3210(b) Guardrails at Elevated Locations.  But as it turns out considering whether the citation would have violated this safety order was pointless because by its own admission the employer failed to comply with §3210.

Bottom line: When using a forklift to raise and/or lower workers the work platform must comply with the requirements discussed above. Essentially a solid platform with standard guardrails and toe boards and with the platform securely attached to the forklift and even though not discussed, pursuant to §3657(e) ensure that the forklift operator is in the control position on the forklift while workers are on the elevated platform.


Note: This information was provided by Tim Bormann, CIH, FAIHA, The Cohen Group

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