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Forklifts vs. Pedestrians: Right-Of-Way

Forklifts vs. pedestrians. Who has to stop? People on foot technically have the right-of-way. But some say powered industrial trucks should hold sway.

Jonathan Jacobi, Underwriters Laboratories

Safety expert Jonathan Jacobi, of Underwriters Laboratories, tells how some companies ask walking workers to cede their right-of-way to multi-ton forklifts. Jonathan also explains how part of OSHA’s standard on powered industrial trucks has not changed since 1969.

Jonathan is a Senior Environment, Health and Safety Advisor with UL Workplace Health And Safety, in Franklin, Tennessee. He’s an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer and CSP.

See the link in the transcript to Jonathan’s blog on forklifts vs. pedestrians.


Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at

(intro music)

Jonathan Jacobi: Here’s the way it goes down. A person walks out in front of a forklift. The forklift is going to weigh several thousand pounds. You can’t stop that type of weight—that’s moving—you can’t stop that on a dime.

Dan Clark: Forklifts versus pedestrians. Who has the right-of-way on a job site or in a warehouse? Surprisingly, there is big disagreement between people on foot and drivers of those powered industrial trucks.

Hi there! I’m Dan Clark. Today we’re talking with Jonathan Jacobi, a Senior Environment, Health and Safety Advisor with UL—Underwriters Laboratories. He’s a CSP and an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer. Hello, Jonathan!

Jonathan: Hey, Dan. Glad to be here.

Dan: How’s everything there at the UL Workplace Health And Safety in Franklin, Tennessee?

Jonathan: Things are great.

Dan: Good. Tell us a little bit about UL Workplace Health And Safety.

Forklifts_vs_Pedestrians-Right-Of-Way-Creative_Safety_Supply-350x197Jonathan: Sure, I mean, most people know UL as a company based on the mark, which is on so many different products. We test and verify the safety of products to certain standards.

Dan: Mm-hm.

Jonathan: You might see those on your Christmas tree lights. You might see those on your blow dryer in your bathroom. Any number of things and that’s really what UL has been known for for over a hundred years and we’re really the premier company out there doing that.

Dan: Yeah.

Jonathan: But you can take a person and put them in a completely safe work environment and based on the actions of people—which we know is important in safety—they can still find a way to get hurt. That’s really where Workplace Health And Safety comes in. That division of UL—we’re not necessarily testing products. What we’re doing is we’re working with companies to improve their safety programs and the actions of people. We’re addressing the soft side of safety. That’s really what we do.

Dan: Ah, okay. Let’s talk about forklift drama.

Jonathan: Okay.

Dan: I love it. Your blog on your website, you write “Some companies and many pedestrians feel that forklifts should stop for pedestrians. Other companies and many lift operators argue that lifts should have the right-of-way and people should stop for forklifts.” It seems like this would’ve been decided already. Why is this still a concern?

Jonathan: Okay. OSHA regulations in the United States is what we follow, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, of course. When all the standards were promulgated at the very beginning we tended to want instant information, instant standards. So, we looked around the country and OSHA, as it was promulgating its regulations, its standards, looked for what was existing already.

The safety standards that were existing when OSHA was created in the late 1960s—we’re talking about these types of standards in the early 70s that we referenced—that’s what was brought in. So, the standard that governs forklifts was ASME, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, B-56, 1969 version.

Over the years, that information has become outdated. We know there’s different ways to do safety now that we didn’t once recognize but the standards haven’t stayed up-to-date. So there’s a little bit of a gray area in OSHA, but we can talk some more about this.

Dan: Well, I’m not familiar with the ’69 standard. I assume that they tried to emulate what typical traffic is like on a public roadway where the pedestrian has the right-of-way. Am I wrong about that?

Jonathan: No, I would so you’re right. It just wasn’t directly stated in that standard. Now, more recent versions of the standard, the ASME B-56 standard is now being done as an ANSI standard—American National Standards Institute. It still goes by the B-56 moniker. In section 5.3.2, I’ll read you what that says in the 2015 standard.

Dan: Okay

Jonathan: It says forklift operators are to, in quotes, “yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks.” So, it clearly states that pedestrians have the right-of-way and forklifts are to yield.

Dan: Mm-hm.

Jonathan: Yet, OSHA’s still based on the 1969 version and that language is not in OSHA. Now, if you look at some more progressive states—Cal/OSHA would be a pretty good example—in their Title VIII, Subchapter 7, Article 25 dealing with industrial trucks, section T12. “Operator shall look in the direction of travel, shall not move a vehicle until certain that all persons are in the clear.” And so it does bring the element of pedestrians and foot traffic into play in California.

Not all states are the same way as California. Some tend to adopt federal [OSHA] verbatim. But I think whatever is in OSHA—in your state OSHA, in your federal OSHA—it’s the minimum. And there’s these industry-consensus standards, like that ANSI that I mentioned, that talks about yielding right-of-way to pedestrians, that always is going to be important in both a court of law from a civil standpoint and also, too, from a… OSHA’s general duty is, of the employer, is to provide a workplace free from recognized problems. You can say that if it’s in a consensus standards—a consensus of the industry that says this is a recognized issue and you should yield the right-of-way to pedestrians—you’re on pretty shaky ground in a court of law.

And they tend to judge on the side of the pedestrian, not the forklift operator. A forklift operator’s usually found to be at fault.

Dan: Well, I would imagine so. They’ve got a 1000 or 2000 pound device coming at this person that’s unprotected. But I understand how forklift operators may be concerned because they are carrying a load that is not stable. If they stop suddenly, the forklift may not hit them but the load may land on the pedestrian. Right?

Jonathan: Yeah, that’s certainly true. There are a lot of operating limitations that companies should be educating—foot traffic, the pedestrians, their general factory employees—they should be educating these people about the limitations the operators face, because, in the end, no lift operator wants to hit a person. No person wants to be hit.

But, here’s the way it goes down in a close-call situation. A person walks out in front of a forklift. The forklift, like you said, is going to weigh several thousand pounds. Really, the smallest forklifts that I usually deal with tend to be around 5 or 6000 pounds, so three tons on a small side. And it can range up to, you know, 10s of tons.

Dan: Sure.

Jonathan: But, just based on that, you can’t stop that type of weight that’s moving. You can’t stop that on a dime. And if you’re operating in forward direction with your forks forward—now, forklifts are rear, so the steering happens at the rear—and you jam on the brakes to try to miss somebody, you just think about this in your car. Everything that is in the back seat’s now in the front seat.

Dan: Sure.

Jonathan: If you stop quickly. Same thing in a forklift. It tends the pitch the forklift forward. And it places all the weight to the front of the forklift. All the force towards the front of the forklift and it lifts up the back of the lift. Especially when these lifts are traveling loaded.

Forklifts_vs_Pedestrians-Right-Of-Way-Creative_Safety_Supply-Coming-SoonAnd when you start to remove force from those rear wheels traction is lost and the ability to steer is lost. So, you’ve lost the ability to steer right and left evasively. And, if you are able to steer right and left evasively, as you stated, whatever’s on the forks may have been thrown onto the person you’re trying to avoid. Or the forklift itself may tip over.

Now, there’s two things that cause fatalities more than anything else when you’re talking about forklifts.

• Tipping a forklift over—and that can injure both the person that was in the forklift and whoever’s around them. But also, two…

• Struck-by.

So, these are the two things that typically get people.

There’s a lot of other limitations that these forklift operators have as well. The floors, if you can think about it, that they’re operating on in a plant setting. Smooth concrete.

Dan: Mm-hm.

Jonathan: Add anything to smooth concrete, whether it’s dust or maybe a little condensation near a dock area, whatever it might be. Anything at all on smooth concrete can ruin that traction and cause more skidding than stopping to occur.

Dan: Sure, it becomes a skating rink.

Large load creates blind spot. Image by FEMA/Patsy Lynch

Jonathan: It does, it does. And the other thing, too, is that forklift operators, a lot of times—based on the load that they’re carrying—may need to operate in reverse to have any visibility. If you’re carrying a large load, you can’t see around it, you have to operate in reverse.

Dan: Mm-hm.

Jonathan: Not everybody has the same ability—forklift operators-wise—to crane around in the seat to look over their shoulder. As you can imagine we get older we lose flexibility and things like that. You have some ability to see, but on the opposite shoulder you’re not looking over, there’s a pretty large blind spot that’s there that a person may actually be in and not be seen, even by operators doing their best job to miss people. They may actually miss people.

We tend to wear, in situations where mostly forklift operations are going on, we like to put people in high visibility reflective vests, which can increase their visibility in the peripheral vision, that the operator operating in reverse may actually still see the person because they’re wearing high visibility clothing.

Dan: You can have pedestrian lanes marked. You can have forklift lanes marked with floor tape, but they sometimes have to cross.

Jonathan: Yeah, you’re right. It’s definitely, it’s going to be a requirement to have some type of marking where you have a known pedestrian walkway. There are going to be situations, like you were saying, that the pedestrians may get in the mix and not be in a marked walkway.

Typically, an example of that would be on the production floor when you’ve got equipment. Forklifts don’t drive in between the equipment but people sometimes walk between the equipment. Those areas aren’t going to be marked. Now, when a person walks out of an unmarked area, the forklift operator’s not necessarily used to looking in that area for the person. They’re used to looking in the marked area. So, we tend to teach people, as much we can, not to take shortcuts. People on foot, not to walk out from between the equipment. Not to walk out from between stored products.

You know, we like to have, for a lot of different reasons, we like to have delivery of materials to production assets. We like that to become Just-In-Time, because if you have a lot of stuff staged to be to be manufactured or run, you can lose visibility of the work area. And people can step out from between pallets and be struck by moving equipment.

So, we expect to see people in those marked walkways a lot and then we definitely need to have things marked in every every factory where people can be expected.

Dan: You must’ve talked to some companies that say that forklifts should yield. What percentage, in your experience, say that it should be forklifts that yield?

Jonathan: Well, just based on what I just mentioned about the recent standard change that has pedestrians having right-of-way, that’s…we should always yield to pedestrians. But, when someone comes to me, as a safety professional, when someone comes to me saying “It’s not my responsibility. It’s his or her responsibility.” That could be the pedestrian saying that. That could be the forklift operator saying “It’s an issue not with me but with people who walk from behind things.

When they come to me with that, and they say “I have the right-of-way” and they want to have the firm stance and, you know, the better ground on an issue, I tell them both “Its mutual responsibility, guys. It’s literally a two-way street when it comes these issues.”

We have to work together because even the best operator, because of the limitations and because we are human and we miss things and we get distracted as operators. You can’t step out in front of a forklift, I mean, even if you had the right-of-way.

As it was said in a response to that blog article that I put out there, someone said “You can have the right-of-way and end up being dead right.”

Dan: (laughs).

Jonathan: And I think that, kind of, resonated with me. That’s exactly right. It doesn’t matter that you’re in the right. If you were still hit by the forklift you’re equally as hurt.

So, the way I am, when I’m on foot, and the way I teach, I tell other people to be, is to take care of yourself first. That means that I’m not going to step out in front of a forklift and think I’ve got the right-of-way and that they’re going to stop. I know they might not. I’m going to stand there. I’m going to try to establish eye contact. Once I can do that with the lift operator, they come to a stop and then they give me a signal to walk. That’s the only time I’m going to walk in front of a forklift is when they’ve come to a stop, eye contact, and I’m given the signal to go.

Dan: There’s a wise move. Well, I guess my biggest question here is with OSHA and their archaic standard from 1969. Are they looking at this, or do you know if there’s any potential update of the standard?

Jonathan: Well, I think I said, for the most part, we do operate by that 1969. There have been some slight revisions. The most significant of which has been the forklifts training portion. That standard is now very much more specification based, meaning it tells you exactly how you need to train people.

That change took place in 1998. So, part of the standard has been updated and part of it has been left behind.

And, you know what? To be honest with you, I’m not sure where OSHA’s at with that right now. They’ve got a lot of fairly big fish they’re trying to fry right now. Injury and illness prevention plans; ergonomic standards; combustible dust standards. There’s a lot of things that they’re focused on right now and this one I’m not know, and to be honest with you, I’m not sure that the additional regulation is even.. because I feel like we already have regulations in place and that 1998 change—that was made for training to try to train operators better.

Dan: Yeah.

Jonathan: We’re still having a high prevalence of these issues, even though the forklift operators have been trained. So, I’m not sure that a lot more standards is going to solve the issue because it hasn’t in the past. It’s really a matter..I think it’s to the employers to preach it, to teach it, to reinforce it and say on these issues. And simply having a standard isn’t going to, necessarily, be the thing that’s the fix for everyone.

Dan: Has a company or a percentage of companies just flip-flopped and said “You know what? We’re going to go with ‘pedestrians yield’ versus ‘forklifts yield’” or vice versa?

Jonathan: Typically, companies will always have the right-of-way being the being the pedestrian’s. But the informal message that we that we teach and preach is that people also need to look out for themselves. And even though you may have the right-of-way, yield your right-of-way to the forklift because they’re bigger than you.

Dan: Yeah.

Jonathan: And that’s really the answer, is that “you yield your right-of-way to the forklift ‘cause they’re bigger than you.” And that’s the way we teach.

Dan: I think that’s a perfect way to say it (laughs). I mean, I can’t think of any better way because a vehicle on the roadway has an easier way to stop. because they’re designed to stop quickly, they’re not carrying a payload.

Jonathan: Right.

Dan: So we can’t equate the roadway with a warehouse. I mean, they’re completely different atmospheres and different purposes of the vehicles.

Jonathan: Right.

Dan: So, good. I love this other a comment that you had. You write that you’d be very careful in a warehouse when quote “especially on unprotected walkways and ones with scuffed railings.” (laughs)

Jonathan: Right.

Dan: Scuffed railings? Is than an indicator that there’s a lot of forklift traffic with drivers that bump into the railings?

Jonathan: Yeah. We certainly don’t put railings up with scuffs on them from the beginning.

Dan: (laughs)

Jonathan: And, if you see that, if you see a scuffed railing, you know that there’s been a near miss, or possibly, I guess you could say, it was a hit. But..

Dan: Mm-hm.

Jonathan: When I’m in a unprotected walkway, which is just marked on the floor, my head’s totally on a swivel. ‘Cause I know I’ve seen the scrapes on the protected walkways. I’ve got to really be careful and ready to stop or move because I’m to be more agile than that lift we’ve talked about. So, I’m going to always be looking out when I’m in a unprotected walkway.

When I’m in a protected walkway I also watch out. And, I don’t know. I mean, the forklift may glance off of the guard rail but who knows about the load. It may be thrown over the guardrail. But, I definitely pay attention to those scuffs, and they’re there for a reason.

Dan: Absolutely. Well, I think we’ve covered this topic. Any final thoughts on forklifts versus pedestrians?

Jonathan: Mutual responsibility has been the central theme of the conversation. You know, you can have the right-of-way as a pedestrian but because forklifts are bigger you should yield that right-of-way to them. Regardless of what your company’s formal policy may be, we need to teach people on foot that they have to take care of themselves. We have to teach people on the lifts all the ways to take care people on foot.

It’s is never going to be “one group is the problem or the solution.” It takes both parties, the people on foot and the forklift operators. Until you have them both working together, we’ll continue to see these serious incidents happening and that’s not what we want.

Dan: No, no we don’t. That’s something we can certainly agree on. Jonathan we’re almost out of time.

Jonathan: Okay.

Dan: I want to mention, one more time, your blog.

Jonathan: Okay.

Dan: And, if you would, one more time, tell us just a little bit more about what you do at UL.

Jonathan: Probably in the last 10 years or so, UL has been going out and doing some acquisitions. I previously worked for a company called Pure Safety, who was acquired by UL. Now we are part of UL. How we help UL is not just to verify the safety of products but also to make sure the people in these working environments are also safe. You can have a perfectly safe work environment and not safe people and have lots of injuries. So, that’s what Workplace Health And Safety does to complement UL.

Dan: Ah, okay. Well, I think, probably, a lot of people know they’ve been having trouble with fake UL certification stickers. I hope that’s all solved and know it’s been a bit of a hassle for UL.

Jonathan: Yeah. It sure has and that’s a major area of emphasis in UL these days anti-counterfeiting, both on our brand and stamp and label but it’s also something that we offer to others as well that are interested in anti-counterfeiting.

Dan: Well, thank you Jonathan. It’s been very enlightening on this and I had no idea there was a debate with some companies about forklifts versus pedestrians. Thank you very much.

Jonathan: You’re very welcome. Thank you.

Dan: Our guest has been Jonathan Jacobi, a Senior Environment, Health and Safety Advisor with UL—Underwriters Laboratories—from his office in Franklin, Tennessee. I’m Dan Clark.

(outro music with voice over)

Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to


Jonathan Jacobi photo by UL Workplace Health And Safety / UL LLC © 2014. All Rights Reserved; top forklift image by US Navy / Brannon Deugan; image of UL label 2003 courtesy of Wikipedia

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