OSHA Quiz: Can Fork Truck Backup Alarms Be Disconnected?

Does OSHA allow disconnecting fork truck backup alarms?

Scenario:  You are the safety director of a manufacturing facility with several buildings.  One of the buildings is used as a warehouse which has several multi-tiered storage racks.  There are usually five fork trucks moving in and out of the storage racks and loading/unloading trailers.

During a recent audit of the warehouse, you notice that the fork truck backup alarms have been disabled.  The fork truck operators tell you that they disconnected the backup alarms because they were nothing more than a nuisance since someone is always backing up.  Consequently, an alarm is always sounding.  They also told you that they just ignore the backup alarms anyway.

You tell the operators that the backup alarms are safety devices and cannot be disabled, so they must be reconnected.  When you get back to your office and begin writing the audit report, you check the OSHA Powered Industrial Truck standard, 29 CFR 1910.178, to get the reference for a disabled backup alarm.  To your surprise, there is no requirement in the Powered Industrial Truck standard for fork trucks to have a backup alarm.  Additionally, there is no statement that prohibits disabling backup alarms.

Question:  Were you correct to require the backup alarms to be reconnected?

Answer:  Yes.  The backup alarms must be reconnected.  Although the OSHA Powered Industrial Truck standard does not specifically address backup alarms, OSHA addressed this topic in a November 26, 2012, letter of interpretation.  In this letter, OSHA states:

“While §1910.178 standard does not specifically require flashing lights or back-up beepers, employers have a duty under the OSH Act, 29 U.S.C. § 654 (a)(1), also known as the General Duty Clause, to furnish employment and a place of employment, free from recognized hazards that are causing or a likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees, where employees are exposed to hazards, including but not limited to, struck by, caught-in-between and crushing by the forklift. B56.1-2009 shows that industry recognizes this hazard and that equipping trucks with sound-producing and visual devices are feasible means to abate this hazard. An employer whose workplace presents this hazard and has not taken feasible steps to mitigate this hazard may be in violation of the General Duty Clause.”

Since fork trucks are a recognized hazard and backup alarms are a feasible means to abate this hazard, the backup alarms must be reconnected.