OSHA estimates that close to 1 million forklifts are used in workplaces across the U.S. Each year, nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 are seriously injured in forklift-related incidents. These accidents are caused by forklifts over-turning, workers struck by materials, workers struck by lifts, and falling from lifts.
To help prevent accidents in the workplace, OSHA has several training requirements for employees. A forklift driver must receive formal instruction (i.e. classroom, video, written materials). Employees must receive practical instruction such as demonstrations and practice exercises AND evaluation of the operator’s performance needs to be completed. It’s also important that the training be specific to the lift being operated and specific to the hazards of the workplace in which it will be operated.
The following provides some additional information on potential dangers in the workplace when operating forklifts:
Close to one out of every four fatalities occurs when a forklift tips over. Powered industrial trucks are not as stable as automobiles and can easily tip if they are overloaded or if the load is not well-balanced. In addition, the load becomes much less stable if the forks are not kept as close as possible to the ground. Other risk factors include operating on a grade or a ramp and making sharp turns.
Operators may not be sufficiently aware that they cannot stop a forklift on a dime and drive at unsafe speeds. It is important that they watch out for area workers who may be pedestrians or simply working at their assigned stations. At times, drivers may be operating in reverse or with restricted visibility because of the size of a load.
Forklifts are heavy. The average forklift weights several thousand pounds, similar to a medium-sized automobile. As a result, 16% of forklift fatalities occur when their victims are crushed by the vehicle. There are several precautions to follow:
Of fatal forklift accidents, 9% were the result of falls. A few important safety rules to follow to prevent falls:
Finally, mechanical conditions or design features often cause or are an important contributing factor in serious and fatal forklift accidents. Although the actual injury or fatality may have been caused by one of the first four dangers outlined above, the accident might never have occurred in the first place if adequate inspection and maintenance procedures had been followed.
The evidence is clear. Forklifts can and do perform vital work every day without accident or injury. The evidence is equally clear. There are far too many serious and fatal accidents involving forklifts each year. The decisions made in each workplace can make a big difference. Set up your forklift safety policy and see that it is followed.