With their ability to move heavy pallets and other materials, forklifts have become an indispensable tool in American business and industry – from factories to warehouses, to construction sites and supermarkets.
Unfortunately, they also play a role in thousands of serious on-the-job injuries and deaths. In the United States forklift-related accidents kill as many as 100 workers each year and seriously injure another 20,000.
The forklift itself, as well as the operator and the workplace environment, all play a part in injuries and fatal incidents. Many workers and employers are not aware of safety procedures or the proper use of forklifts, increasing the likelihood of injury or death. Poorly trained operators may not be aware that they should avoid turning on grades, ramps, or inclines. Untrained operators may not know to stay with the forklift if a tip over occurs.
The three most common forklift-related fatalities are: 1) forklift overturns; 2) other workers struck by moving forklifts; and 3) falls from forklifts. Among those, forklift overturns are the leading cause of fatalities, leading to one of every four deaths. About one in every five fatalities involves another worker being struck by a forklift, while one in every six fatalities occurs when a victim is crushed by a forklift.
Employers can reduce the risk of forklift accidents by providing a safe work environment, proper training for operators, and other safe work practices, including traffic management in areas where forklifts are used.
Employers are required to comply with OSHA regulations and properly maintain brakes, steering mechanisms, lift overload devices, and guard and safety devices. When work is performed from an elevated platform, a restraining means such as rails or chains must be in place, or a body belt must be worn by the person on the platform. When those safety regulations are overlooked or ignored, the outcome can be deadly for employees who operate or work near forklifts.