Often referred to as the “workhorses” of both the warehousing and construction industries, the forklift is a powerful industrial truck used to lift, carry, and unload heavy goods over short distances. For the efficient management of a warehouse and good flow of production activities, you can count on a forklift to deliver quick results.
At the same time, operating a forklift involves a certain amount of risk. Weighing up to 9,000 pounds, these trucks are three times heavier than a car. They can reach speeds upwards of 18 miles per hour and only have brakes in the front, making them harder to stop. Rear-wheel drive increases the chance of tip overs, especially when uneven weight distribution of load is added to the equation. As fun as forklifts may look to drive, these vehicles have the potential to be dangerous hazards.
How Many Forklift Accidents Occur Each Year?
Knowing how many forklift accidents happen every year can be eye-opening for anyone working in the material handling and supply chain industry. But with each shocking statistic, there is an opportunity to learn and do better. Below are three forklift truck accident statistics out of the United States, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):
- 1 in 6 workplace deaths involve a forklift
- Forklift accidents account for around 85 deaths per year
- 34,900 serious forklift injuries result from accidents annually
What Are the Most Common Types of Forklift Accidents?
Nearly all incidents involving forklifts can be broken down into one of the following four scenarios. With each example, we explore several solutions and give you tips on how to prevent forklift accidents altogether.
1) A forklift rolls or overturns.
Overturns are the leading cause of forklift fatalities; they represent about 25% of all forklift-related deaths. Under which conditions can forklifts overturn? Below are the three most common reasons:
- Improper turning
- Driving with an elevated load
- Excessive speed
How to Prevent:
To avoid dangerous overturns, it is important to load carefully, stay within the truck’s load capacity, and avoid driving with a raised load. OSHA regulations encourage drivers to carry loads as near to the ground as possible, approximately 4 inches from the floor. It is best practice to lower forks when the forklift truck is parked. When maneuvering a load into a rack, this should be done at a very low speed. Lastly, the overall environment and floor surface condition must be taken into consideration when operating a forklift truck. Is there oil, ice, or water on the floor? Are there slopes that need to be driven over? Are there many sharp corners to get around obstacles in the aisles? If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, you need to slow down. Forklift drivers, because of the repetitive nature of their work, tend to get too comfortable and drive irresponsibly. Travelling too fast shortens reaction time, causing accidents.
2) Workers are hit, struck, crushed, or pinned by a forklift.
Being crushed by a forklift accounts for 42% of forklift deaths each year. Since most people are concerned about being run over by a forklift from the front, they tend to stand beside the forklift, where they believe they are safest. However, statistics show that the greatest danger is being crushed by a forklift that tips over sideways.
How to Prevent:
The safest place for a pedestrian is on a designated walkway where forklifts are not permitted. Signs should be prominently displayed for easy visual recognition. In addition, forklift operators should always make sure they are looking in the direction in which they are driving, always maintaining an appropriate speed.
3) A warehouse worker falls from a forklift.
At first glance, you may ask yourself: “How could someone possibly fall from a forklift?” The concept seems impossible, yet this type of accident accounts for one of the most common forklift truck accidents every year. As warehouses are trying to find ways to stack their inventory higher and higher, many warehouse employees often find themselves trying to reach items at those higher levels. Many decide to climb onto a forklift truck; however, forklifts are not able to support uneven distribution of weight. This causes the forklift to wobble or even tip over, causing the person to slip and fall, resulting in serious injury or death.
How to Prevent:
Firstly, forklift operators should be wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as hard hats and suitable footwear to mitigate the risk of slipping. And instead of using a forklift to reach something, a man lift would be a much safer alternative because it is designed to safely carry people (and not pallet loads) to greater heights in a safe and efficient manner.
4) Forklifts repeatedly crashing into racking systems.
Forklifts striking people has already been mentioned above, but what about racking systems? Racking is not designed to resist impact and although some damages could be minor, accumulated damages over time can result in catastrophic consequences such as the complete collapse of a racking system. Five examples of forklift accident videos can be viewed on our blog: Key Lessons from 5 Chilling Rack Collapse Videos.
Picking up and setting down a pallet can sometimes be tricky if the operator’s view is obstructed, especially at higher levels. This low visibility, combined with the hasty way in which forklifts are operated, make them the main cause of rack damage in a warehouse. To learn more about the frequent ways forklift trucks damage racks, read this article.
How to Prevent:
Equipping forklifts with proper rear-view mirrors, mast-mounted cameras, and proximity sensors to prevent backing incidents can increase the operator’s visibility and therefore will increase productivity – all while minimizing the risk of an accident. Protecting the racking systems from forklift impact also comes into play. Using base guards and/or column guards to protect column base and anchors are essential in keeping the forklift operator and other warehouse employees safe. And if the damage is already done, there are rack repair solutions that offer permanent protection from all future forklift collisions. Warehouse managers should also ensure that aisles are free of clutter and well lit.
Who is Responsible if a Forklift Accident Occurs?
When a forklift warehouse accident occurs, liable parties vary depending on what is deemed to be the primary cause of the accident. If the forklift operator causes the accident, he or she is responsible for it. In some situations, the employer could be liable if they failed to properly train their forklift drivers or did not provide a safe environment in which the forklift operators could work.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act was created to give all workers a safe workplace environment and reduce the number of annual injuries and fatalities. According to the act, all employers must provide employees with a safe work environment and protect them from hazards. For a more comprehensive list of employer responsibilities, read this. If an accident occurred due to negligence on the part of the forklift manufacturer or vendor, they could potentially be held legally responsible as well. Since laws regarding forklift accidents will differ depending on country or state, it is wise for someone involved in a serious forklift accident to seek legal advice from a forklift accident lawyer.
OSHA Forklift Safety Rules and Regulations
Ensuring that all forklift operators have gone through a formal training (and subsequent “refresher” trainings) is key in accident prevention. OSHA requires both education and certification (requiring an in-person component) before you can hop on and operate a forklift.
If companies implemented stricter training policies, OSHA estimates that about 70% of forklift accidents in the U.S. could be prevented.
Before an operator starts a shift, OSHA recommends a daily inspection of the equipment.
Daily Forklift Safety and Operational Check List:
- Are the forks in good condition?
- Is the battery restraint system intact?
- Is the horn working?
- Are there any oil leaks?
- Is the tire pressure adequate?
- Is my truck equipped with the proper safety warnings?
- Is the load capacity plate properly attached?
- Is the seat belt functional?
- Are the front, tail, and brake lights working?
- Is the Operator’s Manual located on the truck?
Start with a Safe Warehouse Environment
Besides the daily inspection of the forklift’s condition, there is another factor which greatly impacts safe forklift operation: the workplace environment. Since forklifts are mostly used in warehouses for loading and unloading goods, the safety of the warehouse is the first place to start – even before the forklift enters the equation.
For example, all obstructions should be removed from doors and intersections and aisles need to be kept clutter-free. Racking systems and building columns should be protected at the fork-level with end of aisle protection guards and high-impact column shields. Traffic volume should also be kept to a minimum in work areas. And lastly, safety signage should be visible throughout the warehouse specifically indicating pedestrian walkways and areas where the floor may be wet or have a ramp.
How A Rack Safety Partner Can Help
Lastly, find a reliable and experienced rack safety partner who can guide you in finding the most suitable and efficient rack safety solutions to not only prevent or repair damage to your racking systems caused by forklifts, but to also help you improve the overall safety of your warehouse. A wise choice would be to find a company that is an active ProGMA member, an MHI group composed of the racking industry’s leading suppliers of fixed protective guarding products. Some rack safety solutions providers even offer on-site rack damage assessment services, performed by experienced rack safety experts. These professionals will share helpful advice on how to ensure your racking systems will stand up permanently to the repeated impacts from forklifts.
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