OSHA estimates that nearly 856,000 forklifts are in operation in the United States today, and of those, more than 11% or 96,785 will be involved in an accident each year.
With all the benefits forklifts bring to the workplace, there are also several hazards associated with their use.
In fact, forklift-related citations are routinely among OSHA’s top violations every year. Between October 2015 and September 2016, 1,619 federal inspections led to 2,349 forklift-related citations and more than $4.2 million in fines. Most of these citations occurred in the manufacturing, transportation and warehouse, and wholesale industries.
While forklifts play an important role in an operation’s efficiency, if not used correctly, they can cause serious injury or death.
Below are the top forklift accidents, ranked by the number of reported forklift fatalities, as well as important information that will help your crews stay safe while operating a forklift.
The Top 5 Forklift Accidents
Forklift accident statistics are sobering. More than 61,000 non-serious forklift accidents are reported every year, but nearly 35,000 accidents result in serious injuries. Each year, an average of 85 are fatal.
When fatalities do occur, the top reasons are outlined below, according to OSHA statistics:
- Crushed by vehicle tipping over - 42% of all fatal accidents
Forklifts easily can tip over if loads are imbalanced, or the driver is excessively speeding. When a forklift begins to tip, many people are tempted to jump out of the forklift. This can cause a person to become trapped under the tipped vehicle. Instead, drivers should always wear a seat belt if provided, and never have additional people ride on what is not a proper seat.
- Crushed between vehicle and a surface - 25% of all fatal accidents
The rear wheels of a forklift turn the vehicle, which cause the rear to swing outward. If a pedestrian is unaware the forklift is about to turn, and the driver is unaware of the presence of a pedestrian, that person could get trapped between the vehicle and a wall. Sufficient warnings and markings are important in the workplace as well to warn employees and visitors of forklift zones.
- Crushed between two vehicles - 11% of all fatal accidents
Forklifts can weigh up to 9,000 pounds and can travel up to 18 mph. Forklifts typically only have front brakes, which means it can be more difficult for them to stop. If drivers aren’t careful, collisions can occur, fatally injuring the drivers or any pedestrians that get caught in between the two vehicles.
- Struck or run over by a forklift - 10% of all fatal accidents
Though this type of accident doesn’t occur as often, there have been reported cases of fatalities when workers have been struck or run over by a forklift. If a load is carried too high, it can impede the vision of the driver. Accidents also can occur when speeding or simply if a driver doesn’t see another worker when turning or putting the vehicle in reverse.
- Struck by a falling material - 8% of all fatal forklift accidents
Unsecured loads may fall, crushing the driver or other pedestrians. This can occur when the forklift is carrying the load too high. Operators should carry the loads as low as possible without dragging them.
Why They Happen
There are several factors that play into why a forklift accident occurs. Though every incident is different, common causes include:
- Poor training
- Carrying elevated loads
- Improper turns
- Insufficient warnings and markings
- Poor workspace design
Accidents also have occurred when forklift operators have been too young to legally operate this type of machinery. Regulations outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibit those younger than 18 from engaging in certain hazardous occupational activities. This includes operating forklifts in non-agricultural employment.
How To Stay Safe
When using a forklift, workers should do the following to protect not only their coworkers, but themselves as well:
- Ensure the load is balanced and secure to prevent a tip-over.
- Before lifting, make sure both forks are under the load as far as they will extend.
- Drive with the load as low as possible to prevent vision from being obstructed.
- Always look in the direction you are driving. If a load blocks the view, travel in reverse.
- Stay in marked areas where forklifts are permitted.
- Ensure your workspace has marked signage or other warnings that let pedestrians know forklifts are present.
- Follow posted speed limits.
- Use the horn at intersections or where pedestrians may be present.
- Perform a daily inspection of all forklifts before use, including the forklift battery.
Download a FREE Daily Forklift Operator Checklist to use in your operations.
It’s also important to not exceed the load capacity for the particular forklift you are using. This information should be visible to the operator, who should be aware that load capacities vary per vehicle. Most commonly-used forklifts carry anywhere between one and five tons.
Why Training Matters
OSHA estimates that nearly 70% of all accidents can be prevented with the proper training. After all, no one begins a job with the innate knowledge and skills necessary to operate a forklift.
Before employees drive forklifts, they must be trained to fulfill OSHA requirements. Under standard 29 CFR 1910.178, OSHA requires the following:
- Employers must provide a training program that includes the general principles of safe operation, forklift hazards, OSHA’s general safety requirements and types of vehicles used.
- Trained forklift operators must know how to perform their job safely, and must undergo a workplace evaluation.
- The training employers must provide should include both formal and practical training. A combination of training may include lecture, demonstrations, practical exercise and video, for example.
- Employers must certify that operators have received the necessary training, and must evaluate each operator once every three years.
- Employers must deem the employee competent to operate a forklift before that person can operate one.
Following the above safety tips and properly training workers to use forklifts is critical to ensure workers’ safety. While a forklift can be an important piece of equipment that increases efficiency, ensuring operators receive required training and follow basic safety procedures is an essential step toward fostering a safe workplace.