The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that each year forklifts cause 85 fatal accidents; 34,900 accidents resulting in serious injury; and 61,800 non-serious accidents. Furthermore, according to the Industrial Truck Association, there are approximately 855,900 forklifts at present in the United States, 11 percent of which will be involved in a fatal accident this year.

Unfortunately, most of the fatalities and injuries caused by forklifts can be attributed to the lack of safe operating procedures and safety rule enforcement, as well as inadequate and insufficient training. Here are some tips that can be undertaken to prevent those forklift injuries and fatalities.

What is a Forklift?

A forklift is an industrial vehicle with a power operated fork platform in the front. This fork platform is inserted under loads to shift and move them.

Forklifts are beneficial because they:

  • Move heavy materials quickly and easily

  • Reduce the need for the manual handling of materials

  • Reduce the risk of certain types of musculoskeletal disorders

  • Improve operational productivity

Common Forklift Hazards

The common forklift hazards found in any work environment are:

  • Overloading

  • Unsafe stacking

  • Speeding

  • Raised forks

  • Unauthorised operation of a forklift

  • Untrained forklift operators

  • Lifting persons on the fork

  • Pedestrians working and forklifts operating in the same vicinity

  • Obstructions in the pathway (blind corners)

  • Poor ground conditions (slippery floors)

  • Poor maintenance of forklifts (worn out tires)

The Top 3 Mistakes Made by Forklift Operators

While there are some really good forklift operators, there are also some not so good ones. Operating a forklift requires its driver to have a constant heightened state of awareness. Just one second of being distracted can have fatal consequences.

The three most common errors made by forklift operators according to national fataility data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are:

  • Not lowering the load or forks as soon as possible

  • Driving too fast

  • Not looking behind before backing up

The solution? Forklift operators should:

  • Try to keep the load low

  • Drive slowly

  • Always check behind before moving

Preventing Forklift Fatalities

In addition to the loss of lives and the sufferring that workers and their families have to endure as a result of forklift accidents, businesses are also affected. More accidents mean more sick leaves, which results in higher costs and increased disruptions to the production process. Furthermore, in the event of fatalities, employers will have to stand additional expenses relating to recruiting and training new staff, which can negatively impact the cost of early retirement and insurance pay-outs. Here are some safety tips that employers and employees should undertake in order to prevent forklift fatalities and accidents.

Safety tips for employers:

  • Train workers: Ensure that only workers who have been trained and licensed operate the forklifts. Additionally, develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive written safety training program

  • Inspect and maintain forklifts: Establish a vehicle inspection and maintenance program and encourage workers to inspect the forklifts before each use

  • Regulate pedestrian flow: Where possible, separate forklift traffic from other workers on foot. This can be done by limiting some aisles to workers on foot only or forklifts only. Further, the use of forklifts near washrooms, cafeterias and main exits should be restricted

  • Foster a safe work environment: Conduct workplace safety inspections routinely. These inspections should be carried out by a person who can identify hazards and conditions that are dangerous to workers, such as obstructions in the aisle and blind corners. Additionally, enforce safe driving practices such as obeying speed limits and blowing the horn at intersections

Safety tips for employees:

  • Do not operate the forklift if you have not been trained or licensed

  • Wear your seatbelt at all times when operating the forklift

  • Obey the speed limit and drive slowly

  • Drive with your load and tilted slightly back; raise and lower your load only when the forklift has come to a complete stop

  • Ensure that your load is always within capacity, secured and stable

  • Stop and sound the horn at intersections, around blind corners and in areas of pedestrian traffic

  • Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, especially when it is in motion

  • Wear the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) when operating the forklift

  • At the end of your shift, lower the forks, neutralize the controls, set the brakes and shut off the engine before leaving the forklift

  • Inspect your forklift before each use and report any damages or problems to your supervisor immediately