Common Forklift Accidents

According to OSHA, 70 percent of workplace accidents can be avoided with proper training and safety procedures. NIOSH states that the three most common types of injuries occur when: A forklift overturns; workers are struck, crushed, or pinned by a forklift; and workers fall from a forklift. With proper education and guidance from employers, the following accidents could have been prevented.

  • Forklift Overturn: The president of a sign company was killed while using a forklift to unload steel tubing from a flatbed trailer. He turned the forklift behind the trailer, and the forklift began to tip over • so he jumped from the operator's seat to the driveway. When the forklift overturned, his head and neck were pinned to the concrete driveway under the overhead guard.
  • Worker Struck by Forklift: A punch press operator was killed while performing her usual duties. A forklift was traveling in reverse at high speed toward her work station. A witness observed the forklift strike a metal scrap bin, propelling it toward the punch press station. The bin hit the press and rebounded toward the forklift. There it was hit once again and shoved back against the corner of the press, striking and crushing the punch press operator.
  • Falls from a Forklift: A technician was killed after he fell from and was run over by a forklift. While the operator was driving the forklift, the technician was riding on the forks. As the operator approached an intersection, he slowed down and turned his head to check for oncoming traffic. When he looked to the front again, he could not see the technician. He stopped the forklift, dismounted, and found the technician under the right side of the machine.

A unique vehicle

Compare a forklift to a car, and you'll recognize that forklifts are unique vehicles that present special challenges. While the average automobile weighs about 3,000 pounds, the average forklift weighs about 9,000 pounds. Also, forklifts are heavier in the rear to counter the weight of items being carried on the forks. And while cars have brakes on all four wheels, most forklifts only have stopping power in their front drive wheels. The rear counterweight and the front-wheel drive combined make the forklifts harder to stop, so they should be driven slowly.

Since a forklift is turned by moving the rear wheels, it has a much smaller turning radius than a car. When cornering, the rear end swings outward. A forklift is also easier to tip over on a turn. The driver needs to be very careful when turning, stopping, or accelerating, since the vehicle could tip over, or the load could fall off.

Forklifts are often used to carry tall loads in the front, which is why they are designed to drive equally well backward and forward. When forward vision is obscured, the vehicle must be driven backward with the driver looking in the direction of travel. Operators should drive with the load as low as conditions will permit without dragging. Forklifts can raise loads to great heights • a necessity in facilities with high storage racks. The processes of raising, lowering, and transporting loads all offer opportunities for accidents to occur when safety measures are not observed.

While only the first of many important points in forklift safety training, when that training is insufficient or neglected, the forklift's unique qualities can become dangerous. It only makes sense to make sure all forklift operators receive required safety training. When every forklift operator at your company has passed a training and certification program that observes OSHA regulations, you've taken a major step toward fostering a safer workplace.
 

About the Author: 

Benjamin W. Mangan

Benjamin W. Mangan is president and founder of MANCOMM and American Safety Training, Inc., Davenport, Iowa, two businesses committed to helping employers protect their workers by providing state-of-the-art safety compliance products and training. For more information, visit www.mancomm.com.