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How to Safely Use Forklifts

Forklifts may look like small vehicles, but these workhorses of industry have a deceiving size—the average forklift weighs approximately 9,000 pounds! For comparison, a 2019 Ford Explorer weighs about 4,901 pounds if purchased with all options. Though a fraction of the size of the average vehicle, the weight of forklifts makes them a danger in every worksite where they operate.

Why Forklift Safety Is Important

The Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) has a set of rules and regulations designed to decrease the amount of worker death and injuries from forklifts. According to the organization, roughly 85 deaths are caused by forklifts each year. The vehicles also account for almost 35,000 workplace injuries each year.

One safety management company estimates that 11 percent of all forklifts will be involved in an accident. With over 855,900 forklifts in the nation, that means there will be approximately 95,000 preventable workplace accidents annually.

According to this company, the most common fatal forklift accidents include:

  • Crushed by a forklift that has tipped or rolled over
  • Crushed between the forklift and a surface
  • Crushed between two vehicles
  • Struck by or run over by a forklift
  • Struck by material falling from a forklift
  • Fall from a forklift’s platform or forks

Improved forklift safety means having a workplace that’s safe for everyone, whether they are operating one of these vehicles or working near them.

Leading Causes of Forklift Accidents

Forklift accidents are preventable, and to take a closer look at the safety measures that can prevent them, we should consider their leading causes.

A forklift accident may be caused by:

  • Distracted forklift operator
  • No forklift spotter to watch out for workers or obstacles
  • Inexperienced forklift driver
  • Taking turns too fast in a forklift
  • Unbalanced or unsecured forklift load
  • Overloaded forklift
  • Load lifted too high off the ground
  • Improperly maintained forklift
  • Bent forks
  • Forklift brake or tire defects 

Training and safety policies can be implemented to reduce these causes, protecting forklift drivers and all employees at a worksite.

How to Improve Forklift Safety

Take it slow

Turning around corners at a low speed is always a best practice when operating a forklift. Because of their design, forklifts can be agile despite their weight. These large yet nimble machines are often able to quickly accelerate and make sharp turns. In a work environment, these qualities make forklifts a constant hazard.

These machines are designed to turn while carrying a heavy load. However, they’re meant to perform this task slowly. If a driver takes a corner too quickly—even in an unloaded forklift—the vehicle may tip over.

Only operate a forklift after training

Forklifts are easy to learn how to operate. However, using them safely requires proper training and extensive practice. Inexperienced drivers often create problems and find themselves facing problems they can’t solve.

Companies must ensure that every forklift operator finishes adequate training and certification to use a forklift in the workplace. Trained forklift drivers will understand their machine’s limits and will know common dangers to search for while operating their machine.

Cautiously maneuver a loaded forklift

Many forklift models can lift heavy loads while moving. Unfortunately, many drivers will lift an item from a high location and continue to transport it at elevation. However, OSHA regulates that items are transported approximately 4 inches off the ground. Doing so places heavy objects in a position that makes tip-overs and falls less likely.

Optimize your workplace’s layout for safe forklift operation

A well-designed workplace has a significant influence on forklift safety. Making sure that all aisles are clear will give a forklift have the space needed to operate safely. Additionally, zones in which forklifts operate must be marked to warn employees and visitors. While signs are popular, many employers use tape or paint to mark where forklifts operate in their workplace. Signs are easy to miss, but tape and paint are constant visible reminders of where it’s safe for workers to walk.

Don't accept passengers

Do not use a forklift to transport another person, even for short distances. If a load is too heavy for a forklift, do not continue to try and lift it by using coworkers as a counterbalance. Doing so places your coworker at risk of falling from the forks or being crushed by your forklift.

Avoid Serious Forklift Injuries

Because they are so heavy and powerful, forklifts can cause life-changing injuries. Forklift operators and workers nearby can be struck or crushed by a forklift. When forklift safety is ignored or workers are not properly trained, disaster can result. 

The following are examples of forklift injuries:

  • Workers experiencing broken bones and crush injuries by being struck by a forklift
  • Forklift operator back injuries caused by the vehicle's constant vibration
  • Forklift operator and other workers being crushed by forklift rollovers
  • Personnel falling from lifts or forks, causing head trauma, spine injuries, and broken bones
  • Workers being struck or crushed by objects falling from a forklift

These injuries can result in time away from work, expensive medical bills, and a diminished ability to work in the same field or even to earn a living at all. Some are fatal. When this happens, workers and their families deserve to know why forklift safety was not put first. They deserve answers and fair compensation that will help them put the pieces of their lives back in place. 

Hold Your Employer Accountable for Forklift Safety

Forklift safety is not optional. It only takes a few simple steps to make sure forklift operators and nearby workers are kept safe from undue harm, and the responsibility for that lies with employers, supervisors, and managers. If you work around forklifts, it’s important to make sure your employer has provided training to those who operate them. Companies that allow untrained forklift drivers to work in their facilities place every person in them at risk. Reminding employers of their duty to train workers might be enough to save lives and prevent injuries. Forklift manufacturers can also be held responsible for designing dangerous vehicles or for defects in production that lead to serious accidents and injuries. By investigating what happened, our team can determine who should be held responsible. 

If you’ve been injured in a forklift accident, call the work injury attorneys at Arnold & Itkin today. We’ve won billions for clients and are ready to fight for your compensation. Consultation is free!


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