Forklifts are an integral part of many large-scale operations and make life easier for manufacturers and workers worldwide. Unfortunately, if not appropriately used, forklifts can be dangerous for operators and bystanders.
Forklift statistics detailing severe injuries and deaths are sobering. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that about 35,000 serious forklift injuries and 62,000 non-serious injuries occur each year.
In this post, we discuss forklift accident statistics, common types of forklift accidents, dangers associated with misusing forklifts, and forklift safety tips.
Table of Contents
- Forklift Accident Statistics
- Common Types of Forklift Accidents
- The Dangers of Forklifts
- Forklift Safety Tips
Forklift Accident Statistics
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that about 1.5 million workers operate over 855,900 powered industrial trucks, a vehicle class that includes forklifts. They say that forklifts account for about 25% of construction accidents, and that about 35,000 serious injuries and 62,000 non-serious injuries occur each year.
Forklift fatalities aren’t as common as nonfatal forklift injuries, but they do occur. Here are forklift fatality statistics from the National Safety Council. (Note: This data may not add up to the total because of nonclassifiable responses and rounding.)
- In 2020, forklift transportation incidents caused 44 deaths.
- Non-roadway forklift incidents involving motorized land vehicles were responsible for 22 deaths.
- Non-roadway non-collision forklift incidents were responsible for 15 deaths.
- Jack-knifing or overturning nonroadway forklift accidents caused 10 deaths.
The National Safety Council also segments nonfatal forklift injuries by industry. Based on data from 2020, service providing industries; trade, transportation, and utilities; and goods producing industries suffer the most nonfatal forklift injuries.
- Service providing industries: 4,540 nonfatal injuries
- Trade, transportation, and utilities: 4,120 nonfatal injuries
- Goods producing industries: 2,750 nonfatal injuries
- Manufacturing: 1,860 injuries
- Transportation and warehousing: 1,680 nonfatal injuries
- Wholesale trade: 1,360 nonfatal injuries
- Retail trade: 1,060 nonfatal injuries
- Construction: 490 nonfatal injuries
- Natural resources and mining: 410 nonfatal injuries
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting: 230 nonfatal injuries
- Professional and business services: 220 nonfatal injuries
- Mining: 180 nonfatal injuries
- Administrative, support, and waste management, and remediation services: 160 nonfatal injuries
- Other services: 90 nonfatal injuries, 5 fatal injuries
- Other services, except public administration: 90 nonfatal injuries
- Financial activities: 80 nonfatal injuries
- Real estate, rental, and leasing: 80 nonfatal injuries
- Management of companies and enterprises: 60 nonfatal injuries
- Healthcare and social assistance: 20 nonfatal injuries
- Education and health services: 20 nonfatal injuries
Common Types of Forklift Accidents
Common types of forklift accidents include being struck by a forklift, injuries from a forklift rolling over, falling from the forklift, being struck by falling loads, improper use due to lack of training, crashes from blocked vision, and mechanical failures.
Precautions like seat belts, proper forklift operator training and retraining, and maintaining specific forklift safety guidelines in the workplace can reduce accidents by up to 70%.
The first step to preventing common forklift accidents is understanding the risks and dangers of operating a large forklift.
1. Being Struck by Forklift
Sometimes, a forklift operator accidentally hits a pedestrian or co-worker. One of the most common causes of forklift accidents, this usually happens when an operator gets distracted and isn’t paying attention, but it can also be caused by unsafe working conditions that don’t allow the driver enough room or time to react. A lack of warning signs may be the issue here.
Luckily, accidents such as these can be prevented with some workplace modifications. Adding floor tape and barriers to designate forklift work zones can make fellow workers and pedestrians aware that a forklift may be coming through. Further, allowing workers to rest and take breaks throughout the day will keep their minds and attention sharp.
- The operator not paying attention
- A lack of warning signs
- Operators should take breaks during the workday
- Put down floor tape for pedestrians and workers to see that work is being done in that area
- Add barriers around the forklift work area so people don’t enter
2. Injury From Forklift Tip-Over or Rollover
Forklifts are big, heavy machines that aren’t designed to make quick turns. If an operator tries to turn too quickly or the load exceeds capacity, the forklift may tip over, which can be dangerous and even deadly. Properly using a forklift is vital in preventing forklift rollovers.
Heavy machinery operators should have an even load, avoid turning too fast, and be wary of uneven surfaces. Maintaining a safe speed limit, keeping loads low, and slowing down as you approach corners are the best ways to prevent this type of accident and keep a forklift firmly on the ground.
- Fast turns
- Unbalanced loads
- Incline turn
- Uneven surfaces
- Maintain the appropriate speed limit
- Slow down near and around corners
- Don’t exceed the forklift’s weight capacity
- Keep the load low to the ground
3. Falling from Forks or Platform
Personal falls from a forklift are one of the most common accidents, but they’re entirely preventable. Operators should always take their time, use the provided guardrails, and employ the proper safety measures to avoid falls.
Do not use a forklift as a manlift. If you need to elevate a worker, use the proper machinery like a scissor lift or order picker.
- Failing to use the machine for its intended purpose
- Trying to be quick instead of safe
- Take your time
- Use the appropriate tools and equipment
- Use guardrails to prevent from falling
4. Loads Falling from Forklift
Uneven or unbalanced loads can shift quickly and fall as the forklift moves, causing the kind of accident that has led to many forklift fatalities.
Moving too fast with a load can also cause the load to tip and fall. Always make sure loads are centered on the forks and avoid excessive speed when moving a pallet with a heavy load. Tilt the mast back to further stabilize the load.
- Loads not loaded properly
- Moving or lifting too quickly
- Bent lift forks
- Avoid carrying damaged loads
- Center each load
- Don’t move too fast when loading or lifting
5. Lack of Training
Before operating a heavy piece of machinery, it is essential to have the proper forklift training. A forklift driver should know the basics of safe forklift operation and be familiar with the parts of a forklift that can cause injury.
Accidents caused by the lack of a comprehensive training program can easily be prevented with more and better training. OSHA requires a certification to operate the machine.
- Attempts to save money by reducing training
- Attempts to save time
- An attitude that training is irrelevant or unnecessary
- Take an approved certification course
- Read the manual before operating a new machine
6. Blocked Sight
Part of operating a forklift correctly is seeing where you are driving, and avoiding common forklift safety hazards. Many accidents are caused by obstacles that obscure a driver’s line of sight and make it difficult to see the path or intersections ahead. Accidents occur when operators don’t slow down around blind spots or when they drive with an elevated load with lifted forks.
Operators can avoid accidents such as these by working with a spotter to help them get around blind spots. In addition, driving slowly and with the load lowered will improve sightlines and reduce forklift injuries.
- Driving with tall loads or elevated forks
- Not driving safely around blind spots
- Ensure loads don’t block your vision
- Turn slowly and know what your clearance is
- Have a spotter
7. Mechanical Failures
Even when you’re careful and follow safety procedures, some accidents can still happen. That’s because the operator is just one part of the equation: The forklift itself has to be in good shape and properly maintained.
Mechanical failures and breakdowns are a leading cause of forklift accidents and personal injury. Accidents can be caused by things like leaking valves and hoses, worn outbreaks, or damaged tires.
The good news is that nearly all accidents caused by mechanical failures are preventable with regular shift inspections and routine forklift maintenance.
- Lack of inspections
- Worn-out brakes
- Damaged tires
- Conduct pre-shift inspections.
- Service equipment regularly.
- Don’t operate on faulty equipment.
The Dangers of Forklifts
Knowing the potential forklift pitfalls and practicing safe operating procedures can help operators avoid accidents and injuries.
So consider these factors when operating a forklift:
- Fast speeds can result in injury. Although forklifts are big and bulky, they’re also capable of going pretty fast. A forklift can go up to 18 miles an hour, creating a great deal of kinetic energy.
- Breaking is difficult. Between their heavy weight and high speeds, forklifts can be tough to stop quickly. They often have soft brakes that make it difficult to stop swiftly.
- Uneven weight distribution makes operating difficult. While forklifts are very strong, their weight is unevenly distributed, making them difficult to operate. Making tight turns and maneuvering through narrow aisles is difficult for a forklift. They’re big and bulky machines, three times as heavy as many cars at more than 9,000 pounds. When a forklift rolls or tips over, a great deal of weight is being displaced.
- Easy tip-over design. Forklifts are likely to tip over because of their design, which places much of their weight in the rear. This heavy piece of machinery turns on the rear wheels, so you have to be cautious with speed and when driving on different grades.
- Line of sight may be blocked. Forklifts can be challenging to drive due to limited sightlines. The load is carried in the front, making it difficult for the driver to see.
- The loading process can cause injuries. Forklifts are designed to carry heavy loads, making the loading process very dangerous. Many accidents happen on loading docks and involve material handling.
Forklift Safety Tips
As mentioned earlier, studies show that accident prevention, through operator training, clear safety guidelines, and precautionary measures can reduce workplace accidents by up to 70%.
Here are some basic forklift safety tips to follow to keep you safe around forklifts:
- Review and follow the manual: Make sure the way you operate the forklift is appropriate for that specific vehicle. Don’t exceed the weight capacity for the forklift. Consult your operating manual to confirm the weight limits for your particular make and model.
- Operate if you have the proper training, licenses, and certifications. Only operate a forklift if you have the proper training and licenses. Only rent a forklift you are familiar with and comfortable operating.
- Wear proper clothing. In addition to PPE, like puncture-proof shoes and safety glasses, forklift operators should also wear brightly colored clothing to make them more visible to other workers, especially while the vehicle is in motion.
- Understand the forklift classes. Similar to consulting your vehicle’s operating manual, understanding forklift classes and what class your truck falls into helps ensure you operate it properly, loading it with the appropriate weight and using suitable attachments.
- Conduct daily equipment checks and report damaged or broken parts. Prevent accidents related to poor mechanics and disrepair by not operating damaged vehicles on the floor. Report any damage or problems to a manager during your shift.
- Maintain full visibility while operating. Make sure that your field of vision is clear and unobstructed, so you can see what’s in front of you and around you while driving the truck.
- Create a floor marking system. By designating paths for both forklift operators to drive and pedestrians to walk, a floor marking system helps reduce the potential for truck accidents.
- Place loads with stability in mind. Though forklifts are built for material handling, they still need to be loaded carefully. Depending on the type of forklift, fork, or attachment you’re dealing with, make sure to load pallets and other materials in a way that keeps the vehicle balanced and stable. Once the load is on the forklift, operate it with that in mind — for example, don’t turn the truck while holding an elevated load.
- Operate the forklift with safety in mind. Use great caution on grades or ramps. Inclined paths can cause a forklift to tip or shift the load. Ensure you operate the forklift at a safe speed. Observe all posted speed limit signs to avoid an accident.
Forklift trucks are incredibly useful machines, but, as with any construction equipment, they have to be used carefully. Neglecting to follow forklift safety guidelines can hurt both forklift operators and the workers around them. Make sure that anyone who operates a forklift on your jobsite has the right training and certification.
Ready to rent a forklift? With over 60 different vehicles to choose from, BigRentz has all your material handling needs covered.