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 the operator and surrounding workers.
Forklift statistics detailing severe injuries and deaths are sobering. Approximately, 888,220 forklift accidents were reported between 2011 and 2019. Most recently, forklift accidents caused 79 deaths and 8,140 nonfatal injuries in 2019.
The most common forklift accidents could have been avoided. Many involved hitting a fellow worker, blocked sight, or lack of proper training on the part of the forklift operator.
Other accidents, including forklift rollovers, falling loads, and falls from the forklift, can be prevented with safe work environment operations. Just as frustrating, some common causes of forklift accidents involve mechanical failures due to poor maintenance.
Forklifts are great tools for moving heavy loads and objects, but forklift safety is paramount. If you practice safe operating procedures, a forklift can make light work of any job.
Understanding the kinds of forklift accidents that can occur and learning how to prevent them is the best way to stay safe while operating one of these machines.
Forklift Accident Data
The data reveals the extent of the problem surrounding forklift accidents, which result in dozens of fatalities and hundreds of fractures, bruises, sprains, and muscle tears each year. They also hurt employers’ bottom line, causing more than 7 percent of workers to miss work in 2018 alone.
Understanding the proper way to operate a forklift can eliminate significant numbers of injuries and deaths every year.
To illustrate these facts further, here are seven forklift data points reported from leading safety organizations like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), that illustrate the importance of ongoing forklift safety.
- Forklift accidents are becoming a bigger problem. In 2011, there were 6,130 nonfatal injuries and 66 deaths related to forklifts. Eight years later, in 2019, more than 8,000 forklift injuries and 79 forklift-related deaths were reported.
- In 2019, males were more likely to be injured by a forklift. Males accounted for 86.6% of total workplace injuries, compared with 13.4% for females.
- Between 2013 and 2017, the nation saw an average of 7,118 nonfatal injuries and 66 deaths a year related to forklift accidents.
- The deadliest year on record for forklift-related injuries was 2018, which saw 85 forklift fatalities.
- According to a 2012 study, forklift operators are more likely to experience long-term injury related to driving a forklift, presenting an ongoing occupational safety concern. Nearly 45% of forklift operators experienced non-accident-related neck pain, compared with just 7% of office workers that reported lingering neck pain.
- Forklift operators are exposed to a high degree of vibration from operating a forklift that impacts all body parts. A staggering 62% of forklift workers report non-accident-related back pain.
- Many forklift accidents are preventable. Estimates project that nearly 70% of all forklift accidents could have been prevented with proper training.
Types of Forklift Accidents
The first step to preventing common forklift accidents is understanding the risks and dangers of operating a large forklift. You can keep yourself and your team safe by taking the proper preventive actions.
While forklift accidents can be devastating, causing serious injury or even death, they can be prevented with the right safety measures and protocols.
Hitting/running over a worker/pedestrian
Sometimes, a forklift operator accidentally hits a pedestrian or co-worker. This is one of the most common forklift accidents. It 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 quick 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
- Give operators more breaks during the workday
- Put down floor tape for pedestrians and workers to see that work is being done in that area
- Add barriers, so people are not injured
Forklifts are big, heavy machines that aren’t designed to make quick turns. If an operator tries to turn too quickly, the forklift may tip over, which can be dangerous and even deadly. It’s also important to keep loads low, to maintain a low center of gravity. 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 operators 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 corners
- Don’t exceed the forklift’s weight capacity
- Keep the load low to the ground
Personal falls from a forklift
If used correctly, a forklift can make light work of your big job. Sometimes, however, employers will rush forklift operators or imply that safety is not the primary concern.
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.
- Not making safety a priority
- Trying to be quick instead of safe
- Take your time
- Use the appropriate tools/equipment
- Use guardrails to prevent from falling
Falling loads from a forklift
Forklifts can move heavy weights to great heights. But if not done properly, lifting can lead to catastrophe. 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. Keeping loads from falling can dramatically reduce the number of injuries and deaths each year. Always make sure loads are centered on the forks and avoid excessive speed when moving a pallet with a heavy load.
- Loads aren’t loaded on the forklift properly
- Moving or lifting might have happened too quickly
- The lift’s forks might be bent
- Avoid carrying damaged loads
- Center each load
- Don’t move too fast when loading or lifting
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.
This is why training is important. Companies should never cut corners on training to save money or allow an uncertified operator to use a forklift for the sake of time.
Accidents caused by the lack of a comprehensive training program can easily be prevented with more and better training. Not only can training save money for companies in the long run, but it can also save lives.
- Attempts to money by reducing training
- Attempts to save time
- An attitude that training is irrelevant or unnecessary
- Better training
- More extensive training
- Targeted training that focuses on safety
Working conditions for forklift operators can be challenging, especially on an active construction site. 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 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
- Travel where you can see
- Have a spotter
- Keep forks and load low to the ground
- Turn slowly and know what your clearance is
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
What Makes Forklifts Dangerous?
There are many types of forklifts, varying in capacity and weight. Understanding that forklifts are large and powerful machines is the first step to taking precautionary safety measures.
Aside from being heavy and powerful, other features, such as high speeds and soft brakes, make forklifts even more dangerous. Knowing the potential forklift pitfalls and practicing safe operating procedures can help operators avoid accidents and injuries.
- Forklifts are considered heavy machinery: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, making it likely to tip.
- Even though forklifts are large, they can be challenging to drive due to limited sightlines. The load is carried in the front, making it difficult for the driver to see.
- Forklifts are designed to carry heavy loads, making the loading process very dangerous. Many accidents happen on loading docks and involve material handling.
Safety Protocols for Forklift Use
When used correctly, forklifts are phenomenal tools. With the proper training and safety protocols, it is possible to operate a forklift correctly and safely, eliminating preventable injuries and fatalities from the workplace.
Before renting a forklift, take the time to undergo the proper training and preparation to ensure you’re comfortable and familiar with the machine.
- Only operate a forklift if you have the proper training and licenses. Only rent a forklift you are familiar with and comfortable operating.
- Use proper seat belts when operating a forklift. As with a car, using a seat belt in a forklift can prevent severe injury or death in the event of an accident.
- Prevent accidents related to poor mechanics and disrepair. Report damage/problems to the forklift during your shift.
- Always remain seated when operating a forklift, even if it starts to tip. Do not jump from a sit-down forklift if it turns over. To reduce the risk of injury, stay in the truck and lean firmly in the opposite direction of the fall.
- Use great caution on grades or ramps. Inclined paths can cause a forklift to tip or shift the load.
- Don’t raise or lower the forks when the forklift is in motion. Lifting the forklifts when you’re moving can block your line of sight and cause your load to become unbalanced.
- 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 the forklift at a safe speed. Observe all posted speed limit signs to avoid an accident.
- Don’t drive if someone is standing on the bench. Keep the forklift in park before it is safe to move again, with a clear path away from pedestrians and co-workers.