Every year over 20,000 workers are killed or seriously injured in forklift related incidents. It’s not just operators that are in danger, pedestrians working near forklifts are at risk too. So how can we stop these accidents from happening and protect our people? Knowing the most common causes of forklift accidents is a good start.
OSHA conducted a study of forklift related accidents, injuries and fatalities and discovered the top six causes: operator inattention, forklift overturn, unstable loads, operators struck by load, elevated employees and lack of training. We’ll explore each of these hazards and highlight ways to prevent them from endangering you or your employees.
1. OPERATOR INATTENTION
Operator inattention is the most common cause of forklift accidents and it’s 100 percent preventable. While operator inattention can be caused by fatigue, distractions or simply carelessness, it’s imperative that operators stay alert. Allow operators a few breaks during their shift so they can concentrate on the task at hand. Just the addition of these few breaks to stretch their legs or grab a drink of water may help operators be more aware of their surroundings.
2. FORKLIFT OVERTURN
Overturn is the leading cause of death related to forklift accidents and can be caused by:
- equipment malfunction
- excessive speed
- turning or stopping too quickly
- uneven or unbalanced loads
- operating on an incline
- uneven driving surfaces
Avoid overturns by:
- turning carefully
- following set speed limits
- moving slowly on inclines
- raising and lowering the load only when the forklift is not moving
- keeping the load as low to the ground as possible while still free from the driving surface
If an overturn does happen, there are safety procedures you should follow to stay safe but they depend on the type of forklift you’re operating.
In the event of a side tip or a forward tip in a sit-down model remember to stay seated, hold tight to the steering wheel, brace your feet and lean away from the impact. Your first instinct will be to jump from the forklift but ignore it and force yourself to remain inside the vehicle. The overhead guard will protect you if you stay inside the operator’s cab but if you try to jump from the forklift, it may cause a fatal accident.
Don’t forget to keep your seat belt on when operating a sit-down model, it’ll help you stay inside the cab if you experience a tip over. Take a look at the difference between an overturn with a seat belt and one without a seat belt.
In the event of a side tip on a standing model with rear access, exit the vehicle by stepping backwards.
Warning labels with specific overturn safety procedures in relation to your forklift model should be located on your forklift.
3. UNSTABLE LOADS
Instability could be caused by anything from an off-center load to a damaged or loose load. These unstable loads can cause you to tip over or drop the load. To avoid the hazard of an unstable load:
- Don’t exceed the capacity of your forklift. The capacity can be found on the forklift’s load capacity data plate. The plate will include the load capacity, lift height and load center. Variations of this information based on certain forklift attachments may also be provided on the data plate.
- Utilize the load extension backrest
- Carefully center the load
- Don’t carry loose or damaged merchandise
If your load is off-center and can’t be centered by nature of the product, position the heaviest part of the load nearest the front wheels of the forklift and against the carriage.
4. OPERATORS STRUCK BY LOAD
Though the overhead guard protects operators from falling objects, they are not meant to withstand the weight of a falling load. To avoid dropping a load:
- Utilize the load extension backrest
- Check that the forks are even
- Make sure there is adequate overhead clearance above the load. The minimum distance between the top of the load and the racking above it should be 6 inches. Be aware of overhead fixtures such as lighting too.
- Use care when tilting the mast backwards to stabilize the load
We also recommend that you check the overhead guards for damage during the pre-operation inspection.
5. ELEVATED EMPLOYEES
Using forklifts to elevate personnel has become common practice however it presents many hazards. If you must lift an employee for them to perform a task you should:
- Use an approved lifting cage. According to OSHA the cage must have guardrails or another safety device like a harness to keep the personnel from falling off the platform. Ideally it would have both. Additionally the lifting cage must have a barrier between the personnel and the mast.
- Ensure the cage is secured properly to the lifting carriage or the forks
- Provide a way for the elevated employee to shut down power to the vehicle.
We advise using a scissor lift or man lift whenever possible. These machines are specifically designed to lift personnel and have many safety measures that forklifts don’t have.
6. LACK OF TRAINING
The hazards associated with forklift operation don’t only affect operators. They affect the people working in the area as well. To prevent accidents and reduce the risk of injury and well as damage to the facility and the product, both operators and pedestrians working in the area must be properly trained.
AVOIDING FORKLIFT ACCIDENTS
Even if the operators and pedestrians are properly trained and they follow all the safety procedures in place, forklift accidents can still happen. Malfunctioning equipment can turn minor operating mistakes into disasters and turn a safe workplace into a hazard which is why pre-operation inspections can’t be forgotten and planned maintenance should never be neglected.