Forklift Accidents and How to Prevent Them
Forklifts, classified as powered industrial trucks by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), have been at the forefront of American production for just over a century. Commonly found in manufacturing plants, industrial facilities, shipyards, construction sites, and warehouses, to name a few, these machines are an integral part of many workplaces. While incredibly helpful, they can also do major harm if used incorrectly. OSHA estimates that close to 100,000 people are injured each year in forklift accidents nationwide. Of those people, they state that 34,900 people are seriously injured, and that for 85 of those people, those injuries prove to be fatal.
Common Causes of Forklift Accidents
Safety experts believe that most forklift accidents are easily preventable. It is imperative that the worksite supervisor does everything in their power to keep their employees safe.
Some of the most common causes of forklift accidents are as follows:
- Lack of Operator Training: Sometimes, companies cut corners due to budget constraints or tight schedules. This may cause them to put non-certified forklift drivers behind the wheel. In addition, refresher training is only required when operators are found to be operating the forklift unsafely, at which point an accident may have already occurred.
- Operator Inexperience: Just because a driver is certified to drive a forklift does not mean they are experienced enough to safely do so. In-person training for forklift certifications generally consists of six to eight hours of classroom time along with some hands-on experience in a warehouse. In some states, including Texas, workers can actually get forklift-certified online without ever having been behind the wheel. Implementing an inexperienced forklift driver can be a hazard to other workers.
- Operator Inattention: It is extremely important for operators to stay alert and be aware of their surroundings when operating a forklift. Operator inattention is one of the most common causes of forklift accidents. Inattention can be caused by fatigue, physical and mental distractions, or carelessness, and is easily preventable.
- Poorly Maintained Machinery: The main causes of mechanical failure with forklifts are worn brakes, damaged tires, and leaks. It’s important for operators to check their forklifts before operating and service them regularly to ensure there are no issues, and for employers to ensure these machines are being well-maintained.
- Defective Machinery: Sometimes, the manufacturer is at fault for issues of mechanical failure. Third-party manufacturers are responsible for implementing quality control procedures during production so that future operators and their coworkers can stay safe.
- Lack of Hazard Warnings: Implementing safety measures is one of the most effective ways to prevent a workplace accident. Employers should be labeling areas where the forklift is operating with signs warning of low thresholds and placing down floor tape to mark safe zones.
- Excessive Speed: Forklift operators are expected to operate at a speed that will allow them to safely stop if need be. The driver should driver slower than normal if the floor is wet or slippery, and ascend or descend slowly. If they do not adhere to safe speeds, they could be putting themselves and other workers at risk.
- Improper Turns: It is important for forklift operators to be careful when turning to avoid tipping over or hitting a person, an object, or another vehicle. It is recommended that operators come to a complete stop before switching directions, and utilize their horn and/or warning lights when reversing to alert nearby pedestrians.
- Unstable Loads: When carrying complex loads consisting of raw materials, small items, and other things that can easily fall when not secured properly, nearby employees can be in danger of being hit by falling loads. Forklift operators should conduct a pre-trip cargo inspection to make sure that everything is secure in order to keep themselves and others safe.
- Dangerously Laid-Out Workplaces: When other machinery, inventory, and miscellaneous items are not properly stored, forklift operators and the people around them are at risk. Supervisors should work to keep the workspace clutter-free in order to make the work environment as safe as possible for both forklift operators and other workers.
Types of Forklift Accidents
Some of the most common types of forklift accidents as defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics include, but are not limited to:
- Being Caught in Or Compressed by Equipment or Objects – If the forklift jumps forward, the brakes fail, or the wrong lever is pushed, a nearby employee could be pinned to a fixed object by the forklift. Likewise, these accidents can also be caused by inattentive reversing.
- Pedestrian Impacts – Workers in close proximity to active forklifts are at risk of being struck by a forklift. The main contributing causes of these accidents are operator inattention and a lack of warning signals in the workplace.
- Being Struck by A Falling Object or Equipment Other Than the Forklift – If loads are not secure, nearby pedestrians could be struck by an object falling from the load.
- Falling to A Lower Level – Crossing a threshold can be dangerous for forklift operators. If the operator is not paying attention when moving between parts of the warehouse or into and out of a truck, they could fall and injure themselves.
- Pedestrian Vehicular Incidents – If the operator or pedestrians in close proximity are not paying attention, the forklift could hit a nearby worker. It’s important for operators and employees to be alert when a forklift is being operated nearby.
- Tip-Over or Rollover Accidents – Tip-over and rollover accidents can be caused by turning too quickly or on an incline, speeding, abrupt mast movement, or driving with an elevated or unbalanced load.
Forklift Accident Injuries
On average, forklift accidents resulted in the injured workers needing an average of 13 days off, compared to the median average of 8 days across all workplace injury cases. Some of the most common injuries workers suffer after a forklift accident include:
- Fractured or Broken Bones
- Crush Injuries
- Head Injuries/Concussions
- Neck and Spinal Cord Injuries
- Internal Bleeding
Negligence in Forklift Accident Case
Generally, there are two major parties whose negligence could make them liable for a forklift accident.
- Operator Negligence: Incidents where the operator is at-fault can include accidents involving operators who were speeding, involving in horseplay, driving with an elevated or unbalanced load, or making unsafe driving decisions.
- Employer Negligence: Texas law requires employers to provide a safe workplace to their employees. Employer negligence in a forklift injury case can include employers who don’t provide sufficient or proper training, don’t maintain the forklift, don’t adopt concrete safety regulations for those operating or maintaining the forklift, and/or don’t provide adequate safety signs, signals, and equipment including floor tape, barriers, mirrors, and low-clearance warnings.
Talk to A Forklift Accident Lawyer
If you or a loved one have been injured in a forklift accident on the job, contact our Workplace Injury Lawyers. Our attorneys can review the circumstances of your case to determine liability and help you secure the compensation you deserve. Call 713-224-9000 to speak with a forklift accident lawyer, or fill out our contact form online.