Forklifts are a standard piece of equipment for many industries. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are more than 600,00 forklift operators working in the U.S. Of these, more than 100 are killed each year in forklift accidents. Another 20,000 are seriously injured.
Forklifts may look slow and plodding. But they are large, very heavy pieces of equipment that can move faster than you might think. The can be hard to handle in certain job conditions. They also demand the utmost attention when on a job. That’s why any type of forklift – and there are many – requires training to handle them safely.
In construction sites, warehouses, and other places that use forklifts, worker safety is always the top priority. That requires training everyone who drives a forklift, and strict adherence to OSHA safety guidelines. Yet, OSHA reports that one out of every four forklift accidents is due to a poorly trained forklift worker.
When workers don’t have proper forklift training, accidents are bound to happen. Too many of them happen every year, in many ways. The purpose of this blog is to identify the most common forklift accidents and how to prevent them.
1. Pedestrian accidents.
The most common type of forklift accident occurs not to the drivers but to pedestrians working nearby. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), nearly one out of five forklift accidents involve a pedestrian. Worse, more than a third (36%) of forklift-related fatalities are pedestrians.
Preventing these accidents starts with training, and part of safely operating a forklift includes knowing how to avoid pedestrians in the work area. The drivers are not always at fault. Often, accidents are due to pedestrians not hearing, seeing or paying attention to forklifts working nearby. Many of the solutions to reducing these accidents involve setting up warning signs to keep drivers and pedestrians alert. These include:
- Posting brightly colored warning signs in the work area
- Applying floor tape to designated forklift zones
- Using blue lights on the truck and red zone lights to alert pedestrians
- Using a forklift backup alarm or spotter when backing up
Pedestrians may not notice warning signs and tape. They could be used to seeing them. Or they’re distracted by their cell phone or something else. However, it is hard to ignore an approaching blue spotlight on the truck. Ared light zone warns pedestrians to keep a safe distance. It also prevents foot injuries and collisions from rear-end swing.
2. Pallet accidents.
Picking up and setting down pallets can be a challenge, even for experienced drivers. The higher the pallets, the more difficult the task, often because it’s harder for the driver to see the load. This increases the odds of knocking off a pallet, damaging the racking, or tipping over the truck.
One solution is to install a camera on the mast that is attached to a screen in the driver section of the forklift. This gives the driver a better view or the load when moving forks in and out of a pallet. Getting a visual on the load makes things easier and safer for the driver, product and equipment.
Another approach is to get add an automatic fork leveler. This device resets empty forks to a level position at the press of a button. This makes it easier for drivers to get the forks in place for a safe pickup. Of course, it helps to make sure racks are properly stacked and pallets have a balanced load at all times.
3. Forklift tip-overs.
Not surprisingly, overturns are the leading cause of fatalities from forklift accidents. These accidents can be caused by improper turns, driving too fast, or driving with an elevated load.
One way to prevent tip-overs is with an active stability system. Sensors monitor what the forklift is doing at all time. When they detect unsafe working conditions, they alert the driver. Some of these systems come with active mast control. This helps reduced tip-overs and spilled loads by controlling the tilt angle of the mast.
Turning a sharp corner too fast can also cause tip-overs. Posting speed limits of no more than 5 mph can reduce these incidents. Since forklifts don’t have speedometers, installing a forklift speed radar unit can help.
4. Unsafe worksite accidents.
There’s a reason why forklifts come in so many different sizes and weights. It’s because they are designed for different job applications and work sites. When buying a forklift, be sure to get a model that meets your work needs.
For example, if you have a small warehouse with limited aisle space, buy a narrow-aisle lift. If you have higher than normal racking, get a forklift with a high lifting capacity. If your forklift will be working outside, get one designed for outdoor terrain.
Other ways to keep the worksite safe include:
- Remove all obstructions at doors and entry points
- Keep aisles clean and free of clutter
- Minimize traffic in the forklift work area
- Clearly mark all floor and ramp gradients
- Keep the loading dock clean
- Install proper lighting
- Invest in equipment to minimize noise, dust, and odors
5. Lack of training accidents.
These can occur for many reasons. Employers may ignore OSHA mandates that every forklift worker is trained and certified. They may forget to renew certifications. They might forget that training is needed when they get a new different type of forklift. Or they conduct the training on their own to save money.
Untrained workers can cause accidents in many ways:
- Driving too fast
- Letting others ride on the truck
- Not knowing how to identify worksite hazards
- Engaging in driving behaviors that can lead to tip-overs
- Not being aware of pedestrians
- Not understanding safe lifting and lowering techniques
- Not inspecting their trucks before starting a job
With companies like Certifyme.net, online forklift training is quick, easy, and affordable. So there is no excuse for putting an untrained driver behind the wheel of a forklift.
Our OSHA-approved courses teach forklift workers all they need to know about forklift safety. This includes what hazards to look for and the right way to lift and lower loads. It also includes guidelines for avoiding accidents.
Nobody wants to have a forklift accident in their company. You can greatly reduce the chances with online forklift training from CertifyMe.net.
Tom Wilkerson is CEO of CertifyMe.net, a national leader in online, OSHA-compliant forklift training and certification. CertifyMe.net has helped thousands of companies save time and money by self-certifying their forklift operators in-house.