5 Deadly Forklift Dangers

OSHA estimates that 1 million forklifts are used in workplaces across the United States. Each year, nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 are seriously injured in forklift-related incidents.

Deadly Danger # 1—Forklift Turnovers

Close to one out of every four fatalities occurs when a forklift tips over. Forklifts can easily tip if they are overloaded, if the load is not well balanced, or if they travel with the forks too high. 
How it can happen: A forklift operator was killed when his forklift overturned when he was turning while backing down an incline. Another operator was fatally injured when his forklift fell off a loading dock and pinned him under the overhead guard. Neither worker was wearing a seat belt.

How to prevent these accidents: Operators should be required to wear seat belts and must be trained to:

  • Make sure the load is stable and safely arranged on the forks.
  • Avoid tilting the forks forward except when picking up or depositing a load.
  • Tilt the load backward only enough to stabilize the load.
  • On grades, tilt the load back and raise it only as far as needed to clear the road surface.
  • Use extreme caution on grades or ramps.
  • Keep the load uphill when going up or down an incline.
  • Avoid raising or lowering the forks while the forklift is moving.
  • Slow down to make turns and avoid attempting sharp turns.
  • Make sure that there is room for the rear end to swing when making turns.
  • Handle asymmetrical loads when their work includes this activity.
  • Slow down on wet or slippery surfaces.

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Deadly Danger #2—Nearby Worker Struck by Forklift

Forklifts and pedestrians can often be a deadly mix.

How it can happen: A punch press operator at a computer components manufacturer was fatally injured when a forklift, traveling in reverse at high speed toward the victim’s workstation, struck a metal scrap bin, which propelled it toward the workstation where it struck and crushed the victim against the press.

How to prevent these accidents: You should:

  • Separate forklift traffic and other workers where possible.
  • Limit some aisles to workers on foot only or forklifts only.
  • Restrict the use of forklifts near time clocks, break rooms, cafeterias, and main exits, particularly when the flow of workers on foot is at a peak (such as at the end of a shift or during breaks).
  • Ensure that workplace safety inspections are routinely conducted by a person who can identify hazards and conditions that are dangerous to workers.
  • Install workstations, control panels, and equipment away from aisles when possible. Otherwise, install physical barriers to ensure that workstations are protected.
  • Avoid locating bins, racks, or other materials at corners, intersections, or other locations that obstruct the view of operators or workers at workstations.
  • Enforce safe driving practices such as obeying speed limits, stopping at stop signs, and slowing down and blowing the horn at intersections.
  • Evaluate intersections and other blind corners to determine whether overhead dome mirrors could improve the visibility of forklift operators or workers on foot.

Operators should obey speed limits, watch for pedestrians, sound horns when vision is obstructed, and avoid driving close to employees working nearby or their workstations.

Other workers should:

  • Be aware of forklift traffic areas, avoid them if possible, and keep a sharp eye out if they are walking in a forklift lane.
  • Be ready to move quickly if they hear a warning horn or backup signal.
  • Not listen to their iPod® or other audio devices requiring ear pieces if they are walking in a forklift-traffic area.
  • Move out of the way quickly if they observe a forklift that looks unstable or is not operating in a safe manner.

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Deadly Danger # 3—Victim Crushed by Forklift

The average forklift weighs several thousand pounds. As a result, 16 percent of forklift fatalities occur when victims are crushed by the vehicle.

How it can happen: An electric-line technician was crushed to death after falling from and being run over by a forklift. The technician was riding on the forks.

How to prevent these accidents: Operators should:

  • Never allow passengers to ride on forklift trucks unless a seat is provided.
  • Make sure authorized passengers are seated and using seat belts.
  • Never allow workers to ride on the forks.
  • Remain inside the operator’s compartment while using a forklift and wear a seat belt.
  • Always check the route for any hazards, especially if operating in an unfamiliar location.

Tomorrow, we conclude with Deadly Forklift Dangers #4 and #5.

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