Forklifts are useful tools across many industries, but they can also be dangerous. Operating a forklift without the proper training can cause accidents and injuries, as can ignoring forklift safety regulations. An estimated 855,900 forklifts exist in the United States, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Approximately 90% of forklifts will be involved in at least one accident during their use, and about 85 Americans die in forklift accidents annually.
How Forklifts Lead to Death
As a large piece of equipment, forklifts are more than capable of injury and death. In forklift fatalities, the most common causes of death are:
- Crushed by a tipped over forklift
- Crushed between a forklift and another surface
- Crushed between two forklifts or one forklift and another vehicle
- Run over or hit by a forklift
- Material falling from a fork
- Forklifts falling off a surface
- Victims falling onto a forklift fork
While some of these causes are unavoidable accidents, many deaths by forklifts are preventable, through both better operator training and passerby awareness.
Forklift Best Practices
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has several safety regulations regarding the use of forklifts and other similarly powered industrial trucks. They also encourage the use of several best practices to help avoid accidents:
- OSHA recommends forklift drivers be over 18 years old.
- Forklift drivers should complete regular training consisting of instruction and practical tests.
- Workers should drive forklifts slowly.
- Workers should follow forklift weight capacities.
- People should keep away from forklifts if one is not the operator.
- Forklift paths should be clear of debris.
- Mechanics should regularly inspect forklifts.
- You should train employees to listen for forklift backup signals.
Additional recommendations include:
- Avoid tall and narrow storage to give forklifts room to operate.
- Dedicate different lanes for pedestrian and forklift traffic.
- Do not install ramps in forklift paths.
- Don’t obstruct doors and intersections.
- Eliminate noise pollution to make it easier to hear forklift signals.
- Use barriers to keep lanes from crossing over.
Depending on your workplace, different safety requirements could take precedence over such arrangements. However, keeping the above layout tips in mind can help make more efficient decisions to enforce forklift safety.
Understanding Forklift Weight Capacities
Forklifts are all marked with a maximum weight capacity, but the specific weight the forklift can handle varies depending on the load center. Switching out parts can also change the weight capacity, and it is also critical to be aware of attachments on your forklift as well.
Exceeding a forklift’s capacity can lead to accidents by dropping the load onto a person or causing other equipment to fall. When using a forklift, keep these tips in mind:
- Purchase one above your expected weight capacity to avoid exceeding the limit.
- Consult a forklift specialist to ensure you’re using the right forklift for your use.
- Maintain data plates in a visible location.
- Measure loads to know where they fall in your capacity.
- Train forklift operators to know how to find the weight capacity.
Restricting Improper Forklift Use
Forklift operators are often responsible for their own safety and operation, but that does not mean they are the only ones who need to know proper forklift uses. Keeping your entire staff informed allows everyone to contribute to safety. It also allows others to report any improper use of forklifts. Some possible inappropriate scenarios can be:
- Adding people to back of forklift to increase counterweight
- Distracting a forklift operator
- Lifting people or unintended loads
- Passengers in the cab or on the exterior
- Sitting on counter-weight
- Swerving the forklift near pedestrians
- Turning off forklift lights
Any of these situations increases the risks for forklift accidents. By following best practices and proper operation procedures, employees can reduce the chance of accidental injury or death, creating a safe work environment for all.