Forklifts are multipurpose and efficient machines that handle a wide range of tasks at the workplace. Thousands of forklifts are used daily, contributing to the hazards that can cause severe property damage, injuries, and even death. Forklift accidents account for many thousands of severe injuries and many deaths each year in the United States.

What Types of Accidents Occur with Forklifts?

Below is a breakdown of forklift accidents by category:

  • 26% of forklift accidents are caused by the forklift tipping over
  • In 18% of forklift accidents, employees or pedestrians are hit by forklifts
  • 14% of forklift accidents occur by the load falling off of the forklift
  • 14% of forklift accidents occur when forklifts are used to elevate people
  • 7% of forklift accidents occur due to forklifts accidentally being driven off loading docks or
  • due to workplace design which is hazardous for forklift use
  • 7% of forklift accidents occur due to improper maintenance of the forklift
  • 3% of forklift accidents occur because of loss of forklift control by the operator
  • 3% of forklift accidents occur because of improper use of forklift

What Factors Might Contribute to a Forklift Accident?

The following factors can contribute to a forklift accident:

  • Lack or improper training of forklift drivers: Improperly backing up, turning, or parking the forklift can contribute to a forklift accident. Forklift accidents can be caused by poor communication, giving rides on the forklift, or horseplay on the forklift.
  • Poor maintenance of the forklift: Malfunctioning of the brakes, steering, transmission, or hydraulic system might contribute to a forklift accident. Missing or malfunctioning safety devices can cause forklift accidents. For example, a forklift should be equipped with a roll-over protection system to prevent the operator from being thrown or crushed if the forklift tips over.
  • The amount of stress involved in the production or the pace of production: Workers rushing to move inventory or meet orders increase the likelihood of forklift accidents.
  • Improper workplace design for forklift operation: Narrow or crowded isles, a high level of foot traffic where the forklift is operated, vision obstructions, and other workplace conditions such as light and noise are all hazards to a forklift accident.
  • Heavy loads: Loading lifts beyond stated limits can cause a forklift accident.

What Factors Can Reduce the Risk of a Forklift Accident?

The following factors can reduce forklift accidents:

  • Forklift operators who are properly trained
  • Forklifts that are properly maintained
  • Proper use of forklift areas

What Agency Regulates Forklifts Use and Maintenance?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintain various measures that govern the use of forklifts for companies that fall under federal jurisdiction. Over the years, individual states have also developed State Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans.

What Types of Regulations Are Out There Regarding Forklifts?

According to OSHA, forklift operators must be at least 18 years of age and properly trained. OSHA has specific training requirements for forklift operators. Training requirements vary depending on whether the forklift operator is loading and unloading products, working with hazardous materials, or performing maintenance on the forklift.

Forklift Accidents Involving Bystanders or Non-Employees

Forklift accidents involving bystanders or non-employees are treated like normal personal injury matters. This means that the injured person files a lawsuit against the general contractor in charge of the construction site, their insurance company, and any other responsible parties, such as subcontractors or negligent employees.

Elements Proven to Recover as a Bystander or Non-Employee:

  • The person or business was negligent or acting intentionally
  • The negligence or intentional act caused the accident
  • The accident caused the injuries

Construction Accidents Involving Employees

If you are injured at the construction site while you are working, workers’ compensation laws will generally apply to you. Thus, your claim for damages may be handled slightly differently. For example, your employer may provide immediate compensation payments instead of a lawsuit.

Workers’ Compensation

By law, employers are required to participate in an insurance program that compensates injured workers. In the event of an injury at work, you should file a workers’ compensation claim as soon as possible. Medical bills, lost wages, and workers’ compensation covers other expenses.

The Exception to Workers’ Compensation

An injured party can recover more than the workers’ compensation limits if multiple contractors are on the job site and another contractor is negligent. Workers’ compensation generally does not apply to situations where a co-worker injures an employee because of their negligence or intentional actions.

Common Forklift Accidents and Safety Solutions

Running over or hitting a pedestrian

Nearly 20 percent of forklift accidents involve pedestrians, and 36% of forklift-related deaths are pedestrian-related. This number could be dramatically reduced by providing proper training for pedestrians and operators, using clear signage, using floor tape, and other safety solutions.

Solutions:

  • Label forklift zones with warning signs and floor tape.
  • Forklifts should have blue lights and pedestrian red zone lights to alert pedestrians to their presence.
  • Install sensors to alter the behavior of drivers and pedestrians

Knocking off a pallet, tipping over, or damaging racks

Picking up and setting down a pallet can be difficult at higher levels. The harder it is for an operator to see, the more likely it is that the pallet will be knocked off, the forks will damage the product, or the racking will get damaged.

Solutions:

By pushing a button, Toyota’s automatic fork leveler (standard on Toyota forklifts) will reset empty forks to a level position. Operators can easily navigate pallets, especially up high, which gives them confidence and boosts productivity.

Using a mast-mounted camera and operator compartment monitor, the forklift operator can spot the load when inserting and removing forks from pallets. Having a visual of the load makes things much easier and safer for the operator, product, and equipment. This Wireless Camera System from Safe-View is reasonably priced and provides great picture quality. The camera can be mounted anywhere on the forklift and accommodates up to four cameras.

Forklift Overturns: Tipping and Rolling

The most common cause of lift truck fatalities is forklift overturns. Forklift overturns can be caused by:

  • Turning in the wrong direction
  • Lifting a load while driving
  • Speeding excessively

Solutions:

With its patented SAS (System of Active Stability) and AMC (Active Mast Control), Toyota reduces accidents from improper turning and tip-overs.

SAS takes more than 3,000 readings per second to detect unsafe operating conditions. SAS engages the Swing Lock Cylinder to stabilize the rear axle when sensors detect forklift instability, helping reduce the risk of lateral tip-overs.

When lifting a heavy load at a height, excessive mast tilt causes the rear wheels to lift off and the load to spill forward. Toyota’s Active Mast Front Tilt Angle Control helps reduce the risk of spilling loads or tipping forward by adjusting the tilt angle. It detects the load weight and mast height automatically. If it detects longitudinal instability, it overrides the operator’s manual control and limits forward tilt. Doing this makes the lift truck less likely to spill a load or tip forward.

Another common cause of accidents is excessive speed, especially roll-overs. Speeding reduces the driver’s reaction time and increases the chance of an accident when turning. While OSHA has not set a specific speed limit for lift trucks, five mph is generally considered a safe top speed. Forklifts do not come equipped with speedometers. A forklift speed radar system, which can detect speeds as slow as three MPH, can effectively discourage speeding.

Are There Any Remedies for Those Injured in a Forklift Accident?

A person injured in a forklift accident may have a personal injury claim based on an intentional tort, negligence, or workers’ compensation.

Should I Consult a Attorney?

An experienced workplace injury attorney can help a victim of a forklift accident to determine what legal course of action to take. An attorney can also help with the discovery process to determine what safety measures the employer was taking at the time of the accident and whether those measures met the requirements of OSHA or state law.