Forklifts account for thousands of serious injuries and dozens of deaths each year in American workplaces. According to statistics reported to government inspectors by employers, every year 100 workers are killed and 20,000 seriously injured in forklift related accidents. Many more have sustained severe, life long injuries.
Many accidents are due to overloading. Employers eager to increase efficiency at the expense of safety, encourage excess loads which can cause the forklift to tip over. In other cases workers are crushed when load limits are exceeded and materials fall.
Although, there are more than a million forklifts in use at construction sites, warehouses and businesses across the country, many of these machines are not properly maintained or equipped for safety. Equipment failure and poor maintenance procedures cause many preventable accidents. Forklifts should be equipped with adequate safety systems.
A full 26% of forklift accidents are the result of a lift tipping over. Lifts should have a "roll over protection system" which will prevent the driver from being thrown and crushed in case the lift tips or falls over. Sometimes serious injury or death is incurred when a lift tips because the seats of the vehicle are poorly designed. The seats should be constructed with arm rests and shoulder extensions that prevent the operator from being ejected out of the seat or sliding sideways in when an accident occurs. There should also be "Grab Handles" in the operator's compartment so that one can brace himself if the lift starts to tip. In some cases a poorly maintained forklift won't have seat belts.
14% of forklift accidents are the result of a load or other debris falling on a worker. The forklift should have a "All Falling Object Protection System" that completely protects the operator from falling objects. Sometimes these accidents happen because the fork does not have "back rest extensions" allowing the load to fall over the top of the extended mass. Forks should be equipped with "Back rest extensions".
18% of Forklift accidents occur when a walking employee or other pedestrians is struck by a lift, often because they are busy with other tasks and not fully aware of a lift operating nearby. Lifts should be equipped with automatic signal alarms that sound during operation so that those nearby are aware of its location. Often this type of accident occurs because a poorly maintained lift does not have very basic safety features such as rear view mirrors.
Adequate safety systems, however, are only part of the problem. A Forklift is a sophisticated machine and to operate it safely requires adequate training.
14% of Forklift accidents occur because the lift is used inappropriately to elevated workers. 3% of Forklift accidents occur because the operator lost control of the vehicle. Sometimes these accidents occur because employees are asked to operate when they have not been properly trained. OSHA has a standard training and evaluation program that all Forklift operators must complete before they are can operate. If an operator has not been adequately trained and evaluated according to these guidelines the employer can be found negligent. It is the employers responsibility to notify untrained and unlicensed employees that Forklifts are off limits. It is also the responsibility of the employer to set up an inspection and maintenance program. In every work place that uses lifts there should be a set of operation rules posted in plain view so that all operators are made aware of safe procedure.
7% of Forklift accidents occur when a lift is driven of a loading dock. Accidents of this nature often occur because the workplace design is hazardous. Narrow or congested aisles and loading docks, obstructed intersections and doors, excessive noise, toxic gases, low lighting, uneven ramps, may all contribute to potential accidents. If traffic in a work area is too high this also creates a hazardous situation, especially if there is pedestrian traffic in an area of forklift operations. Remember 18% of Forklift accidents are the result of a pedestrian being struck by a Forklift. Improvement of workplace design would greatly reduce this percentage.
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