Although forklifts, or powered industrial trucks, are primarily used to move materials, these efficient machines are used for multiple purposes in several work settings. Forklift accidents, however, are among the more commonly occurring construction accidents. Each year in the United States, more than 20,000 workers suffer serious injuries and over 100 workers are killed in forklift-related accidents.
The leading cause of forklift accidents and fatalities is forklift overturns. Forklift overturns account for approximately 26 percent of serious forklift-related injuries and 25 percent of forklift-related deaths.
Often the cause of forklift overturns is an overload of the material being moved. Overloading a forklift is also a frequent cause of accidents resulting from material falling off the forklift, which is the third most common type of forklift accident.
But while proper forklift loads could greatly reduce the number of forklift accidents, there are numerous other causes of these mostly preventable incidences. Forklift accidents can be attributed to numerous factors, including those that are behavioral, operational, organizational and mechanical in nature. For this reason, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) makes available a standard training and evaluation program for forklift operators.
In addition to providing appropriate training to forklift operators, employers can take several safety measures with regard to the operation of forklifts at the work site, including properly maintaining the forklifts and providing a safe environment for them to operate in. Workers who have not received standard training should be prohibited from operating forklifts.
Workers can also contribute to workplace safety by:
- Not attempting to operate a forklift unless properly trained and authorized by the company to do so
- Doing a daily safety check of the vehicle
- Identifying potential worksite dangers such as the location of power lines, blind corners, pedestrian areas, low doorways, uneven floors, floor surface finishes, etc.
- Understanding the stability of the vehicle and the load (taking size and shape as well as weight into account)
- Making sure loads are properly stacked and pallets are in good condition
- Never raising people on a forklift unless the vehicle is specifically designed to do so, a scaffold or elevated work platform cannot be used, and the task to be performed is of short duration
Although training and evaluation of forklift operators is not required, employers who choose not to follow OSHA guidelines may be exposing themselves to additional liability if an employee is injured as a result of a forklift accident.
In some states an injured employee may have recourses beyond the often inadequate ones provided by workers compensation, especially if a third party, such as the forklift's manufacturer, subcontractor or owner of the worksite was at least in part responsible. A competent construction accident attorney will be able to determine if such was the case.
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