Forklift Accidents: Causes and Prevention
In the industry of forklift operations, there is nothing more important than preventing forklift accidents. This is not only because a tragic accident can put an operator’s life in danger, but because it can cost the company a tremendous amount of financial liability, loss, productivity decline, and delayed deadlines. Right now, there are approximately one million active forklifts in the United States, and an estimated 11% of them would sooner or later be involved in accidents of whatever varied costs.
It’s interesting to note that 1 in 6 workplace deaths are caused by forklifts. In addition, forklifts will account for about 85 deaths every year, with about 34,900 serious injuries resulting from those accidents happening annually. For non-serious injuries involving forklift accidents, 61,800 cases have been reported every year. Similarly, 42% of forklift-related deaths each year are attributed to being crushed by an overturned forklift. This is in relation to the statistically proven fact that 90% of the forklifts running in the field will be involved in one way or another to some type of accident. This implies a one accident per forklift ratio, with an assumption of an 8-year lifespan of the forklift. The good thing about all of these is that there is already a governing body that helps solve these issues.
Organizations like OSHA have established regulations that make it easy for operators to avoid and prevent accidents. These regulations monitor the working hours of the operators, the number of hours the forklift is continuously running without machine rest and, most importantly, the maintenance routine of these machines. With the regulations set, the operators of these forklifts are given the guarantee of the safest working conditions for them to operate.
Even so, there may still be accidents that can arise, mainly caused by improper training, distracted operators or old equipment that needs to be retired, but the regulations in place can guarantee that the damages from the accidents won’t escalate. OSHA adds that if only companies involved in forklift operations stuck to the stringent training policies implemented, an estimated 70% decrease in forklift accidents in the US alone could be reached.
10 Common Forklift Accidents and The Tips To Prevent Them
1. Untrained Drivers
One cannot overstate the importance of comprehensively training the operators of forklifts. It’s not for nothing that training to operate a forklift is the ultimate first step to forklift safety. Not knowing the basics, the parts, the nuances of the forklift interface system, and mistaking that the controller of a forklift is no different from a traditional car’s is a red flag. Similarly, the lack of knowledge of the forklift’s proper protocol for transporting or lifting the loads is another sign that an accident is just waiting to happen. To respond to this, OSHA requires all forklift operators to undergo a comprehensive certified training every three years in operating a forklift for which the operator will be evaluated in accordance with the provisions legally mandated in 1910.178(l)(3).
When forklift drivers tend to get too comfortable with their driving, they tend to drive irresponsibly. They either forget some of the traffic rules or intentionally get insolent against the rules, resulting in overspeeding. When these drivers travel too fast on a forklift, it results in a shortened reaction or response time from the machine, thus leading to accidents. On this regard, OSHA advises that the ideal speed for drivers to keep in mind is to at least stay at or below 5 miles per hour. Simply put: drivers should just slow down. The management must also make it a policy to post speed limit signs around the facility where the forklift is operated, and establish a mandate for the forklift drivers to always regard the rules with willful obedience.
3. Elevated Load Glitches
When forklift drivers operate their machines with an elevated load, their level of vision is blocked, making it harder for them to maneuver the forklift and gain accurate control of the forks. This issue exposes the drivers to crashes or can get their forklifts to tip over and tragically fall over the drivers. A good fix or preventive measure for this would be to always remind the drivers to keep the forks low and follow OSHA guidelines. The mandated regulations encourage drivers to only carry loads as near to the ground as possible for more stability, and a good estimate would be about 4 inches from the floor.
4. Improper Turning
Regardless of the load or even if the forklift has the highest, most state-of-the-art of technology, it is not fully guaranteed that it won’t tip over. This hazard issue can occur when the forklifts turn with the rear wheels, which cause the rear end to swing outward. This results in increasing the chance of tipping during tight turns. A quick fix for this would be to always slow down for turns. Turning corners too fast creates an imbalance and then lead to causing the forklift to tilt. Slowing down before the turn also maintains a gradual speed that stabilizes the forklift even more throughout the entire rotation.
5. Insufficient Warnings
Not all accidents relating to forklifts happen because of the forklift itself. It is sometimes attributed to how the management of the company refuses or ignores the importance of putting warning signs and markings in the warehouse or area of operations. Marking forklift zones is not only a crucial element to work safety, but it may also save the company from unnecessary liabilities. These markings should be made sure to always be conspicuously displayed in areas where there’s a lot of both forklift and foot traffic.
A good, simple but reliable way to prevent accidents of this kind from happening would be to install ample signs all over the facility for employees and visitors to see using, say, floor tape and floor signs. The ease of application and durability of such signs make them perfect preventive measures when marking aisles, pedestrian walkways, ledges, traffic flow, and various hazard areas.
6. Giving Unnecessary Rides or Riding on The Forklift
When things can get lax in a facility, there may be employees who are tempted to mount the forklift and forklift load for mobility. This is a huge red flag. Not only is it extremely dangerous to ride anywhere outside the proper seat, but it also shortens the life of the forklift due to overloading. A good fix for this is to make it a company policy to never ride on the forks or any of the body parts of the forklift, even if the intention was to use the body load to balance the forks. One should only ride in proper seats. In addition to this, a forklift operator must never forget to wear a seatbelt should there be one available.
7. Workplace Design
Before purchasing one or a bulk load of forklifts for warehouse operations, you should first consider the blueprint or design of the workplace. The last thing you want is to acquire a forklift that’s not appropriate to space or area that it will be used. Try to see if the aisle space involved is minimal or requires more space. If there’s minimal space, you have to consider investing in a narrow-aisle forklift. Either way, consider the importance of layout as a big role in whatever forklift safety prevention policies you set in place.
You may also want to keep doors and intersections of your facility clear of obstructions, which implies that clutter from aisles are removed and are dispensed within their proper bins. Wall signs and floor markings can also help in reminding the employees and operators the changes in the original design of the workplace, if any. The drivers have to be also given the proper warning signal system to remind them of changing floor gradients and ramps. Lastly, the loading dock must be maintained and kept clean all the time.
8. Vision Blocks
Another important consideration of workplace safety is vision blocks. When operating forklifts, the SOP is to keep carrying the load to as low as possible a level until it is unloaded because otherwise, the vision of the operator will be impaired, causing to run over an employee or pedestrian or, worse, crash into an infrastructure, cascading into a large-scale company disaster, like fire. The tip here is that when the driver can no longer see past the load, the driver must just then drive backwards.
9. Insecure Loads
Major accidents in workplaces also involve unfastened, insecure or uneven loads. Things can easily go south when the load is unbalanced, but the good thing here is that it can be prevented as long as the load is secure, tightened and balanced on the forks. An additional safety tip here is for the drivers to just simply angle the forks up.
10. Forklift Mechanical Failure
The continuous use and uninterrupted operations of forklifts can make it unsurprising to expect that they will inevitably break down and mechanical failure occurs. This can be prevented by routinely doing the maintenance check-up written in the checklist as mandated or guided by OSHA regulations. Before operating the machine, consulting the forklift inspection checklist can make the working conditions safer.
Additional Safety Tips:
As an added safety measure, it is important for supervisors to check that the forklifts are parked in the designated parking areas when not in use. Also, the drivers must comply by wearing the appropriate PPE, hard hats and reflective vests mandated by regulatory bodies. Thirdly, one should maximize the benefits that an e-brake can provide. An average forklift can weight to about 9,000 lbs, and when there’s a runaway forklift failure that can happen, an e-brake is nothing short of a lifesaver.
In conclusion, be diligent in following all the guidelines above and you and your company and employees will have the highest chances to your favor to prevent workplace accidents. With training, proper floor marking, safety signs, and cautionary instructions, it will be no time before you can achieve an outstanding reputation of many years with zero accidents.