Each year over 20,000 workers in the United States suffer serious injuries in forklift-related accidents. Forklifts, also known as lift trucks or fork trucks, are regularly used in many industries for lifting and lowering heavy pallets, boxes, crates and other containers. They are used in almost all storage warehouses and many other factory settings.
There are many types of powered industrial trucks, not only forklifts. Each type presents different operating hazards. Aside from serious injuries, around 85 fatalities per year occur from forklift-related accidents, the majority within manufacturing and construction industries.
Powered industrial trucks can be ridden by an operator or controlled by a walking operator. Workplace type and conditions are important factors in hazards associated with powered industrial trucks like forklifts. Employers have a duty to provide proper training and keep a safe workplace. Any safety practice that puts employees at risk is grounds for legal action.
Joe Lyon is an experienced catastrophic injury and product liability lawyer accepting workplace accident cases nationwide.
Forklift Safety Risks
The most notoriously dangerous component to lift trucks is their instability. Fork trucks carry huge loads that have the potential to fall and cause injury and damage. An unstable and heavy load can fall from the truck, or may cause the entire forklift to tip.
Operators are advised to never attempt to make a turn with a raised load. These are many safety regulations that have been implemented by the OSHA, though these laws are often ignored by employers.
Industrial workers should know that they have rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The Act requires employers to fix common hazards and implement preventative regulations to avoid serious accidents. Employers of forklift operators have as much responsibility for safety as the operators themselves.
Warehouse owners must ensure the safety of each machine before operation, and are responsible for maintenance and replacing faulty machines. Employers cannot legally hire forklift operators who have not completed a certification program.
Note: It is a violation of the law for anyone UNDER 18 years of age to operate a forklift.
Common Forklift Accident Injury
Forklifts and hand trucks are necessary for many warehouse and industrial workday tasks, however, the machines present significant hazards to workers. Forklift or fork truck accidents are among the most common causes of industrial deaths and injuries in the country.
Defective design, improper assembly, inadequate safety standards, poor maintenance, and negligent employers may all be responsible for forklift-related injuries.
Manufacturers and employers may be held liable for any damages sustained in an accidents and a victim can seek compensation for medical costs, lost wages and pain and suffering.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), over 10 percent of all forklifts will be involved in an accident. Around 70 percent of all forklift accidents could be prevented with proper training and enforced safety policies. Common causes of accidents include:
- Tip over accidents
- Overloading equipment
- Lift trucks inadvertently driven off loading docks
- Lifts fall between docks
- Lift struck by another lift truck
- Trucks fall while on elevated pallets
- Forklifts hit employees or pedestrians
- Load falls from forklift
- Forklift improperly used to elevate person
- Improper maintenance of the forklift
- Loss of fork lift operator control
The Lyon Firm works with industry experts, engineers, and OSHA safety experts to investigate and determine the root cause of forklift accidents to build a compelling case and win compensation for injured victims and their families.
Fork Truck Design Defects
Caterpillar and other forklift manufacturers have a responsibility to safely design and assemble a machine used by various industries. The following common issues may cause accidents and may be the result of design flaws:
- Malfunction of brakes
- Malfunction of clutch or transmission
- Malfunction of mast assembly
- Leak in hydraulic system
- Safety devices improperly installed
- Toxic emissions from forklifts
- Blind spots
- Poor layout of controls
Fork Truck Injury
The Caterpillar Telehandler rugged terrain forklift has reportedly caused at least one injury at an industrial drill site. Hydraulic locking pins were not properly engaged and the fork carriage assembly fell on the victim.
Headquartered in Houston, Texas, Caterpillar offers various materials-handling equipment, such as forklifts, ride-on pallet trucks, walkie trucks, order pickers and reach trucks.
Caterpillar has been a household name for producing reliable, durable machinery that functions in the roughest terrain. Caterpillar makes lift trucks with capacities from 2,500 to 100,000-plus pounds in electric-, liquid propane-, diesel- and gasoline-powered varieties.
When industrial machinery does not adhere to safety standards or is found to be defective in operation, it should be recalled and the manufacturer may be liable for any injuries sustained. The most common companies and brands of fork trucks and lifts used in the U.S. include:
- Crown Equipment Corp.
- Hyster-Yale Materials Handling, Inc.
- Clark Material Handling
- Toyota Industries Corporation
- Linde—KION Group
- Mitsubishi Nichiyu Forklift Co., Ltd.
- Jungheinrich AG
- Anhui Forklift Truck Group Corp.
- Doosan Industrial Vehicle
- EP Equipment, Ltd.
Site-Specific Forklift Training
Employers have a responsibility to ensure that each forklift operator is competent and ready to operate a powered industrial truck safely. Training must include the specific conditions under which the vehicle will be operated, such as surface conditions, ramps, visibility, and employee traffic. These factors are different for every workplace.
Because forklifts are specialized vehicles, workers who operate forklifts must be certified by a training center that complies with OSHA standards. Those who obtain certification must pass a knowledge-based test as well as field testing.
Forklift operators must be evaluated initially and every three years thereafter. Training and evaluations must be documented. Refresher training is necessary in the following situations:
- A forklift operator is observed operating unsafely
- A forklift operator receives an unsatisfactory evaluation
- An operator is assigned to a different area of use. Changes in workplace conditions affect familiar and safe operation
Forklift training must include both formal instruction and practical driver training. If training is incomplete, an employer is likely liable for any forklift-related injury caused and the damages that may result.
Fork Truck Accident Prevention
There are a number of potential forklift hazards at the workplace, and it is the responsibility of an employer to mitigate the risks to the best of their ability and protect workers. Should managers and foremen fail to accomplish the following, they may be held liable for injuries in the event of an accident:
- Clear congested aisle-ways
- Clean spills and suspend work if the ground or floor is slick
- Monitor or remove flammable and combustible materials
- Ventilate enclosed workspaces
- Provide proper lighting
- Properly train workers who operate forklift trucks
- Enforce safety rules
- Provide proper fork truck tools and attachments
- Maintain forklifts
- Keep loading dock uncluttered
- Separate pedestrian and forklift traffic
- Encourage high-visibility clothing
- Limit forklift travel speed
Fork Truck & Forklift Lawsuits
OSHA requires employers to implement a fork truck training program based on principles of safe truck operation, and the general safety requirements of the OSHA standard.
Employers have a responsibility to ensure that every forklift operator on site is competent to operate a powered industrial machine safely. Training should include the specific conditions under which the vehicle will be operated, such as surface conditions, ramps, visibility, and employee traffic.
If a workplace injury occurs due to the negligence of a manufacturer or due to an employer failing to provide a safe work environment, contact an experienced attorney to investigate and work to recover compensation for medical expenses, and lost wages and future earnings.