Forklift Accidents: They’re Really the PITs

Every year, 85 U.S. operators of Powered Industrial Trucks (PITs) — more commonly known as forklifts — leave for work in the morning and never return home.

The most tragically ironic situation occurred in the late 90’s in Perth, Australia. During the filming of a forklift safety video, the 52-year-old owner of a machinery training school was thrown from the forklift cabin and crushed to death.

The subsequent investigation revealed the fatality was due to driver error, high speed over rough terrain, and an unused seat belt. Needless to say, this gentleman’s final safety demonstration was his most convincing.

A Few More Sobering Statistics

Here’s a little more food for thought:

  • Aside from the 85 annual forklift fatalities, OSHA statistics indicate that roughly 34,900 serious injuries occur each year, many from careless operation of the equipment.
  • The total number of all forklift-related injuries per year is a whopping 96,785. That’s right — nearly 100,000 American workers are injured each and every year due to improper training or sheer carelessness on the job.
  • In 42 percent of all forklift fatalities, the operator was crushed by a tipping vehicle.

Quick Quiz

What should you do if you’re driving a forklift under normal working conditions and it begins to tip over? Should you stay in the vehicle or jump out?
If you said, “Jump,” you’d be dead wrong.
Safety experts agree that the safest way to survive a tip-over is to stay in the vehicle, seat belt always fastened, with a tight grip on the steering wheel and feet braced against the floor, leaning forward and away from the direction of the tip-over.
(Source: Daily Journal of Commerce)

What Makes Forklifts So Dangerous?

There are a number of reasons why forklifts present such a hazard in the workplace.

First of all, they’re extremely heavy. Even unloaded, the most popular forklift models weigh between 7,000 and 8,000 pounds, which is about double the weight of most cars. And although operators are cautioned to keep their speed around 8 mph, a forklift can travel up to 18 mph. That’s a lot of weight behind the speed in an enclosed space. Also, unlike a car, forklifts only have brakes in the front, making them harder to stop once they get going.

A forklift carries its loads in the front, which can obstruct the view of the driver. In order to compensate for heavy loads carried in the front, forklifts are designed to be heavier in the rear. The uneven weight distribution can make a forklift difficult to handle. This is one reason why it is illegal for anyone under 18 years of age to operate a forklift.

Also, in a car or truck, the front wheels steer the vehicle. But a forklift is turned by the rear wheels, causing the rear end to swing outward. This increases the chance of tipping over during tight turns. Additional instability is created when forklifts are used to raise hefty loads to considerable heights.

Protect Yourself!

The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” was never more appropriate than when applied to forklift safety. Which is why daily, pre-shift inspection of all powered industrial trucks is required by OSHA standards.


Any defects in the equipment can lead to a serious accident, so early detection is paramount. While OSHA does not require a documentation of a daily inspection, a written checklist is always a good idea. Checklists  vary depending on the type of forklift or other PIT being used, but most include the following:

  1. Are there any hydraulic leaks in the mast or elsewhere?
  2. Are fuel connections tight and battery terminals covered?
  3. Is there any lint, grease, oil or other flammable material on the forklift?
  4. Are there any deformities in the forks, mast, overhead guard or backrest?
  5. Are tires at proper pressure and free of damage?
  6. Are seat belts working and accessible?
  7. Is the load capacity plate readable?
  8. Do all controls (such as lift, lower and tilt) work smoothly?
  9. Is the horn working?
  10. Are the lights operational?
  11. Is steering responsive?
  12. Do brakes stop smoothly and reliably?
  13. Does the parking break hold the forklift on an incline?
  14. Are there any sparks or flames coming from the exhaust system?
  15. Does the engine show signs of overheating?

If you detect anything wrong with the forklift, do not operate it until the necessary repairs have been made.

Remember: Your employer, your co-workers and your family are counting on you to safely complete every work shift. So be smart and be safe!


Sources:

OSHA

Occupational Health & Safety

Optimum Safety Management

McCue Corporation