forkliftForklifts, also known as powered industrial trucks or lift trucks, are useful pieces of equipment that literally save workers many hours of backbreaking manual labor.

However, forklifts are dangerous vehicles involved in thousands of workplace accidents each year.

Data from a 2015 study by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) indicates that approximately 62,000 forklift incidents happen each year, with nearly half of those resulting in serious injury. Roughly 100 deaths occur annually as a result, often due to someone being crushed by the machine or caught between the machine and a surface.

What Are the Major Causes of Forklift Accidents?

Forklifts are utilized in a variety of industries, including:

  • Manufacturing
  • Shipping and transportation
  • Wholesale and retail
  • Construction
  • Mining

Under OSHA regulations, forklift operators must be at least 18 and properly trained and certified to drive a forklift. Not all employers comply with these rules or take the danger of forklift accidents seriously enough. Yet OSHA indicates that proper training and jobsite policies could prevent 70 percent of forklift accidents.

Common reasons that forklift accidents occur include:

  • Inadequate training. Even if the operator had the proper certification, he could cause a forklift accident if he's not provided with proper training on the specific machines in his workplace, such as electric or propane forklifts, stand-up riding tow tractors, or electric transtackers. OSHA also requires operators to be re-trained every three years.
  • Faulty equipment. In some cases, the worker isn't the cause of a forklift accident. The forklift could malfunction due to defective parts or lack of maintenance or repair.
  • Loading. A forklift is more likely to tip over if improperly loaded. Underinflated tires may also affect the balance of the machine. OSHA statistics report 42 percent of forklift accidents are caused by someone being crushed when the machine tips over.
  • Dock falls. These accidents happen when the operator accidentally drives off a dock or the truck being loaded or unloaded pulls away from a dock too early, causing the forklift to fall off the loading platform.
  • Obstacles. Dangerous accidents can occur when tools, materials, and debris are allowed to clutter the path of the forklift's operating area.  
  • Impaired operation. Some forklift drivers can cause a tragic accident if they're intoxicated due to drug or alcohol consumption. This causes the same impairments as driving a vehicle on the road, such as reduced reaction time, vision, and judgment.
  • Overhead hazards. Operators are responsible for confirming their surrounding are free from obstacles such as sprinkler systems, low-hanging lighting, utilities, and doorways. There must be at least 10 ft. of clearance underneath energized power lines.
  • Lack of immobilization. When the truck trailer wheels are not chocked—or prevented from moving forward—before loading and unloading, the trailer can pull away from the dock. Both the truck driver and forklift operator are responsible for checking this.
  • Forklift collisions. In congested work areas, two forklifts can collide or a single machine can collide with a motor vehicle when right of way and other traffic rules aren't followed.
  • Nearby workers. Many victims of a forklift accident are nearby workers who the driver doesn't see until it is too late, or failed to warn by sounding the horn at key intersections.
  • Lack of safety measures. When employers fail to maintain forklifts with proper seat belts, lights, overhead guards, and grab handles, forklift operation is more dangerous.  

Who Could Be Liable in a Forklift Accident?

An individual injured in a forklift accident may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits to pay medical bills, a portion of lost wages, and permanent disability payments. Workers’ comp is a no-fault system, which means the employee could receive these benefits even if he's found responsible for his own injuries. Depending on the cause of his accident, he may be entitled to pursue additional claims for compensation against these parties:

  • Parts manufacturer, if a defective part caused his injuries
  • Maintenance facility, if the employer contracted out the inspection and maintenance duties for the forklift and lack of maintenance or repair caused the accident
  • Truck drivers and trucking companies, if the driver failed to be certain that semi wheels were chocked, causing it to move away from a dock
  • Third-parties, if the forklift operator worked for a sub-contractor, supplier, or other third-party onsite

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James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.