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Forklifts Top Cause of Machinery Fatalities in United States

Posted on 19 June 2015 by cradmin

417-031-000 June is National Safety Month, an annual observance led by the National Safety Council, and even though National Forklift Safety Day was held on June 10, it is worthy as the subject of our first regular Health and Safety Watch here at CountertopResource.com. Forklift safety training is a serious issue, and one that should be addressed in every warehouse.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), forklifts are the leading cause of machinery fatalities in the United States, and federal and state regulations on forklift operation are aimed at preventing workplace accidents and deaths, more than 70 percent of which could have been avoided with proper training and precautionary measures. In addition, if your business does not comply with these regulations, it could be levied with fines of up to $10,000 per operator.

Forklift Accident Statistics

Hanley Wood Media has produced an excellent infographic concerning the hazards of powered industrial trucks, more commonly known as forklifts, on its informational website Tools of the Trade. This pictorial statistical analysis was created using several key resources, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Institute of Standards and Technology. Key findings on the safety of forklifts include all of the following:

  • Forklifts are the number one cause of machinery fatalities in the United States.
  • One out of six workplace deaths involve forklifts.
  • About 110,000 forklift accidents occur each year, costing businesses more than $135 million in damages.
  • More than 100 people die each year from forklift-related accidents.
  • Eleven percent of all forklifts in operation will be involved in an accident each year, and 90 percent will be involved in an accident in their operational lifespans.
  • Eighty percent of all forklift accidents involve people other than the driver.

Common Forklift Accidents

Forklifts may be directly involved in a number of different accidents that result in serious injuries or death. The most common accidents caused by forklifts and the percentage of total forklift accidents are as follows:

  • Crushed by forklift tipping over – 42 percent
  • Crushed between forklift and another surface – 25 percent
  • Crushed between forklift and another vehicle – 11 percent
  • Run over or struck by a moving forklift – 10 percent
  • Struck by objects falling or knocked over by forklift – 8 percent
  • Fall from forks or platform on the forks – 4 percent

In 2001, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued a safety alert concerning forklifts titled Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Workers Who Operate or Work Near Forklifts after analyzing several accidents involving powered industrial trucks. From 1980 to 1994, a total of 1,021 workers died in forklift-related incidents, and since then, several case studies have been conducted:

Most Forklift Accidents Are Preventable

shib093003_fig3OSHA, NIOSH and industry associations repeatedly stress the dangers of forklifts, but accidents have not significantly declined in decades. However, these statistics could be expected to drop dramatically if employers followed all of the safety precautions and tips that have recently been published.

Oregon OSHA offers a helpful fact sheet on operating powered industrial trucks, and the Forklift Safety Guide published by the State of Washington is a comprehensive resource for both employers and workers. Federal OSHA also offers a detailed guide on Powered Industrial Trucks that includes sections on fundamentals, forklift operation, workplace conditions and training assistance.

Forklift Safety Tips for Employers

Following are only a few of the most important tips for operating forklifts safely. All of these tips have been summarized from the sources above:

  • All forklift operators must be trained and licensed according to federal and state regulations.
  • It is a violation of federal law for anyone under the age of 18 to operate a forklift.
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive safety program for forklift operators, and ensure that it complies with federal and state training requirements.
  • Inspect and maintain all powered industrial vehicles on a regular basis.
  • Insist that operators use accepted restraint systems.
  • Separate foot traffic from vehicle traffic by limiting where forklifts and workers on foot may travel.
  • Restrict forklifts from high-traffic zones, such as break rooms, offices and time clock areas.
  • Install barriers to isolate foot traffic from forklift traffic.
  • Perform workplace safety inspections at least once per year.
  • Do not perform modifications on forklifts unless specifically approved by the manufacturer.

Forklift Training Saves Lives

The federal branch of OSHA has implemented several standards pertaining to the safe operation of powered industrial trucks and forklifts. These are detailed in Occupational Safety and Health Standard 29 CFR 1910.178, which covers training, maintenance and operation.

In March 1999, the Final Rule for Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training [29 CFR 1910.178(l)] went into effect. This rule requires that all forklift operators complete forklift training and obtain licenses for forklift operation.

Forklift training must include both classroom instruction and hands-on training conducted by qualified trainers. Trainers may be provided in-house by the employer, a government agency, a trade organization or a third-party safety company. Once employees have been licensed, they may legally operate forklifts for a period of three years before re-evaluation and recertification is mandated. In addition, operators must complete refresher training if observed operating forklifts unsafely, after forklift accidents or near-miss incidents, before operating a different type of forklift or when a change in the workplace affects forklift safety.

For further information, contact your state OSHA office, a trade organization such as the Marble Institute of America (MIA) or International Surface Fabricators Association (ISFA), a third-party safety-compliance company or send us a message here at CountertopResource.com and we will point you in the right direction.

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