Ten common factors in forklift accidents

Working in the commercial insurance business, I’ve seen – or heard – too many stories about people getting hurt or damaging products when using a forklift.

Working in the commercial insurance business, I've seen - or heard - too many stories about people getting hurt or damaging products when using a forklift. If you Google forklift injuries in the past year, you'll see far too many news stories of people dying or getting severely hurt.

Yet, forklifts are so common - and critical - for distributors of any product (and a lot of other types of businesses). Forklifts help move that product from point A to point B in a fast and easy way. People in warehouses and distribution centers are used to being around forklifts. But we have to treat forklifts like the large pieces of equipment that they are and remember they can be dangerous. The person operating the forklift, and the people working around it, need to take the risk of injury seriously.

Beyond the risk of injury or death, we have the negative economic impact of damaged product. Maybe (hopefully) the people involved escape a forklift accident unscathed, but there could be significant damage to the product being moved and other inventory in the area.

Our risk engineering team has worked with a lot of distributors to help keep their workers and their product safe when using forklifts. Here are ten common factors that may contribute to accidents that distributors need to know - and remember - to keep workers safe and productive. For information about safe forklift operating, please visit the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's (OSHA) website.

OSHA advises to avoid the following common mistakes when traveling or maneuvering a forklift.

  1. Traveling at excessive speed. Forklifts weigh an average of 7,500-10,000 pounds. To put that in perspective, the average passenger car weighs from 2,500 to 4,700 pounds. Traveling at excessive speeds can cause the forklift to tip over or make it difficult to stop, should a person or object be in the path of the lift or the floor be wet and slippery.
  2. Riding with the load elevated. This can cause the lift to be off-balance, especially when making turns or going up and down grades. Having the load elevated can also obstruct the fork lift operator's view.
  3. Improper backing up techniques. Visibility is limited when backing, so having a flashing light or audible signal connected to the forklift while in reverse can help alert others to the activity and movement of the forklift.
  4. Improper turning, braking or accelerating. These activities alone or in conjunction with one another can cause the lift to tip over, not to mention a danger to others in the area.
  5. Improper warnings to others about a forklift in use nearby. Forklifts are generally equipped with a horn that can be used when needed to alert those nearby, and signs are available to be placed in areas where forklifts might be present and in use.
  6. Poor communication during shared tasks or in shared spaces. How noisy is your workplace? Are folks wearing hearing protection? It may be challenging to communicate in a loud environment. Shared spaces such as aisles aren't just for forklifts … people, loose objects, and wet floors could also be present. It's important to be able to communicate easily.
  7. Riding or giving rides on forklift or load. You got it, this is another load balance concern, which can lead to tipping, injury, and/or damage.
  8. Parking the forklift improperly. An improperly parked forklift can move on its own striking property or people, and people or objects can strike a forklift if it's not parked in a designated area. OSHA recommends a list of procedures if the lift is not in view or the operator is more than 25 feet away.
  9. Horseplay, stunt driving or erratic driving. Irresponsible forklift activity can cause damage to property, or injury or death to individuals.
  10. Inadequate servicing of the forklift. Having a maintenance program in place for any equipment is key to workplace safety. Just like a personal vehicle, having a proper preventative maintenance program in place will help thwart accidents or injury, and may help to prolong the life of the equipment.

A key piece of your risk management program should be safety and loss prevention. Sharing these common mistakes over and over again, even with experienced forklift operators, could make the difference for your business. If you're inexperienced or unsure about proper safe forklift operation, it may be best to hire a trained professional.