Forklifts are the workhorses of the warehouse, moving pallets and heavy loads quickly and effectively, and they’re a normal part of work every day for most warehouse workers. But as the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” It also leads to recklessness and a lack of appreciation for just how dangerous forklifts can be. Warehouse and business owners in New York need to make sure they institute policies to keep their workers safe, and that everyone in the warehouse is doing his or her part to avoid serious accidents.
The Reality of Forklift Accidents
Forklift accidents are one of those things we like to ignore, because confronting the possibility of a serious accident can be pretty scary. Here’s what you should know: forklift accidents are pretty rare and only account for about 1% of all warehouse accidents in the United States, but those accidents account for 10% of all injuries in the workplace. In other words, while forklift accidents don’t happen as often as trip-and-falls, they usually end up being much more serious.
Across the country, forklifts cause about 85 deaths every year. They result in almost 35,000 serious injuries each year, and nearly 62,000 less-severe injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration believes that 70% of all forklift accidents are avoidable. Those are a lot of lives that could be saved if people took proper precautions when using forklifts.
Common Causes of Forklift Accidents
Although different things can cause a forklift accident, some of the most common include:
- High speeds: Driving a forklift at excessive speeds can be dangerous due to how they are designed. The back tires of a forklift turn, which means they can swing out during a turn at high speeds, resulting in tipping or overturning. About 24% of all forklift accidents are overturns, and high speeds are likely to cause them.
- Excessive loads: Forklifts are designed to handle very specific amounts of weight, and when that weight is exceeded, it is a recipe for disaster. All workers using a forklift need to know the weight limits for the machine and have a sense of what they are lifting or transporting.
- Moving with elevated load: Proper use of a forklift requires driving with the load low to the ground and only elevating it when stationary. Trying to drive with an elevated load throws off the weight of the machine and can lead to serious accidents. Raised pallets and other loads can also obstruct driver visibility, which can be disastrous.
- Riding on forklifts: Passengers should never ride on a forklift unless it is designed with more than one seat. People taking a ride on a forklift or hopping off a moving forklift are likely to be injured, especially when another type of accident occurs.
- Poor communication: Anyone spotting for a forklift driver and the driver should maintain line of sight and remain in clear communication with each other. Other workers in the area need to know that a forklift is in use and stay clear.
- Mechanical failure: When brakes or other components on a forklift fail, it is quite easy for an accident to occur. This is why forklifts and other machines in a warehouse need to be inspected often and maintained or replaced as needed.
Preventing Forklift Accidents
Understanding how forklift accidents can be avoided not only helps keep workers safe but can also save businesses money.
- Proper training: Everyone in a warehouse should be trained on how to act around a forklift in operation. Anyone driving a forklift must have proper training to ensure they know how to control the vehicle. Training needs to happen not only when someone is first hired, but anytime unsafe behavior is observed. Ongoing training reinforces safe practices.
- Follow the rules: Once workers are trained, they need to know the importance of following the rules. Everyone in the warehouse needs to follow them, and anyone seen cutting corners should be reprimanded. This creates a culture of safety within the warehouse
- Slow down: One of the best ways to avoid accidents is to make sure forklift drivers go at a safe speed. Managers and owners should never push forklift drivers to go faster or rush to get a job done. The lives and safety of everyone in the warehouse are more important than any deadline.
- Forklift maintenance: Forklifts need to be properly maintained. Daily and weekly inspections should be performed on a regular schedule. Maintenance needs to be done immediately whenever an issue is noticed, especially in the brakes or hydraulics of a forklift. Older machines should be replaced if they can no longer be maintained to safe standards.
- Expect more than minimum standards: There are federal regulations that set minimum standards for forklift safety in a warehouse. Managers should expect more from their workers, and workers should want safer standards than the bare minimum. Warehouses should have specific rules beyond what the federal government requires in place to make sure everyone stays safe.
Until all employers and employees follow all the rules and prevent all forklift accidents, we will continue to see these preventable injuries and deaths. If you or a loved one was injured by a forklift, you need to speak to a New York City forklift accident attorney from Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro, Moses & Halperin, LLP. For a free consultation, call us at (212) 986-7353.