Forget the ides of March, beware the forklift

February 13, 2003
By: Vicki Bell

Each year in the U.S. nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 are seriously injured in forklift-related incidents. Workers who operate or work near forklifts may be struck or crushed by the machine or the load being lifted. Most fatalities occur when a forklift that has overturned or fallen from a loading dock crushes a worker.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's (NIOSH) investigations of forklift-related deaths indicate that many workers and employers may not be aware of the risks of operating or working near forklifts and are not following the procedures set forth in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, consensus standards, or equipment manufacturer's guidelines. These standards and guidelines address training, safety equipment, maintenance, and operation. The OSHA standards can be found at

Most Common Types of Fatal Forklift Incidents

Case reports of fatal forklift incidents investigated by NIOSH's Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program show that the most common types of these incidents are:

  1. Forklift overturns
  2. Workers on foot being struck, crushed, or pinned by a forklift
  3. Falls from a forklift

The following case studies are true accounts of each type.

Forklift Overturn

Driving improperly or using faulty equipment is asking for trouble.

    On Sept. 18, 1996, the 43-year-old president of an advertising sign company was killed while using a sit-down-type forklift to unload steel tubing from a flatbed trailer. He was driving the forklift about 5 miles per hour beside the trailer on a concrete driveway with a 3 percent grade.

    The victim turned the forklift behind the trailer, and the forklift began to tip over on its side. The victim jumped from the operator's seat to the driveway. When the forklift overturned, the victim's head and neck became pinned to the concrete driveway under the falling-object protective structure (overhead guard).

    An inspection of the forklift revealed that the right-side rear axle stop was damaged before the incident and was not restricting the lateral sway of the forklift when it turned. Also, slack in the steering mechanism required the operator to turn the steering wheel slightly more than half a revolution before the wheels started to turn. The forklift was not equipped with a seat belt [NIOSH 1996b].

It appears that this accident could have resulted in part from faulty equipment. In addressing forklift maintenance, OSHA requires that industrial trucks be examined before being placed in service. They shall not be placed in service if the examination shows any condition adversely affecting the safety of the vehicle. Such examination shall be made at least daily. When industrial trucks are used around the clock, they shall be examined after each shift. When defects are found, they shall be immediately reported and corrected. [29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.178(q)(7)]

Worker Struck by Forklift

Have you ever been in a factory or even a retail warehouse and been annoyed by a forklift driver beeping his horn and asking you to move out of the way? No matter how much distance there is between you and the truck, it's better to be safe than sorry.

    On Oct. 19, 1995, a 39-year-old female punch press operator at a computer components manufacturer was fatally injured while performing normal work tasks at her station. A forklift was traveling in reverse at high speed toward the victim's workstation. A witness observed the forklift strike a metal scrap bin (about 3 by 5 by 3 ft.), propelling it toward the punch press station. The bin hit the press and rebounded toward the forklift. There it was hit once again and shoved back against the corner of the press, striking and crushing the victim against the press. [NIOSH 1996C]

NIOSH recommendations for reducing the risk of forklift incidents include several measures that could have prevented this fatal accident.

  • Look toward the travel path and keep a clear view of it.
  • Separate forklift traffic from workers where possible.
  • Ensure that workplace safety inspections are conducted routinely by a person who can identify hazards, such as obstructions in the aisle, blind corners, and intersections, and forklifts that come too close to workers on foot.
  • Install the workstations, control panel, and equipment away from the aisle whenever possible.
  • Do not store bins, racks, or other materials at corners, intersections, or other locations that obstruct the view of operators or workers at workstations.
  • Enforce safe driving practices such as obeying speed limits, stopping at stop signs, and slowing down and blowing the horn at intersections.

Fall From Forklift

In all probability, the activity described below happens countless times a day in factories and warehouses. Of course those involved try to be careful, but too many things can go wrong.

    On Sept. 6, 1995, a 47-year-old male assistant warehouse manager was fatally injured while working with a forklift operator to pull tires from a storage rack. The two workers had placed a wooden pallet on the forks of the forklift, and the victim then stood on the pallet. The operator raised the forks and victim 16 ft. above a concrete floor to the top of the storage rack. The victim had placed a few tires on the pallet when the operator noticed that the pallet was becoming unstable. The victim lost his balance and fell, striking his head on the floor. [NIOSH 1996a]

If you must use a forklift for lifting workers, NIOSH recommends taking the following precautions:

  • Do not use a forklift to elevate workers who are standing on the forks.
  • Do not elevate a worker on a platform unless the vehicle is directly below the work area.
  • Whenever a truck is used to elevate personnel, secure the elevating platform to the lifting carriage or forks of the forklift.
  • Use a restraining means such as rails, chains, or a body belt with a lanyard or deceleration device for the person(s) on the platform.
  • Do not drive to another location with the work platform elevated.

Reducing the risk of forklift incidents requires a safe work environment; a safe, well-maintained forklift; comprehensive worker training, both for the drivers and for the employees who work in the area where forklifts are used; strict adherence to safe work practices; and systematic traffic management.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209