February 13, 2003
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 www.osha.gov.
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:
The following case studies are true accounts of each type.
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)]
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.
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:
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.