Forklifts are used primarily to transport heavy equipment and machinery on a construction site. In 2021, forklifts accounted for 70 work-related fatalities, and in 2020, 7,290 non-fatal injuries.
If you have fallen victim to a forklift accident, you need the workplace injury lawyers at Cesar Ornelas Injury Law. Below we discuss the common types of forklift accidents and injuries.
What is a Forklift?
A forklift is a small industrial truck that is used to move goods around a warehouse. Goods are often placed on pallets, which are structures that are used to store goods.
Current forklifts are more advanced in technology. They can handle almost any load, with heavy-duty forklifts lifting up to 50 tons.
A forklift contains a counterweight situated on the rear of the forklift that works against the weight on the fork to keep the truck balanced. Without this counterweight, if a forklift was carrying a heavy load, it would tip over.
Forklifts come in different shapes and sizes. While a standard forklift has four wheels, two forks, and a lifting mast, factories and warehouses around the world use forklifts with varying designs.
Why are Forklifts So Dangerous?
The structure and function of a forklift make it more dangerous than other machinery.
Since forklifts only have front brakes, they take more time to stop. Since loads must be placed in the front of the forklift, the rear is heavier to counterbalance the truck. This means that when the load is empty, the forklift is unbalanced.
With loads being carried in the front, the operator’s view is obstructed. If the forklift has run over someone, the operator may not notice right away. The back end of a forklift may swing out when turning, which can run into an object or someone that is situated too close.
Common Forklift Accidents
In a fourteen-year period, an estimated 1,021 workers died from traumatic injuries related to forklifts. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that 85 workers die annually in forklift accidents.
There are five common causes of forklift accidents:
- Forklifts toppling over
- Workers on foot being struck by forklifts
- Falling loads
- Workers falling from forklifts
- Defective or faulty equipment
Forklifts toppling over
A forklift can tip over forwards, backward, or sideways. When a forklift’s center of gravity shifts too far from the wheelbase, it can become unstable. A forklift can tip over if it is taking a turn too sharply. A forklift must take wide turns, and if it is carrying a heavy load, it may be more prone to capsize.
If the operator accelerates too quickly or stops abruptly, a forklift could tip backward or forward. It is especially dangerous if the surface is wet or uneven since this could contribute to the forklift flipping over.
Workers on foot being struck by forklifts.
A worker or pedestrian could be struck by a forklift, or the load that a forklift is carrying could slide off and hit someone below.
In one accident case, a forklift was traveling at high speed in reverse. The forklift struck a metal scrap bin, propelling it toward a press operator’s workstation. The bin hit the press and rebounded toward the forklift. The bin then ricocheted off the forklift and was thrown to the back of the press, striking the press operator, and causing fatal injuries.
A person on the ground (pedestrian) can be struck by a falling load. This could be due to the load not being secured to the forklift, or off-center, causing the forklift to become unstable.
Loads can also fall off if the forks of the truck are bent. The forklift forks may be bent due to overloading the truck.
Workers falling from forklifts.
In some cases, workers have fallen from forklifts. Common causes include not taking proper safety precautions, not securing a safety platform properly, or the forklift operator not communicating properly with another worker.
In one case, a worker was standing on a steel-framed cage safety platform that had not been properly secured to the forklift. When the victim stepped to the side of the platform, the safety platform fell off the forks. The victim fell 7 feet, hitting his head on the concrete floor and also being crushed by the safety platform.
Faulty or malfunctioning equipment
Forklift accidents can be caused by any number of malfunctions, including mechanical, operational, and design problems. Braking and steering malfunctions are the number one culprit when it comes to faulty forklift equipment.
Forklifts that are not being serviced regularly are a hazard in a warehouse or distribution center. Workers should check fluid levels and also visually scan for any leaks or cracks anywhere on the truck, including the tires.
OSHA requires that workers complete a daily safety checklist before using a forklift. Every effort should be made by workers and their employers to keep everyone safe.
Risk Factors that May Increase Accidents
There are certain factors that can contribute to an increase in forklift accidents:
- Riding with an elevated load
- Improper backing up techniques
- Improper driving, such as turning, backing up, or accelerating
- Poor communication during shared tasks between the forklift operator and another worker
- Not being aware of the route to be traveled
- Riding or giving rides on forklifts
- Horsing around or other careless behavior
- Erratic driving
- Inadequate servicing of the forklift
Common Forklift Injuries
Due to a forklift’s size and weight, a forklift accident often results in a worker’s death. However, the operator of a forklift can suffer wear-and-tear injuries from operating the forklift for an extended period of time.
Common operator injuries include:
Neck and back pain
Sitting on a forklift can cause a worker to develop poor posture, resulting in back and neck pain. The vibrations of a forklift can also contribute to this pain.
Forklift operators may develop foot pain. If their knees are turned inward while sitting down, this can also affect their knees and legs.
Repetitive motions of driving a forklift can cause tissue damage that can affect a person’s skeletal structure.
The pain may begin as minor, but left untreated, it can be significant, causing a worker to be unable to drive a forklift.
These injuries are related to the operation of a forklift and do not encompass injuries caused by forklift accidents. In itself, a forklift is a heavy machinery that can cause injuries from the mechanics of simply driving it.
Injuries that result from forklift accidents include:
- Muscle tears
Accident injuries are often severe and require medical attention. Each year, roughly 34,000 people visit the ER due to forklift related-injuries.
Ways to Prevent Forklift Accidents
Although forklifts present many dangers, a trained and licensed driver will have the skills to prevent most accidents.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has provided the following guidelines for workers to stay safe while operating forklifts:
- Use seat belts if they are available
- Report to your supervisor any damage or problems that occur to a forklift during your shift
- Do not jump from a forklift that is capsizing: stay with the truck, holding on firmly and leaning in the opposite direction of the overturn
- Use extreme caution on ramps
- On inclines, tilt the load back and raise it only as far as needed to clear the road surface
- Do not raise or lower the forks while the forklift is moving
- Do not handle loads that are heavier than the weight capacity of the forklift
- Operate the forklift at a speed that will permit it to be stopped safely
- Do not drive up to anyone standing in front of a bench or other fixed object
- Do not drive to another location with the load platform elevated
Additionally, there are ways for a forklift operator to improve his visibility, such as:
- Installing mirrors to see blind spots
- Remove environmental factors that are hindrances, such as clutter on docks or in aisles
- Reduce distractions in the workplace
Even with all possible precautions, accidents and injuries can still happen while working on a forklift.
How Can a Workplace Injury Lawyer Help Me?
If you have been injured in your workplace, a workplace injury lawyer can help you through the insurance claims process.
Most of the time, workplace injuries will entail a worker’s compensation claim. There are many reasons that a workers’ compensation claim can be denied. That is where we can help.
A workplace injury lawyer will help you receive compensation for your injuries and missed time from work. We will assist you in gathering the necessary evidence, testimony, and documentation you need to present at a workers’ compensation hearing.
A San Antonio Workplace Injury Lawyer Never Giving Up
The dangers of operating a forklift cannot be underestimated. Even with appropriate training, you can still be involved in a forklift injury. No matter the circumstances, the attorneys at Cesar Ornelas Injury Law have years of experience with a variety of injury cases. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.
Originally from Kyle, Texas, Mr. Ornelas is a first-generation college graduate and a first-generation attorney.
Licensed in Texas, Cesar Ornelas’s nationwide practice is entirely contingency fee-based and consists of a wide variety of catastrophic personal injury and death cases. He has represented countless victims of catastrophic accidents across the United States.