This blog is part one of a two part series addressing the injuries caused by power lift trucks in the workplace and how employers can prevent them.

Statistics published by the National Safety Council and OSHA show that three times as many workers are seriously injured or killed in lift truck related accidents than in construction site accidents in the United States annually since 2007. In fact, the risk of being injured by a forklift many years ago prompted the creation of an entire section in OSHA devoted to warehousing/material handling and storage operations in the Occupational Safety and Health Act.  

Because industrial lift trucks travel at about the same speed as a golf cart, layman think that operating these noise-free propane or hydraulic powered vehicles do not pose a serious risk to the operator or to a pedestrian walking in a powered lift truck or walking in a plant, loading dock, or warehouse.

The danger, however, is serious and two-fold in nature. First, on a construction site or in a warehouse, there are usually no clearly defined aisle ways or traffic control devices such as stop signs or crosswalks painted on the floor. Second, the forklift’s load is positioned directly in front of the operator’s line of sight, making it extremely difficult to see objects or people directly in front of the vehicle. The position of the load on the forks often necessitates the truck being operated in reverse over long distances. Such maneuvering places an operator in an uncomfortable position in relation to the driver seat, as it puts significant physical stress on the operator’s neck and upper torso. Ergonomic studies demonstrate looking backward over the shoulder is not a position which is easy to maintain for any period of time. This will often times result in the operator using only the rearview mirror to guide his way.

Another problem in operating a forklift in a warehouse is when there is large bulky freight, (usually secured on pallets) stacked on top of each other and stored near and sometimes within the aisle way, abutting pedestrian walkways. In a crowded, noisy plant, the workers cannot hear or see the silent forklift before being struck. Being struck by a two ton forklift, even one which is traveling at 10-15 MPH can result in serious bodily injuries.  

The Federal government, in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) has enacted strict requirements for the training and safe operation of powered lift truck drivers, as well as instituting traffic control safety regulations such as “the rules of the road,” and vehicular traffic right-of-ways in plants, warehouses, and on construction sites to prevent accidents.