Anyone who’s ever seen a forklift, let alone operated one, knows that such machines are not to be messed with. And yet forklifts (often referred to “powered industrial trucks” in the environmental health and safety world) are at the center of dozens of fatalities—and tens of thousands of injuries—every year.
How many workers die in forklift-related accidents annually? According to one commonly cited statistic floating around the internet, about 85. But that figure is more than 20 years old—it comes from an Occupational Safety and Health Administration survey published in 1995. In its most recent Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2016, 197 people were killed after being struck by a powered non-transport vehicle. That’s more than double what many of us already saw as a staggeringly high total.
In other words, forklifts are even more dangerous than most people realize. Here are a few actions your organization can take to promote forklift safety awareness, minimize the number of accidents at your facilities, and ensure compliance with OSHA and state regulators:
1. Inspect Your Forklifts Daily
OSHA requires all forklift operators to inspect each machine once a day, before the forklift is turned on. Forklifts used around the clock must be inspected after each shift.
Start by conducting a pre-operation inspection, checking the following:
- fluid levels
- leaks, cracks, and other visible defects
- tire condition
- fork condition
- safety decals and nameplates
- seat belt and other safety device functionality
- load backrest
- finger guards
- operator compartment condition
- presence of the operator manual
Additionally, depending on the type of forklift, you will need to check items such as cables and connectors (for electric forklifts), engine oil and brake reservoir levels (for internal combustion forklifts), tank condition (for liquid propane forklifts), and more.
After that, it’s on to the operational inspection. Turn on the forklift engine and check elements such as the following:
- accelerator linkage
- drive and tilt control
- hoist and lowering control
- attachment control
For a more comprehensive overview, as well as sample checklists, visit OSHA’s forklift inspection page.
2. Train Your Workforce
In forklift operation, as in countless EHS initiatives, training is perhaps the greatest factor in minimizing losses. In fact, OSHA estimates that up to 70% of forklift-related accidents could have been prevented with proper training. See OSHA’s training materials on powered industrial trucks.
3. Document Everything
In addition to your daily forklift inspection results, make sure to keep thorough and complete workforce training records. OSHA requires every employer to be able to provide a “written certification record” for each forklift operator, with information including “the name of the operator, the date of the training, the date of the evaluation, and the identity of the person(s) performing the training or evaluation.” For more information, visit OSHA’s Powered Industrial Truck Operator FAQs.