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Heads up: Forklifts accidents happen
Paradise Valley, September 2010: 29-year-old man killed while operating a forklift to deliver sod to a residence.
Yuma, December 2008: An industrial accident in east Yuma County that claimed a life when a worker fell from a pallet supported by a forklift.
Phoenix, January 2008: A 23-year-old man broke his leg after he drove a forklift off the loading dock at a Home Depot and was pinned underneath it, Phoenix fire officials said.
Tempe, October 2007: 58-year-old construction worker fell to his death while helping build new dormitories on the campus of a university. The operator of a forklift put the equipment in reverse and struck him.
Forklifts are one of the most frequently used pieces of equipment in the U.S., with an estimated 856,000 forklifts (also known as “lift trucks” or “powered industrial trucks”) in operation at any given time. So it stands to reason that forklift accidents are among the leading cause of injuries on construction and industrial sites.
In Arizona, forklift accidents are frequent – and sometimes fatal. The most common forklift injuries include:
• Vehicle tip-overs, crushing the operator
• Crushing injuries to a worker between the vehicle and another surface
• Crushing injuries to a worker between the forklift and another vehicle
In April 2011, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported that forklift accidents claim about 100 lives every year in the United States, with an additional 34,900 individuals obtaining serious injuries and 61,800 individuals experiencing minor injuries.
Due to the risks involved, the OSHA standards require that all forklift operators be trained and authorized to drive the specific model used. In addition, the standards require that a forklift operator complete a daily inspection before operating the vehicle.
Last year alone, OSHA issued more than 2,900 citations and about $2 million in penalties for violations involving forklifts.
The number of injuries related to construction and industrial accidents rises almost every year. No one plans an accident, so whether you’ve been around forklifts for a month or 10 years, it’s a good idea to regularly review safety precautions.
Safety Maintenance News provides these forklift safety tips. ADOSH recommends that they be regularly reviewed with forklift operators:
• Watch where you place your hands and feet. Be aware of and stay clear of pinch points such as the wheels and lift gears.
• If your truck starts to tip over, don’t jump. Stay in your seat, grip the wheel securely and brace yourself with your feet.
• Always look out for others when moving and operating your forklift.
• When operating the forklift watch out for pedestrians, blind intersections and drive slowly.
• No one may walk or stand under the forks when in a raised position,
• Do not allow anyone to ride with you on the lift unless it is made for more than one person.
• Forklifts are not elevators. Do not lift anyone unless you are using a special basket designed for lifting personnel.
• Fluids from a forklift can leak out overnight on the area where you park it and make the surface slick. Check for fluids when you get on and off a forklift to prevent a slip and fall.
• Do not let unauthorized persons operate your forklift. Remove the key when the forklift is unattended.
• Use your horn when backing up, at intersections, when going through doors and anywhere you have limited or blocked vision.
• Use your seat belt and check that the warning lights and backup alarm work before operating the machine. (ADOSH note: Failing to wear a seat belt is one of the most frequently issued citations related to forklift operation.)
• Remember that you are the most important safety device on a forklift. Don’t operate a forklift if you are sleepy, distracted or feeling ill.
Everyone believes that accidents are what happen to someone else. My job reminds me each day that accidents are real and that what can happen in the blink of an eye can destroy lives and livelihoods of even the most careful individuals.
ADOSH can assist with training in general forklift safety. To find out more about this or other ADOSH classes, contact the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health at 602-542-1769.