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Forklifts: What Can Go Wrong?

November 15, 2021

According to a report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), every year there are about 95,000 people injured while operating forklifts, and another 100 people who die from serious injuries. The vast majority of these accidents were due to improper operation and forklift turnovers.

In most cases, the accidents could have been prevented with proper training and education utilizing the OSHA forklift training requirements. These requirements help ensure all operators and employees working around forklifts know the proper safety procedures.

Improper Load Weights

Forklifts have maximum load weights based on the type of forklift attachments being used. It is important for the operator to review the capacity plate to determine the maximum weights. Furthermore, operators need to keep in mind the amount of wear and tear on the forks, as this will reduce the maximum weight the lift can support.

Attempting to lift more than the maximum weight results in the front of the lift being heavier. This affects the center of gravity of the lift truck and can cause it to flip over, resulting in potential injury to the operator and anyone standing near the lift when it falls over.

Improper Load Balances

Lift trucks have a center of gravity that will change based on the size and weight of the load being moved. If the load extends further past the forks of the lift, this greatly alters the center of gravity and increases the likelihood of the lift flipping over.

To prevent this from occurring, always make sure the attachment is designed for the load being lifted. In addition, verify the forks are completely under the load. For oversized loads, you will want to use a fork extension or another lift truck that already has the longer forks installed.

Improper Use of the Forklift

Some accidents are caused by the operator and/or other employees attempting to use the forklift for a purpose for which it was not designed. In one OSHA incident report, a worker fell seven feet after he slipped off a pallet that had been elevated by the lift truck operator and that he was standing on so he could reach and adjust inventory on eight-foot shelving in a warehouse.2 In this accident, the injured worker later died from his injuries.

Forklifts are not designed to be used to lift employees, no matter how far off the ground. Rather, an aerial lift or other similar equipment, which is designed to lift people, should be used when employees need to reach inventory and move it manually on upper shelves in a warehouse. Had the employer provided the right equipment to for reaching inventory stored on upper shelves, this accident would not have occurred.

Improper Use of Attachments

There are many different types of attachments that can be used on lift trucks. Each one is designed for specific purposes. They should not be used to lift and move loads they were not designed to handle.

Part of the reason for accidents is operators fail to review the capacity plate on the lift truck to determine the maximum load and other details for using various attachments. According to OSHA, attachment data must be listed on the capacity plate.3 Anytime that a new attachment is acquired, the capacity plate needs to be updated.

Improper Maintenance

Forklifts need regular maintenance to ensure they are safe to operate. When lift trucks are not properly maintained, it affects to overall performance and capacities of the lift. Maximum lifting capacities diminish with fork wear, and maintenance techs should update the weight limits and provide this information to lift operators.

Underfilled or overfilled tires can also affect the center of gravity and make driving and controlling the lift difficult and dangerous. Operators should have a forklift safety checklist they use at the start of their shift to inspect the lift prior to using it. Items on the checklist should include:

  • Verifying the tires are filled to the right pressure.
  • Checking the wear on the forks.
  • Inspecting the chains and other moving pieces that make up the lift assembly.
  • Reviewing the capacity plate.

Maintenance personnel should also have their own forklift safety checklist they use when performing maintenance on lift trucks. Anytime they replace components and lift truck parts, they should keep a record of this.

Forklift Safety

Forklift flip-overs, accidents involving pedestrian traffic, and bad driving habits are three of the more common causes of accidents. Employers need to develop and implement a forklift safety training program to educate their employees on various aspects of forklift operations. It never hurts to educate all employees, regardless of whether they are a forklift operator or merely work around lift trucks.

To reduce the accidents, make sure your safety training identifies these areas of lift truck operations:

  • The height used to transport loads. The load should be lowered down and never moved at elevated heights.
  • The angle of the forks when the lift is moving. Tilting the forks slightly backward toward the lift will prevent the load from falling off the ends of the forks.
  • The speed at which the lift is being driven. Driving at fast speeds increases the likelihood of accidents. Lifts need to be driven at slow speeds even when not carrying loads.
  • Turning around corners. Some corners are tighter than others and turning the lift truck too quickly or at too high of a speed could cause it to flip over.
  • Dock safety when loading and unloading trucks. Dock accidents often involve the operator driving the lift right off of the dock. Make sure docks are clearly marked with barrier posts, and that trucks are fully backed up without any gaps in between the dock and truck to be loaded or unloaded.
  • Designated procedures for pedestrian traffic in areas where forklifts are being used. Have designated walkways for employees to use, rather than allowing them to walk freely through the warehouse.
  • When loads and being moved around, it is beneficial to block of these areas to prevent foot traffic from entering. Some warehouses will also use flashing lights, light-up signs, portable barrier equipment, and other safety equipment to increase safety and reduce the risks of accidents.
  • Never operating a lift that does not have a capacity plate on it. When there is no capacity plate, the operator does not know what the safe operating parameters for the lift truck are, let alone weight limits. Not to mention, this also violates OSHA forklift requirements.

Pallet Jack Safety

Pallet jacks are another type of equipment used in warehousing operations. There are both manually operated and electrical models. It is important to ensure your employees understand how to safely operate either type of jack to prevent accidents.

Loads falling off of the jacks due to exceeding maximum weight limits or not verifying the load is properly balanced are the most common type of accidents. When loads fall off, they can fall onto employees and cause serious injuries.

Only raise loads far enough off the floor so they can be moved to their designated area. In most cases, this only requires lifting the load about six to twelve inches off of the ground so the pallet jack just clears the floor and does not impede the movement of the wheels.

For heavier loads, and to avoid back strains and injuries, always push the pallet jack using the attached handles that are in the “power zone” location.4 You should never pull a pallet jack while moving a load because this not only makes it more difficult to control the pallet jack but also places a greater strain on the back, both of which could lead to injuries.

OSHA Requirements for Warehouse Personnel

In addition to specific requirements for forklift, heavy equipment, and pallet jack/handcart usage, OSHA has other specific requirements employers and employees need to be aware of to help create safe working environments. These could include wearing PPE (personal protection equipment), such as hard hats, work gloves, goggles or protective eyewear, and others, depending on the types of items and materials used and stored in the warehouse.

Warehouse operations also need to develop and implement an emergency prevention and awareness program. This program should include regular training and drills for employees so they will know what to do in the event of an emergency.

To summarize, most accidents involving forklifts could be prevented with proper training, education, and maintenance of lift trucks, pallet jacks, and other equipment used at your facility. For forklift training, service, parts, rentals, or new or used lift trucks, cushion forklift tires, and other related warehouse equipment, please feel free to contact Atlas Toyota Material Handling at 877-438-2719 today!


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