Jonathan Rosenfeld is an Illinois lawyer with a nationwide practice, Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, representing people seriously injured or killed due to the irresponsible acts of an individual or company.
Forklift accidents are one of the more common possible violations reported to OSHA. This is in part because everyone working in the vicinity of the forklift may be in danger. In fact, the lesson that we learn from reviewing Occupational Safety and Health Administration accident investigation reports is of the wide variety of injuries that are suffered in this type of accident.
Both the forklift operator and their co-workers may be in jeopardy when these types of powered industrial trucks are being operated.
Department of Labor forklift accident data
Forklift accidents continue to injure and kill. PHOTO: Rapid City Journal
Statistics compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show a relatively constant number of fatalities each year in the United States. From 2011 to 2017, between 75 and 94 workers were killed per year in forklift mishaps. An average of 7,000 workers annually were also hurt in these accidents.
There is no noticeable trend among these numbers, other than that they are constant and consistent. If you are looking for root causes of these accidents, they are usually a lack of proper training and oversight and a lax compliance with forklift safety.
While we can also look to OSHA accident reports as a source of statistics, not all accidents are reported to the government for further investigation. Nonetheless, we are able to see more description of the types of accidents that occur and how the government takes action against the employers that violate the rules.
Common types of forklift accident injuries
The largest category of forklift accident that injures employees is transportation accidents. Forklifts have the ability to overturn and tip over. When that happens, the forklift driver and people nearby can suffer severe injuries that can be fatal. Moreover, employees in the area are also at risk of being struck by forklifts.
Here are some common ways that employees can be injured by forklifts:
· Workers can be pinned between the forklift and another object or the wall.
· Employees can fall off a forklift.
· The forklift overturns, throwing the employee.
· The forklift can strike or run over another employee in the area.
Government rules to protect workers from a forklift accident
OSHA imposes a large number of safety rules on employers when it comes to the operation of forklifts. The government recognises the danger of this industrial machinery and attempts to make sure that workers can remain safe on the job. Below are some of the applicable OSHA rules that employers must follow. 29 CFR 1910.178 contains the specific regulations relating to forklifts. Here are some of them:
· All forklifts must meet certain design and safety standards. 29 CFR 1910.178(a)(2) High Lift Rider trucks shall be fitted with an overhead guard to prevent occupational injury 29 CFR 1910.178(e)(1)
· The employer shall ensure that each powered industrial truck operator is competent to operate a forklift safely by complying with training program requirements and safety management and safety programs specific to forklifts. 29 CFR 1910.178(l)(1)(i)
· Employers should not allow anyone to walk beneath the elevated portion of a truck. 29 CFR 1910.178(m)(2).
· Employees should also be provided with personal protective equipment.
These are just some of the pages and pages of regulations that OSHA has to keep forklift operators and people in the vicinity safe. Unfortunately, not all employers follow these rules.
Whether they are trying to cut corners to save money by cutting back on safety training or are just plain negligent, many employers end up violating the rules. When this happens, it can cause serious injuries and can cost lives.
OSHA accident investigation reports
We can also learn something about forklift accidents from looking at the OSHA investigation statistics and reports. There were 34 accident investigations completed by OSHA in 2019. In 27 of these accidents, there were fatalities.
This does not contradict the fatality data reported by the BLS that we discussed above. OSHA will usually investigate and take some sort of enforcement action when there is a serious injury or death. They will often show up in the case of workplace injuries.
In 2018, OSHA completed 75 accident investigations. The fatality rate in these accidents was much lower as only six of these incidents involved cases where workers were killed. This is not to say that there was any one specific factor that caused an overall increase in the number of forklift fatalities.
Nonetheless, given the rise of online shopping and the extensive use of warehouses, there are some increased risks for workers across the economy.
OSHA penalties for employers who broke the rules
Here are some different types of forklift injuries that come from reports of OSHA accident investigations:
· Penalty for USD15,900 from the South Carolina Office (Oct. 2019) - Workers were using a front-end loader to haul mulch material. There was a collision and a worker was pinned by the tyre of a forklift. The employee suffered massive internal injuries and died six days later. The employer received five violation items, including three serious violations.
· Penalty for USD27,846 from the San Antonio Office (Jul. 2019) - The employee was operating a forklift with an attachment. The forklift tipped over, ejecting the employee from the cab of the forklift. He hit his head on the mast and was killed. The employer was found to have exposed the employee to an unsafe workplace with a crushing hazard.
· Penalty of USD19,322 from the Wichita Office (June 2019) - The employee was working for a company that was drilling residential water wells. He raised the mast of the forklift and it came into contact with overhead power lines. He was electrocuted and killed. The company was fined for violating several OSHA rules relating to electrical safety.
· Penalty of USD17,050 from the Dallas Office (May 2019) - An employee was driving a tugger. He drove into a forklift that was parked that had its forks raised. The tugger driver was killed in the collision. The employer was found to have committed two serious safety violations.
Legal options after a forklift mishap
Employees who are hurt in forklift accidents or their families need to figure out who and what was responsible for the forklift accident. If the accident resulted from a defect in the forklift, the family may file a product liability lawsuit against the forklift manufacturer.
If the accident was a result of gross negligence on the part of the employer, the employee or their estate may file a lawsuit against the employer outside of the workers' compensation system.