What are the Dangers of Forklifts Without Safety Features?
January 21, 2021
Each year, forklift accidents result in serious injuries to more than 7,000 workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). More than one percent of those accidents result in fatalities. The most common types of forklift accidents include the following:
- Pedestrians struck or crushed by forklift prongs or loads
- Forklift tip-overs
- Falls from a forklift platform
- Forklift operators struck by falling objects
Many forklift accidents are entirely preventable. In some cases, employers fail to provide adequate safety training to employees. However, in many cases, manufacturers or dealers profit from the sale of forklifts that are not equipped with adequate safety features. Machine manufacturers and dealers are responsible for selling reasonably safe and effective products.
What Safety Features Should Forklifts Have?
There are several types of forklifts and industrial trucks, including but not limited to electric motor trucks, narrow aisle trucks, rough terrain forklifts, side loaders, combustion engine trucks, and forklift tractors. Regardless of the type, all forklift trucks should be equipped with safety features required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Recommended safety features include the following:
Backup alarms. A loud backup alarm should sound automatically when the forklift is in reverse gear.
Brakes. Working brakes are one of the most important forklift safety features. OSHA requires forklift drivers to test their brakes and brake lights at the beginning of each shift.
Convex mirrors. Left and right convex mirrors can improve operator visibility by eliminating blind spots and preventing accidents at intersections and corners. Mirrors are a critical safety feature because forklift drivers are more likely to injure pedestrians if their view is obstructed by their load.
Fire extinguisher. This is necessary in case of a fire.
Horns. OSHA requires forklift operators to have easy access to a horn, gong, or whistle that is capable of producing sound that is louder than the ambient noise in the work area. Some forklifts also have rear horns that operators can easily access when they are turned and facing the workspace behind the forklift.
Rollover protection system (ROPS). A ROPS protects the forklift driver in the event of a tip over. It is constructed of bars that attach to the forklift frame and includes an overhead guard, as well as seat belts and seats with an armrest, shoulder, and body extensions. A ROPS can be installed by the manufacturer or a dealer.
Seat belts. OSHA requires seat belts on all industrial lift trucks manufactured after 1992. Seat belts can help keep operators from falling out and suffering serious injuries if the forklift tips over.
Lights. OSHA requires brake lights and headlights when the general lighting is less than two lumens per square foot. Warning lights, such as directional lights, flashing lights, or blue/red LED lights can prevent pedestrian collisions at blind spots or in noisy warehouse corridors. Some manufacturers also offer options for lights capable of casting illuminated shapes on the ground, which alert pedestrians of the direction in which the forklift is traveling.
Overhead Guard. This feature protects forklift drivers from falling objects.
Warning labels. OSHA requires all forklifts to display a nameplate, which lists the forklift’s weight, capacity, and fuel type. In addition to the nameplate, forklifts should also have prominent decals that include warnings with additional safety information, including operations or actions that may cause death or serious injury if warnings are not heeded or dangers are not avoided.
To increase visibility to pedestrians, some manufacturers and after market dealers also offer options for bright orange forklift prongs, seat belts, and other attachments.
What Injuries are Caused by Forklifts Lacking Safety Features?
Forklift drivers and pedestrians involved in forklift accidents may suffer fractures, bruises, sprains, or multiple traumatic injuries, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). Traumatic brain injuries, heart attacks, and other serious or fatal complications may occur in accidents where victims are crushed or suffer tremendous blood loss.
The Philadelphia products liability lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP have represented clients and their families in numerous cases involving serious or fatal injuries arising from forklift accidents, including the following:
- A 35-year-old worker suffered a fractured rib and a severed aorta in an accident in which forklift prongs struck him in the back. The extensive blood loss resulted in a traumatic brain injury, which left the worker as a paraplegic. Galfand Berger LLP demonstrated that the forklift dealer neglected to install forklift safeguards, including flashing lights, convex mirrors, and other safety devices that would have prevented this tragic accident. The lawsuit was settled for $3.4 million prior to trial.
- A 46-year-old worker died after falling 25 feet to a concrete floor below when the industrial work platform on which he was standing detached from a forklift. Galfand Berger LLP represented the worker’s family, recovering $1.6 million in damages for his fatal injuries.
Other examples of litigation involving forklift accidents include the following:
- A worker was crushed when pallets slipped over the top of a forklift that did not have a rollover protection system.
- A worker was run over by a lift truck while walking in an aisle; the accident could have been avoided if the forklift had warning lights.
- A man was killed in a forklift that tipped over; an adequate ROPS would have prevented his death.
What are Employers’ Responsibilities with Respect to Forklift Safety?
Employers are responsible for maintaining a safe working environment. This includes maintenance of equipment, as well as training for workers.
- Forklift maintenance. OSHA states that forklifts must be inspected daily prior to each shift. This includes brakes, seat belts, horns, and other safety devices.
- The NSC provides training programs for various types of forklifts. A fundamental part of this training involves educating forklift operators about the differences between industrial lift trucks and other vehicles, including their weight, three-point suspension, open structure, turning radius, and the fact that they are much more prone to tipping over, regardless if they are loaded.
What Should I Do if I am Injured in a Forklift Accident?
Workers who suffer injuries in a forklift accident should notify their supervisors immediately and seek medical attention. Giving notice of injury is important because workers cannot receive Workers’ Compensation benefits unless their employer knows that they suffered a work-related injury. The notice of injury should include the date the accident happened, how it happened, and what body parts were injured.
Filing a Workers’ Compensation claim can be complex, and it is always in workers’ best interests to contact a qualified lawyer to determine whether the accident was caused by another party. For example, if the forklift accident was due to a lack of safety features on the forklift, the worker may have the right to file a lawsuit against the forklift manufacturer or dealer and recover additional damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Help Victims of Forklift Accidents
If you or someone you know was injured in a forklift accident at work, it is important to contact the Philadelphia products liability lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP. We bring deep knowledge and experience to each accident investigation. To find out more about our investigative process and how we would approach your case, contact us online or call 800-222-8792 to schedule a free consultation. We represent injured workers throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey from our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania.