Posted on: April 18, 2024

5 Most Common Forklift Accidents and How to Prevent Them

5 Most Common Forklift Accidents and How to Prevent Them

One in 6 workplace deaths involves a forklift.

That’s an alarming enough statistic, but it’s worse when you consider that 70% of forklift accidents are preventable with standard safety measures, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Part of the problem is that the general public doesn’t have enough forklift accident awareness, so new forklift operators don’t exercise the appropriate amount of caution.

Continue reading to learn more about the most common causes of forklift accidents and the safety measures that could be taken to avoid them.

Understanding Forklift Accident Statistics

The total number of annual forklift accidents can only be estimated because OSHA only requires incidents to be recorded or reported when they result in death or serious injury.

So we know that forklift accidents result in 75-95 deaths every year and 8,000-9,000 injuries serious enough to require days away from work (DAFW). But we don’t have national data on forklift accidents that cause less serious injuries or that only result in property damage or lost productivity.

We also know that forklift injuries tend to be more serious than other types of incidents because we know they require more recovery time than average (13 DAFW vs 8).

Even pinning down the most common forklift accident “causes” involves guesswork, but below, we’ll review some of the most common types of forklift accidents.

Top Causes of Forklift Accidents (and How to Prevent Them)

Below, you’ll find the five most common causes of forklift accidents. 1 and 2 are heavy hitters, but all of them are hazards that forklift operators should be aware of.

#1: Forklift Rollovers or Tip-overs

Forklifts are prone to rolling or tipping over, and this is a particularly dangerous type of accident. It’s estimated that 24% of all forklift accidents are turnovers, but they account for 42% of all recorded injuries. In other words, if you’re in a forklift rollover accident, you’re more likely to get seriously injured.

The most common causes of rollover or tip-over accidents involve dangerous speeds, abrupt movements, and poorly balanced loads.

To prevent forklift rollover accidents:

  • Take corners slowly. Turning a forklift shifts the center of gravity, which increases the risk of a rollover, especially if you’re moving too fast. Remember: slow is smooth, and smooth is safe.
  • Don’t exceed your load capacity. Maximum load capacities are printed on the data tag. Overloading your forklift can result in a tip-over.
  • Understand load balance. Proper load balance is also critical to maintaining a stable center of gravity, so you need to avoid lopsided loads. Weight should be centered. Additionally, you should only drive when the forks are lowered – operating with an elevated load creates a dangerous imbalance.
  • Only operate on smooth, even surfaces. Uneven surfaces can cause sudden shifts in the center of gravity, resulting in tip-overs.

#2: Pedestrian Collisions

Forklift accidents involving pedestrians are another particularly dangerous type of accident, causing a disproportionate amount of serious injuries. Roughly 20% of forklift accidents involve a pedestrian, but 36% of forklift-related deaths do.

Pedestrian collisions include several different types of accidents in which a forklift:

  • Crushes a pedestrian against a stationary object (25% of all recorded forklift injuries)
  • Strikes or runs over a pedestrian (11%)
  • Crushes a pedestrian between two vehicles  (11%)
  • Falls onto a pedestrian or strikes them as it falls (8%)

To prevent forklift-pedestrian accidents:

  • Avoid approaching someone standing in front of a stationary object. Pinning or crushing accidents are very common, which is why OSHA forbids driving up to a pedestrian standing against a bench, wall, pallet stack, or other immovable object.
  • Use physical or symbolic pedestrian barriers. By installing physical barriers or laying down floor tape, you can alert pedestrians to areas where they’re at risk of a forklift collision.
  • Use warning lights and alarms. Installing flashing lights on forklifts can alert pedestrians to potential danger. Backup alarms are particularly important since drivers have reduced visibility.
  • Install wall-mounted mirrors. Eliminate blind spots for forklift operators with mirrors that help them see around corners and other obstructions.
  • Follow speed limits. Driving too fast gives both the driver and the pedestrian less reaction time to avoid a collision.
  • Avoid distracted driving. Driver inattention is a huge factor in pedestrian collisions. Take breaks if you feel fatigued, keep your mind on your work, and be aware of your surroundings.

#3: Falling Loads

When inventory falls from the forks of a truck, both operators and pedestrians are at risk of injury.

To prevent falling load accidents:

  • Secure loads of loose items carefully.
  • Center all forklift loads.
  • Use a load backrest to prevent items from falling into the operator compartment.
  • Do not operate a forklift with bent or damaged forks.
  • Avoid moving, lifting, or tilting the mast too abruptly or quickly.

#4: Personnel Falling From Forks

Forklifts are not designed to lift people, but some people “ride the forks” anyway out of a desire for convenience or efficiency. The problem is that you’re likely to fall, resulting in serious injuries.

Never ride the forks of a forklift. People only belong in the operator’s compartment. Aerial lifts are designed for safely lifting personnel to height, and a forklift is a dangerous alternative.

#5: Emissions Poisoning

It can be dangerous to operate a forklift (particularly those with combustion engines) in an enclosed space because toxic fumes can build up and make operators and other personnel sick. Forklifts with lead-acid batteries don’t produce emissions during operations, but they can emit hazardous fumes when charging.

To prevent emissions poisoning from a forklift:

  • Use lithium-ion forklifts for indoor applications and enclosed spaces.
  • Charge lead-acid battery forklifts in a well-ventilated space.
  • Avoid excessive idling when operating a combustion forklift in an enclosed space.
  • Use carbon monoxide monitors when operating a combustion forklift in an enclosed space.
  • Maintain forklifts regularly.

Creating a Culture of Forklift Safety in the Workplace

Some workplaces take forklift safety measures more seriously than others, and this usually has a direct impact on how often things go wrong.

Safety culture usually has to come from the top to be sustainable, and this is certainly the case with forklift safety. Aggressive productivity targets will encourage reckless forklift behavior even if you give lip service to safety measures, so management has to make it clear that preventing forklift accidents is a more important than speed or productivity.

It can help to look at the whole picture. Instead of focusing on reduced productivity, you should also take into account the costs of poor safety, including worker’s compensation claims, medical costs, lost productivity due to work stoppage and days away from work, inventory damage, equipment damage, and any other data you can contribute.

The Importance of Forklift Operator Training

Initial and recurring forklift operator training is an important part of forklift safety because it ensures that forklift operators understand the hazards of operating a forklift and the safety measures that can be used to prevent an accident. 

Forklift operator training is federally mandatory before any worker can operate a powered industrial truck without supervision, and this includes forklifts. Under §1910.178, OSHA requires forklift operator training to include three parts: formal instruction, practical demonstration and practice, and an evaluation of the operator’s performance.

Refresher training is required any time an operator is observed operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner, has been involved in an accident or near-miss, has received an evaluation revealing poor operation, is assigned to drive a different kind of truck, or there are changes in the workplace that could affect safety.

The standard requires operators to be evaluated at least once every three years.

Get Forklift Operator Training Online

OSHA regulations require hands-on practice and evaluation to be required components of forklift operator training, so it’s not possible to get forklift certified 100% online. However, an online course is a great way to complete the formal instruction portions of your training.

We offer two types of online forklift operator training – one course for stand-up forklifts and one for sit-down forklifts. This ensures that you focus on the safety measures that apply to the type of truck you’ll be operating. You can learn at your own pace, whenever and wherever it’s the most comfortable for you.

Get started today!