With their ability to move heavy pallets and other materials, forklifts have become an indispensable tool in business and industry – from factories to warehouses, to construction sites and supermarkets, forklifts play an essential part in worldwide logistics.
Unfortunately forklifts also create an unsafe environment as collisions’ involving forklifts and people remains a far too frequent occurrence in the workplace. Forklift-related accidents in warehouses kill close to 100 workers each year in the US, and result to serious injury to over 20,000 additional employees. Accidents involving lift trucks and a pedestrian are among the most frequently reported incidents and often involve serious or fatal injuries.
National fatality data from NIOSH indicates that the three most common forklift-related fatalities involve forklift overturns, workers on foot being struck by forklifts and workers falling from forklifts. About one in every five fatalities involves another worker being struck by a forklift.
Accident reports indicate that approximately as many of these accidents occurred while the lift truck was travelling forward (including tail-swing accidents) as in reverse. Most reverse travel accidents occurred within the first 10 ft of travel, whereas most of the forward travel accidents occurred after the first 25 ft. Many of the accidents involved injury to pedestrians who were not only aware of the presence of the lift truck but who were, in fact, working with the operator of the truck that struck them.
Factors that may contribute to these accidents include but not limited to:
- Ambient noise levels
- Ambient light levels
- Number of lift trucks and pedestrians present
- Level of training of lift truck operators
- Level of education of pedestrians concerning lift truck operating characteristics and how to work around them
- Physical workplace layout, including separate travel zones for pedestrians and lift trucks- blind zones
- Presence of audible or visible warning devices on lift trucks and other mobile equipment in the workplace
- Presence of audible or visible warning devices on cranes, conveyors or other stationary industrial equipment
- Lack of specific operating rules for lift truck travel, such as sounding the steering wheel horn at intersections or when changing directions
- Lack of enforcement by management of safe work procedures for lift truck operators and pedestrians
Unlike automobile and pedestrian traffic, there are no universal “rules of the road” governing lift truck/pedestrian interaction. Many of the largest and most sophisticated lift truck users have concluded the most effective way to reduce these accidents is to separate lift truck and pedestrian traffic to the greatest extent possible, using separate travel lanes dedicated to trucks and to pedestrian traffic.
Despite the efforts of forklift manufacturers, other safety products, and OSHA, an unacceptable number of accidents and fatalities still occur each year.