It is not surprising that construction sites are some of the most dangerous workplaces, but a truly startling statistic is that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates forklifts cause roughly 85 fatal accidents per year. In terms of serious injury, 34,900 are injured, with another 61,800 classified as non-serious. All told, over 11% of all forklifts in the United States will be involved in some kind of accident each year.
These incredible statistics have prompted OSHA to launch a new wave of inspections bent on reducing injuries related to forklifts and other powered industrial trucks. The program will first turn its attention to the southeast, focusing on states like Alabama and Florida. Warehouses and service companies that use forklifts will receive the most scrutiny, but inspectors who are also checking into a complaint will also be looking for violations in relation to powered industrial truck standards.
Many studies have shown that proper training is key to preventing accidents. Often, workers don’t receive the training tailored to the specific vehicle they are operating, or receive the necessary re-evaluation every three years. Often, the procedures for working with forklifts can seem counterintuitive, or even against instinct. An industry source, Toolboxtopics.com notes “Forty-two percent of forklift fatalities are caused by the operator trying to jump from a tipping vehicle. To keep this from happening to you, always remember to keep the load as low as possible and stay with the vehicle if it tips over. Wearing your seat belt is the best safety measure!” As one of the largest sources of fatalities is being crushed by a tipping vehicle, it is clear that this is a safety procedure that needs better dissemination.
In addition to looking at training, inspectors will also do mechanical inspections of the vehicles to assure their safety devices are in operation. Safety procedures and actual operation will be observed as well as employee interviews to confirm that the training is up to par.
Of course, by announcing this initiative, OSHA is giving noncompliant companies who run dangerous or substandard operations in regard to their training and maintenance. Some critics note that sounding the alarm prevents companies from being properly punished for putting their worker’s lives in danger. Also, some note that in this difficult economy, workers will be less apt to be honest in interviews if they fear retaliation from employers. Still, the net effect of even announcing the probe is clear: most operations will immediately get up to standard and brush up their training and evaluate maintenance schedules. In the end, the outcome is certainly to be less accidents.
If you work with forklifts or powered industrial vehicles and suspect that corners are being cut at the expense of safety, you should immediately contact the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. If you have been injured in an accident, be sure to also seek the advice of a Washington State Labor & Industries Attorney who can be your advocate through the workers’ compensation process.