How can Forklift Accidents Be Prevented?

Forklifts are invaluable tools in many industries. They allow workers to move materials quickly and easily from one place to another, which is a safer and more convenient alternative to physical labor. However, using heavy machinery has many risks. Any businesses that utilize forklifts should ensure that all workers are properly trained to avoid dangerous work accidents and devastating injuries. Licensed drivers, pedestrian protections, and responsible operating practices are the most important components of effective forklift safety programs.

How Common are Forklift Accidents?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are between 20,000 and 35,000 forklift accidents every year in the United States. The Industrial Truck Association reports that approximately 85 of these accidents are fatal. Non-fatal accidents leave accident victims with painful injuries that take time to recover and require costly medical care. With proper training, these accidents are generally preventable.

Why Do Forklift Accidents Occur?

Accidents involving forklifts and other types of industrial trucks can occur due to driver error or outside factors. The following is an overview of the common causes of forklift crashes and accidents:

Driver Negligence

Federal law mandates that individuals must be 18 years old to drive forklifts. Operators who are 18 years old or older must have the proper training. While OSHA does not require a separate license for industrial trucks, the agency does require drivers to complete specialized training and certification. Unsafe driving includes:

  • Driving too fast or erratically
  • Riding with an elevated load
  • Improper turning, breaking, stopping, or backing up
  • Poor communication during joint job tasks
  • Failing to block wheels on trucks or railway cars
  • Inadequate warnings to others in the vicinity
  • Operating a forklift while impaired

Once training is complete, employees should be evaluated every three years to ensure their skills are adequate. Any driver who is in an accident, receives a poor evaluation, or drives unsafely should be evaluated immediately.

Poor Training

Driving a forklift is quite different than driving a passenger vehicle, which is why OSHA and other workplace safety agencies require specialized training. From initial driver training to regular refresher training, safety should always be front and center in the workplace. During forklift training, operators learn the following:

  • How to protect pedestrians.
  • How to communicate effectively during tasks.
  • How to properly weigh and balance loads.
  • The importance of seat belts.
  • Safe speeds and maneuvers.

Any drivers showing signs of complacency or taking shortcuts to get the job done should be retrained before going back to work.

What Type of Training is Required to Handle Emergencies?  

Preventing accidents and injuries is the primary goal of every forklift safety training program, but emergency preparedness is just as important. What transpires in the first few minutes after a crash or collision can mean the difference between a minor injury and one that becomes life-threatening. Every workplace will have their own safety protocols to handle accidents, depending on the risks involved.

Remove Faulty Tools and Equipment

If the forklift or other industrial vehicles are not well-maintained and capable of being operated safely, drivers’ skills and training may not be enough to avoid accidents. OSHA guidelines state any damaged, defective, or unsafe forklift should be promptly removed from service. To catch equipment failures before they pose risks, forklifts should be inspected daily before operation. Employees conducting inspections should look for proper tire pressure, fluid levels, and any leaks or cracks in parts and equipment. Signs are essential in comprehensive workplace safety programs. Written clearly with eye-catching visuals, safety posters alert employees to the risks of forklifts and other industrial trucks moving around job sites.

What are the Most Common Types of Forklift Accidents?

OSHA analyzed fatal job accidents involving forklifts over the course of several years. The most common included:


Some of the accidents that were studied involved workers standing on top of loads or forklifts. This is against all OSHA safety guidelines. If a forklift operator slips and falls, they could incur serious injuries.

Tip-Over Accidents

Sharp turns, high speeds, and imbalanced or overloaded cargo can all cause tip-over accidents. According to OSHA, workers were crushed when their forklifts tipped over due to unsafe maneuvers. The workers killed in these tip-over accidents were not wearing the supplied seat belts.

Tip-over accidents also occur when forklifts are used to load railway cars and tractor trailers. Portable dock boards are used to create a stable pathway for the forklift to load and unload goods. A dock board that is not properly secured can shift, causing the forklift to fall between the trailer and the loading dock. Also, trailers and railway car wheels must be secured in place using blocks or chocks. Without these, they can drift out of position, causing the forklift to tip over or fall into the gap.  


Pedestrians should make themselves visible to forklift operators. Drivers also have a responsibility to be aware of pedestrians in the vicinity and proceed with caution around them. Whenever space permits, business owners should consider installing pedestrian safety zones to separate employees from heavy equipment traffic. Steel gates and guardrails are effective for designating safe spaces where forklifts cannot travel.

Struck-By Loads

Precarious loads can fall and crush workers below without warning; therefore, pedestrians should never walk underneath loaded forklifts. Operators can do their part by keeping loads as low to the ground as possible when transporting materials.

What Should I Do After a Forklift Accident?

The first step after a work accident is to seek medical attention. If anyone at the scene has injuries, someone should call emergency services. It is important to document the accident scene; important details about how and why the incident happened can play a big part in a Workers’ Compensation claim. Photographs of injured workers, damage, and the accident scene should be acquired. Any work illness or injury should be reported to an employer as soon as possible. Delays in doing so allows an employer to question whether the worker is hurt or ill.

Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Forklift Injuries

In Pennsylvania, the Workers’ Compensation system exists to provide financial support to injured workers. These benefits cover lost income, work-related injuries or illnesses, and death benefits. If Workers’ Compensation benefits are not enough to cover medical bills, lost wages, and other losses, an injured worker should speak to a lawyer about a third-party claim or other options.

Bucks County Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Help Workers Injured in Industrial Accidents

Many workers depend on forklifts and other heavy equipment to make their jobs easier. However, forklift accidents can happen, causing serious injuries. If you were hurt in a forklift accident, our Bucks County Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. will fight for your rights and help you obtain compensation. Call us at 888-999-1962 or complete our online form for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.