Forklift and Powered Industrial Truck Injuries
Statistics from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) show that forklifts cause about 85 deaths per year, nearly 35,000 serious injuries, and 61,800 non-serious injuries. Almost 80% of forklift accidents involve a pedestrian. The most common causes of fatal forklift accidents are (1) a worker crushed by a vehicle tipping over (42%); (2) crushed between a vehicle and a surface (25%); (3) crushed between two vehicles (11%); (4) struck or run over by a forklift (10%); (5) struck by falling material (8%); and (6) fall from platform on the forks (4%). About one in four forklift fatalities occurs in the construction industry. According to the Industrial Truck Association, there are about 855,900 forklifts in the U.S, and about 90% of those will be involved in an injury accident at some point.
According to OSHA, 70% of forklift accidents could have been avoided with standardized training and safety procedures. Washington State has enacted regulations specifically applicable to forklift and powered industrial truck (PIT) use. An entire chapter of the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) is devoted to improving worker safety and reducing the risk of forklift and PIT injury accidents. PIT is defined as a mobile, power-driven vehicle used to carry, push, pull, lift, stack, or tier material. Under WISHA, the term PIT includes fork trucks, forklifts, tractors, platform lift trucks, motorized hand trucks, and other specialized industrial trucks.
PITs on Washington worksites must meet American National Standards Institute (ANSI) design and construction requirements, and there are strict requirements for ongoing maintenance and upkeep. See WAC 296-863-20005. PITs may only be altered under limited circumstances, and then the manufacturer must provide written approval before any modifications may be made. See WAC 296-863-20010.
An employer who does not make sure PITs are kept in safe condition and properly serviced is negligent. See WAC 296-863-300. Conditions that require a PIT to be immediately removed from service include fuel system leaks, a clogged water muffler screen or other muffler part, sparks or flames from the exhaust system, and any part that is hotter than its normal operating temperature. See WAC 296-863-30005. PITs must be inspected daily before being put into service and after each shift, if the PIT is used around the clock. See WAC 296-863-30010. An employer that fails to discover a defect in a PIT that results in injury to workers may be responsible to pay compensation as a result of the negligence.
As discussed above, most forklift accidents involve the forklift tipping over or crushing workers. WISHA regulates the operation of PITs to help protect workers from such injury. Operators must successfully complete an operator training program and are required to wear seatbelts, only authorized people may ride in PITs, and no one is ever allowed under the elevated part of any PIT, whether it is loaded or empty. See WAC 296-863-40005; WAC 296-863-60005. PITs must be operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions, obey basic rules of the road, and slow down and sound the horn at cross aisles and other locations where vision is obstructed. See WAC 296-863-40010. Loads must be kept stable and secure, WAC 296-863-40015, and the operator is never allowed to leave the PIT with a raised load engaging means. See WAC 296-863-40020. Any time an operator is involved in an accident, near miss, observed operating PIT in unsafe manner, or assigned to a new type or modified PIT, the employer is required to retrain the operator. WAC 296-863-60010.
When the WISHA regulations applicable to PITs are followed, accidents are often avoided. However, all too often businesses fail to meet the requirements set forth under the law and workers pay the price through injuries and in the most extreme cases, death. The attorneys at Kraft Davies, PLLC, have extensive knowledge of what is required of employers when using forklifts and other PITs and know how to effectively investigate injury accidents and find out what went wrong. If you have been injured in an accident involving a PIT, call us today for a free consultation to determine whether you are entitled to financial compensation for your injuries.