According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 7,000 U.S. workers are injured in forklift-related incidents each year. An average of 87 are killed annually. In 2020, there were 7,290 non-fatal forklift accidents involving days away from work and 78 deaths. When you include injuries that do not require time off work, the number climbs well into the tens of thousands.
In part, the high number of injuries is due to the large number of forklift operators across the country. More than 1.5 million U.S. workers operate these vehicles, also known as powered industrial trucks (PIT) or lift trucks.
But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has estimated that 70% of these injuries could be avoided by following appropriate safety protocols. That means that in a single year, good safety procedures could prevent more than 5,000 injuries serious enough to result in lost work time and save more than 50 lives.
OSHA mandates that all forklift operators be trained and assessed at least once every three years. But not all employers enforce safety protocols, provide appropriate equipment, adequately mark work areas, and otherwise minimize the risks to forklift operators and those who work near them.
How Do Forklift Injuries Happen?
Forklift injuries happen in many different ways, and the injured party may be the forklift driver, someone else working in the area, or even someone who happens to be passing by at the wrong time. According to OSHA, the most common types of forklift injuries involve:
- Unintentionally driving a lift truck off a loading dock or other upper-level surface
- The lift vehicle falling between a dock and unsecured trailer
- A worker being struck by a lift truck
- A worker falling from elevated pallets or tines
Other types of forklift accidents include rollovers, falling materials, and being pinned between the lift truck and another object or surface.
Forklift Injury Statistics
Forklift injuries can range from minor cuts and bruises to fatal crush injuries or serious falls. The most common types of injuries sustained in non-fatal forklift accidents include:
- Broken bones
- Bruises and contusions
- Sprains, strains, and tears
- Cuts and lacerations
Three percent of forklift injury victims sustain multiple traumatic injuries, and 2% suffer amputations.
Forklift Safety Tips
To minimize the risk of forklift injuries and fatalities in the workplace, employees and employers should work together to ensure that:
- Weight limits are not exceeded
- Loads are balanced and properly loaded
- Areas where forklifts operate are clearly marked for the benefit of other workers
- Forklift operators watch out for other workers and sound their horns when others are in the vicinity
- Blades are never lifted with a person on them or on the load being lifted
- Safe speeds are observed, especially when turning or operating in a populated area
- Operators avoid turning the vehicle when the forks are raised
- Appropriate safety gear is worn or used
- All vehicles are properly maintained and employees know how to inspect them before use
- Operators are thoroughly trained
- Other workers do not walk or stand under raised loads
- Power is off and blades are down when the forklift is unattended
Who is Responsible for Forklift Injuries and Fatalities?
Most forklift injuries occur in the course of employment, which means that most are covered by Ohio workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation offers a more direct process for securing benefits than having to pursue a personal injury or product liability claim. But workers’ comp is generally an exclusive remedy and the compensation available is more limited. Workers’ compensation is intended to ensure access to medical care and provide replacement income when the injured worker is temporarily or permanently disabled.
There are three situations in which an Ohio worker injured on the job may be able to recover compensation beyond the usual workers’ compensation benefits:
- When the injury resulted from a safety violation. In this situation, workers’ compensation remains the exclusive remedy, meaning the worker generally can’t sue the employer. But an Ohio worker who is injured due to a safety violation may be entitled to increased benefits.
- When the injury was the result of an intentional tort. Ohio courts interpret this provision strictly, but if the injured worker can demonstrate that the employer acted with intent to injure, or removed certain types of safety equipment, the injured worker may have a direct claim against the employer.
- When a third party is wholly or partly responsible for the injury. One example of a third party who might bear liability for a forklift injury would be the manufacturer who provided a defective lift truck or who failed to provide adequate warnings and safety information. Another might be an employee of another company who caused or contributed to the accident, such as a truck driver who failed to secure the ramp.
What If the Injured Forklift Operator is Responsible for the Injury?
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault process, so in most cases an injured worker would be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits even if their own negligence caused or contributed to the accident. But there are exceptions. For example, an Ohio worker generally isn’t entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if the accident occurred because the worker was under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or a controlled substance.
In a personal injury claim against a third party, the analysis is a little different. An injured worker who is partly responsible for their own injury may still recover damages from one or more other responsible parties, but not if the injured person was more than 50% responsible. And any award will be reduced in proportion to the injured party’s responsibility. For instance, if total damages are $200,000 and the injured person was 40% responsible, the award would be reduced by 40%, or $80,000. The injury victim could recover $120,000 but would have to absorb the costs attributable to their own negligence.
Talk to a Work Injury Lawyer Right Away
If you’ve been injured in a forklift accident and aren’t sure how to protect your rights and secure benefits or compensation, an experienced work injury lawyer like Plevin & Gallucci can be your best resource. Whether you’ve filed for workers’ compensation benefits and have run into problems or you believe a third party may be responsible for your injury, your next step should be to call 855-4PLEVIN. Or, if you prefer, fill out the contact form on this site or click in the lower right corner to chat without obligation.