Forklifts are a helpful tool, but they can also be potentially dangerous if they are not used properly. Many workplace injuries occur as a direct result of improper forklift use. Safety and Health Magazine reports that 96 workers were killed in forklift accidents nationally in 2015 alone.
With proper training and safety protocols, these risks can be mitigated in order to keep the workplace safe for all employees. Although workers cannot sue their employers, a Philadelphia workplace accident attorney can help injured workers obtain workers' compensation, which covers medical bills and a portion of lost wages. If any other party aside from the employer or co-worker was negligent, such as a subcontractor or equipment manufacturer, a third-party liability action may also be worth exploring.
The Do's and Don'ts of Forklift Safety
The National Safety Council has issued safety tips for proper forklift use in the workplace. This safety plan starts with effective training before a forklift is ever used. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires training programs which incorporate formal instruction (such as lectures and written materials) with practical forklift training and performance evaluations. Different training may also be required for different models of forklifts.
All forklifts will maneuver differently, and large models can be difficult to operate safely. Operators should never assume that they can utilize a forklift simply because they can drive a passenger vehicle. Forklifts have an open structure, and as a result, drivers face a greater risk of injury during a collision. Drivers should also be mindful of the tighter turning radius on a forklift, which allows it to operate in tight spaces.
Forklift users should perform both regular maintenance and inspections of equipment before each use. Seat belts, tires, horns, lights, brakes, backup alarms and fluid levels should all be examined on a regular basis. Failure to do so is a common source of OSHA citations, fines, and other penalties. One inspector for the state of Washington referred to this as "low-hanging fruit." He claimed that inspectors can easily spot multiple infractions on a poorly-maintained forklift from 40 feet away.
Forklifts have a three-point suspension which can make them prone to tipping. In order to combat this, drivers must be especially cautious to ensure that loads are stable and secured on the forks of the vehicle. Loads should also be kept low to the ground during operation. When ascending or descending an incline, the load should always be kept uphill. Drivers should also slow down for wet or slippery conditions.
Who is Liable for a Forklift Accident in the Workplace?
Employers are responsible for negligent acts committed by employees within the scope of their employment. Thus, if a negligent forklift operator injures a coworker, the employer will be obligated to compensate the injured worker for his or her financial losses. Many forklift accidents are covered by workers' compensation. This allows an injured employee to seek compensation directly from the insurance carrier, rather than disputing claims with the employer.
Unfortunately, not all forklift accidents will be covered by workers' compensation. For example, if employees are injured while using a forklift after hours without the employer's permission, this may be considered an injury which did not occur within the course and scope of employment. For this reason, employees should never engage in horseplay, or unauthorized use of an employer's forklift. Contact a Philadelphia workers' compensation attorney after any forklift accident to learn more about your legal right to be compensated for your injuries.