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4 Common Forklift Accidents & How to Prevent Them

image shows a forklift truck in useAccording to the British Safety Council, approximately 1,300 employees within the material handling industry are hospitalised annually as a result of a forklift accident within the workplace and that number is predicted to rise. Overall, that equates to five people a day suffering a forklift-related incident.

The accidents people have as a result of forklift incidents include:

  • Complex fracture
  • Degloving
  • Amputation
  • Dislocation

But who exactly do these accidents affect, what factors influence them, which forklift accidents are most common in the industry and what can you do to prevent them from happening in your warehouse?

Who is most at risk?

Essentially, forklift operators and pedestrians are at risk of being involved in a forklift accident. Although, those on the warehouse floor are particularly vulnerable to suffering an injury as a result of a forklift incident. Of the total number of people injured or killed because of a forklift accident, 57% of those are pedestrians, according to the British Safety Council

Anyone working in or around a warehouse where heavy machinery is used, particularly forklifts, will risk being involved in an accident and that doesn’t just go for pedestrians. Operator error can also cause a forklift accident to occur, usually because of tiredness, improper training or not taking corners at a responsible speed. 

Factors that influence forklift accident rates

There are different factors that cause the likelihood of a forklift accident to increase. With that in mind, it’s important that you understand what those factors are to put the right preventative measures in place. Usually, they fall within three different categories: the user, the working environment and mechanical (or design). But what does each one mean and how do they contribute to forklift accidents? 

User risk factors

The operator can cause issues, for several different reasons, including:

  • Driving at excessive speeds
  • Operating the forklift with an elevated load
  • Improper forklift operations when reversing, turning, braking or accelerating
  • Insufficient warnings to let those nearby know that there’s an operational forklift in the vicinity
  • Poor communication between colleagues, including those on the ground
  • Riding on forklifts or sitting on the load the forklift is carrying
  • Parking the forklift irresponsibly
  • Driving the forklift erratically 

Work environment risk factors

The workplace environment factors that could influence how many forklift accidents occur in your warehouse include:

  • A lack of forklift operation training for prospective drivers
  • An increase in speed or stress due to the pressure involved with production rates
  • Assignment of forklifts to operators is poor or not thought out well enough
  • Aisles are cluttered, crowded or generally too narrow
  • The volume of forklift traffic in and around your warehouse is high
  • Your forklift lanes aren’t clear or defined 
  • Loading bay conditions are poor

Mechanical or design risk factors

Some of the risks involved with the mechanics or design of a forklift, no matter which one you pick, will include the following:

  • A lack of the appropriate tools, accessories or attachments
  • Maintenance of the forklift is poor or irregular
  • Forklift servicing is inadequate or infrequent
  • Steering, brakes or transmission could malfunction 
  • Obstructions could block the drivers’ view
  • Blind spots could lower the drivers’ visibility considerably
  • Controls and displays are laid out poorly

Common forklift accidents & preventative measures

Despite forklift accident rates varying considerably, depending on the setting the forklift is being used in, nearly all of the accidents that occur in the workplace can be placed in four different categories: collisions; toppling; drops and falls and; racking incidents. Below are some of the most common forklift accidents together with some strategies for avoiding them.

Striking or crushing pedestrians

This typically occurs when ground workers are operating in proximity, or even in the same space as a moving forklift. As previously mentioned, 57% of all forklift accidents involve a pedestrian; so, it’s important that these problems are highlighted and dealt with as soon as possible, to help prevent forklifts from colliding with those working on the warehouse floor.

Some preventative measures you can put in place include:

  • Putting up physical barriers, separating forklifts from pedestrians effectively
  • Evaluate and perform risk assessments on intersections and other high traffic areas to identify where the most dangerous zones are in your warehouse
  • Think about implementing designated areas specifically for either forklifts or pedestrians - do not mix the zones
  • Create walkways specifically for pedestrians and be sure to have gates and handrails installed alongside them to prevent them from tripping or falling into the path of an operational forklift
  • Ensure pedestrians wear brightly coloured clothing, such as tabards and other reflective garments
  • Insist that your drivers make eye contact with those on the ground so that pedestrians can be sure that they have been seen
  • Make sure the forklifts are fully equipped with horns, alarms, flashing lights and mirrors as it’ll ensure the forklifts are both seen and heard

Overturning forklifts

When a forklift overturns, it presents a significant risk to those who are on the ground, but it can also put the forklift operator in danger as they could fall or get flung out of the cabin. There are a number of reasons why a forklift would overturn, including:

  • Driving on a steep incline
  • Travelling at excessive speeds
  • Operating with a considerably heavy load
  • Navigating over uneven, loose or wet surfaces
  • Improper turning when going around corners, particularly tight ones
  • Turning or braking too quickly

The preventative measures you could implement throughout your warehouse include the following:

  • Making sure that your operators follow the rules and guidelines regarding safe and responsible travelling speeds
  • Emphasise the importance of taking corners slowly and carefully
  • Avoid stopping, turning or setting off too quickly
  • Ensure forklifts are never overloaded or carrying more than the specified weight given by the manufacturer
  • When the truck is fully loaded, keep the forks as low to the ground as possible, raising it only enough to clear the floor
  • Do not raise or lower the forks when the forklift is in motion
  • When driving up and down slopes, go slowly
  • Never reverse or set off when the forklift is at an angle

Forklift collisions

Forklift collisions essentially involve a vehicle driving into anything that isn’t a pedestrian. This could include driving or skidding into other pieces of heavy machinery, walls or even warehouse racking. Forklift collisions are most likely to occur in crowded or cluttered warehouses or in premises where aisles are particularly narrow.

Here’s how you can prevent a forklift collision from occurring:

  • Insist that the operator completes a 360-degree visual check before setting off, regardless of the direction they’re going in
  • Always look in the direction you’re going to be travelling in before moving 
  • Conduct a quick risk assessment in the area before operating the vehicle as it’ll help to identify where obstacles are and where pedestrians are most likely to be walking
  • Clear the way if you find cluttered or crowded areas and refrain from travelling down narrow aisles unless you’re using a specialist forklift model, such as the VNA forklift
  • Ensure aisles and other areas where forklifts are likely to be operating are always well-lit and display the relevant safety and warning signs where applicable

Separation at the loading dock

Some of the most serious forklift accidents occur when a truck is driven off a loading dock. Despite it sounding like an unlikely scenario, it’s a lot more common that you might have otherwise thought. But there are some things you can put in place now to help prevent loading dock separation, and they include:

  • Ensure parked trailers are correctly restrained
  • Make sure hooks, wheel locks and wheel chocks are in place to prevent a parked trailer from creeping forwards or backwards under either its own weight or the weight of its applied load
  • Clear communication systems should be put in place so that drivers are aware that it’s safe to enter the trailer to begin the loading and unloading process
  • Use lights to give workers an indication of when they can enter the trailer bed


Author bio:

Multy Lift are a highly experienced, fully-trained team of material handling specialists with an abundance of warehouse machinery available, including diesel, LPG and electric forklifts. Multy Lift is dedicated to supplying their customers with effective, quality material handling solutions that’ll stand the test of time. Whether you need a new or used forklift, a high-calibre reach truck or even mezzanine floor installation for optimum warehouse space, you’ll be able to count on Multy Lift and their expert team. For more information, get in touch with them today - they’re always happy to hear from you.

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