Preventing Forklift Accidents

There are several types of forklifts that can be used on construction sites. They include stand-up riders for use in narrow aisles, sit-down riders, motorized hand pallet jacks and rough terrain forklift trucks.

About 100 workers are killed each year as a result of forklift accidents. Overturning causes nearly one quarter of these fatalities. Other common forklift accidents include workers being struck by materials on forklifts or by the forklift itself, and workers falling from a forklift.

Unfortunately, those who operate forklifts day in and day out have a tendency to take short cuts and ignore basic safety rules. Their attitude says, “It can’t happen to me.”

Some factors to consider when driving a forklift include:

  • Know the capacity of the forklift you are driving. Make sure it can handle the size and weight of your load.
  • Determine if the load you are carrying has any odd characteristics, and plan ahead on how to handle them. Examples include loads that are top heavy, cylindrical or awkward.
  • Know the condition of the forklift. Are the forks damaged, or is there some other problem that could cause an accident? If so, don’t use the forklift until it’s repaired.
  • Determine the path you will be traveling with the forklift. Be aware of obstacles, bumps, ramps, people, cross aisles and narrow passageways.

When operating a forklift, keep the following safety guidelines in mind:

  • Operate the forklift only if you’ve been trained.
  • Maintain a safe following distance from other forklifts – about three vehicle lengths.
  • Follow speed limits and other regulations.
  • Drive with your load low – six or eight inches off the ground – and tilted slightly back.
  • Exercise extra caution when driving over duckboards and bridge plates, and make sure your load is within their capacity as well.
  • Raise and lower your load only when your forklift is completely stopped.
  • Stop and sound the horn at intersections.
  • Avoid sharp turns.
  • Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle.
  • Wear a hard hat and other protective equipment when necessary.
  • Be sure your load is stable and secure.
  • When leaving the forklift for any reason or any length of time, lower the forks, neutralize the controls, shut off the engine and set the brakes.

OSHA has two educational documents on forklift safety. The first is “Operating the Forklift: Load Handling,” and the second is “Operating the Forklift: Traveling & Maneuvering.” Both have good information that can help you safely operate your forklift.

Download the recording form here.

Struck-By Injuries

Falls, electrocutions, struck-by and caught-between accidents account for the greatest number of fatalities in the construction industry. In fact, over 90 percent of all construction fatalities involve one of these four hazards. Thirty-three percent are attributed to falls, 22 percent to struck-by accidents, 18 percent to caught-between accidents and 17 percent to electrical shock. This has led OSHA in recent years to focus on these four hazards, especially when conducting onsite inspections. These hazards are often referred to in the construction industry as the “Focus Four Hazards” or the “Big Four.”

With this Toolbox Talk, we will single out the “struck-by” accidents and the hazards associated with them. It is important to know and understand how these accidents occur and what safeguards need to be in place. On a construction site, the potential is there to be struck from several angles. One of the more common struck-by hazards is being struck or run over by vehicles or equipment, especially those with obstructed rear views.

In order to prevent struck-by incidents involving vehicular traffic and construction equipment, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recommends:

  • Implementing policies that require workers on foot to maintain a safe clearance from mobile equipment.
  • Requiring equipment operators to operate equipment only when pedestrians are in plain sight.
  • Instructing workers on foot to approach construction equipment only when the operator recognizes their need to approach and assures them that it is okay to approach.
  • Requiring all workers to wear high-visibility clothing at all times while on the job site.

Construction vehicles and equipment are not the only potential sources of struck-by hazards. There are many occasions when workers are exposed to overhead hazards such as tools, materials and other objects that can be dropped or released and strike a worker. Two practices to put in place that will help to avoid these types of injuries are:

  • Pre-planning routes for suspended loads to ensure that no employee is required to work directly below a load. This is a practice that should always be used. Some have even chosen to hoist materials via crane or derrick before a shift begins to minimize the number of personnel working in the area.
  • Using toeboards and screens to prevent objects from falling on individuals at a lower level.

Safety is recognizing potential hazards, and putting controls in place to avoid injuries. If we follow some basic precautions, we can prevent struck-by injuries from occurring.

Download the recording form here.

Powered Industrial Trucks

OSHA defines powered industrial trucks (PITs) as “any mobile, power-propelled truck used to carry, push, pull, lift, stack or tier materials.” Regardless of the trade, every construction company uses PITs.

Most people think of PITs as forklifts. Forklifts come in many shapes and sizes, and are all regulated under OSHA’s Powered Industrial Truck Standard, 29 CFR § 1910.178. PITs also include man lifts, scissor lifts, boom lifts and motorized hand trucks. Though this Toolbox Talk will often refer to forklifts, the requirements apply to all PITs.


 The employer must ensure that each PIT operator has had proper training and is competent to operate the truck safely in any environment.

  • Employees must have separate training for each type of PIT they will be operating; however, they do not need separate training to operate the same type of PIT made by a different manufacturer.
  • Employers must develop a written PIT operation training program, and conduct classroom training. They must observe the employee operating the assigned equipment under the physical conditions of their workplace, such as aisles, ramps, loading docks and construction sites.
  • Employers must provide a certificate stating the employee has completed the training.
  • Employees must be retrained and recertified at least every three years, or after an accident or near miss that resulted from an unsafe act.


 OSHA prohibits operating a forklift that is not in safe operating condition. The agency also recommends employers conduct an inspection of each forklift at the beginning of each shift, and following maintenance and accidents. Lift operators should use checklists when conducting an inspection and employers should review completed checklists periodically to ensure employees are utilizing them.

Employers must remove a forklift from service under the following conditions:

  • It is not in safe operating condition (example: controls aren’t operating properly);
  • It emits hazardous sparks or flames from the exhaust system;
  • The temperature of any part of the forklift exceeds the normal operating temperature; or
  • It has a leak in the fuel system.

Violations of the PIT standard are often the basis for an OSHA citation. Failure to follow this standard can expose an employer to potentially broad liability.

Download the recording form here.

Skid-Steer Loader Safety

A critical incident involving the operation of a skid-steer loader happened this past week in Indiana. Fortunately, the incident didn’t result in a fatality – but it could have easily.

Incident Summary

The operator was using a skid-steer loader with an attachment requiring several hydraulic hoses to power various parts. After the machine was in operation for a time, one of the hoses disconnected from the attachment. The operator stopped the machine and exited the cab to disentangle the hose, which had fallen between the attachment and the front tire. Once he freed and reconnected the hose to the attachment, he reentered the cab. As he did, his foot slipped and pressed down on the pedal control of the hydraulic system. This actuated the hydraulics and lifted the attachment suddenly. As the attachment lifted to full height, it crushed the operator in the pinch point between the lifting attachment and the cab structure. The operator sustained severe bruising to the upper body and head, along with deep lacerations to the right arm requiring emergency treatment.


Observers said the operator wasn’t totally familiar with the controls of this particular type of skid-steer loader, and he left the machine running when he exited the cab. An examination of the skid-steer revealed that the seat belt was fastened and pushed to the back of the operator’s seat, and the parking brake wasn’t activated.

Root Causes

No one likes unexpected interruptions when they are focused on getting a job done. Interruptions can make many people feel impatient and aggravated. We typically want to eliminate the distraction and get on with the job as fast as possible. This impatient mind frame causes us to do things without thinking, and sometimes in a way that we might not ordinarily do them. This could lead us to take risks that we normally wouldn’t take – like in this case when the operator left the engine running and didn’t activate the emergency brake. The hydraulics would not have engaged when he slipped on the pedal if the operator had taken these two steps.

Sometimes, workers with years of experience become overconfident in their ability to do a task – even if it’s a task they don’t do regularly. A worker may have operated a variety of machines, but that doesn’t guarantee expertise on every machine, especially newer models with reconfigured controls. New machines and tools are often changed and improved, and workers need to familiarize themselves with the safe and correct operating procedures for each one.

Cold Weather Machine Safety

Cold weather affects motorized equipment — not only the engine, but the hydraulic systems as well. Equipment that does not operate smoothly or predictably is a safety hazard to operators and other workers near it.

You should apply engine coolants and hydraulic hose lubricants in the fall before cold weather actually sets in. Throughout the winter, it is important to plan extra time to let the machine warm up. When you park a machine for 16 or more hours, both the engine and all of the operating systems will be at ambient temperature, which in winter can be 20° or lower on many mornings, well below normal operating temperature for the equipment. Failing to warm the engine could result in material damage, accidents and injury to workers due to engine stalls and jerky, uncontrollable actions of the hydraulic systems.

If you don’t allow the engine to warm completely, the cold can damage engine valve components. When an engine runs below normal operating temperature, it doesn’t completely burn the fuel and oil in the combustion chambers. The result is soft carbon deposits, which will interfere with valve operation, and can cause burned valves, bent pushrods and other damage to valve mechanism components. To avoid valve damage, always run the engine until the coolant temperature is at least 82° Celsius (180° Fahrenheit).

One major equipment manufacturer suggests that you begin the warmup with the hydraulics. They recommend that the operator run the engine at less than one-third throttle and slowly move the control lever in order to lift the attachment, then lower the attachment slowly. Continue the sequence: raising, lowering, extending and retracting, extending the travel during each cycle. We refer to this as exercising the equipment. Exercising the equipment will bring the machine and its operating components up to the appropriate operating temperature, which will ensure smooth and safe operation of the equipment.

Remember, keep machines in good running condition and plan that extra time for warmup.

Download the recording form here.