Earlier this month, Gustavo Tapia, aged 22, died in a forklift accident in Brooklyn, New York. He was using a walk behind forklift to push a Yale forklift up a ramp when it rolled backward and pinned him against the wall. The operator of the electric forklift was unscathed but Tapia died from his workplace injury.
The Dangers of Forklifts
The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that inadequate training causes a number of accidents on a job site. Twenty to twenty-five percent is attributed to lack of knowledge about safety procedures involving heavy machinery. Additionally, approximately 100 fatalities and 36,340 serious injuries involving powered industrial trucks, commonly known as forklifts occur in the United States every year.
Many industries use the machinery. Since forklifts or lift trucks raise, lower, and remove large objects, warehouses and big box retailers use them to move boxes, crates, and containers. An operator can ride them or control them with a walking operator like Tapia.
OSHA notes the hazards involved with operating powered industrial trucks. Each type of forklift has its own set of instructions on how to operate it safely. Sit-down, counterbalanced, and high-lift trucks cause more accidents than motorized hand trucks. They are able to load higher than hand trucks which is why they are viewed as a risk.
Workplace type and conditions also contribute to workplace injury. Powered industrial trucks must watch out for pedestrians. Lift trucks are sometimes driven off loading trucks. They can even fall between docks and unsecured trailers. They can strike other lift trucks and even fall while on elevated pallets and tines without warning.
How to Prevent Workplace Injury
It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to operate a forklift. However, anyone over the age of 18 who doesn’t possess the proper training and certification violates Federal law as well. OSHA has free stickers that companies can download and adhere to forklifts warning others. All forklifts require training to use. They must be evaluated according to 29 CFR 1910.178(l) (1).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)/American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requires the following with regards to maintenance and safety equipment:
• Carefully and regularly inspect Brakes, steering mechanisms, control mechanisms, warning devices, lights, governors, lift overload devices, guard and safety devices, lift and tilt mechanisms, articulating axle stops, and frame members (ASME/ANSI B56.1-1993m 6.2.7) [ASME 1993].
• When performing work from an elevated platform, a person(s) on the platform must wear a restraining means such as rails, chains, etc., or a body belt with lanyard or deceleration device (ASME/ANSI B56.1, §4.17.1[b]) [ASME 1993].
SME/ANSI B56.1-1993 requires the following while operating a forklift:
• An operator should avoid turning, if possible, and should use extreme caution on grades, ramps, or inclines. Normally the operator should travel straight up and down (ASME/ANSI B56.1, §5.3.8[d]) [ASME 1993].
• The operator of a sit-down type forklift should stay with the truck if lateral or longitudinal tip over occurs. The operator should hold on firmly and lean away from the point of impact (ASME/ANSI B56.1, §5.3.18[d]) [ASME 1993].
If You Are Injured
Workers’ compensation covers workplace accidents. In New York, it is a “no fault” system of insurance. If the worker used drugs or alcohol or had intentionally decided to injure himself, herself or another individual, then the family does not receive compensation.
About the Author:
Joe Macaluso is a personal injury lawyer practicing at the Bronx law firm of Macaluso & Fafinski, P.C. A graduate of Brooklyn Law School, Mr. Macaluso has been in private practice since 1990 with an exclusive focus on personal injury and medical malpractice. A member of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, he has served on the Legislative Committee of this organization and is also a member of the Bronx County Bar Association and has served on the Board of Directors of Bronx Legal Services.