Even with nearly 100 years of research and development behind it, making it safer, more efficient and more adaptable, a forklift is still one of industry’s most dangerous pieces of equipment.

Each year in the United States, nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 are seriously injured in forklift-related incidents, while in the U.K. forklifts are responsible for up to 10 deaths and a further 400 serious injuries every year.

This means that every three days in the U.S., and every six weeks in the U.K. someone loses their life as a result of a forklift accident.

What Makes Forklifts So Deadly?

The biggest forklift safety hazard is the same feature that makes forklifts so popular, and that’s their ability to lift and carry almost any type of load, within its weight capabilities. But the problem doesn’t lie with the load; it’s the instability of the truck once the load is on board.

Once the load is in place the truck becomes unstable, with a varying center of gravity that, unless handled with exceptional care and by a fully trained operator, can cause the truck to tip. 

Other factors that can contribute to an overturned truck include loads that are over the weight capacity for the truck, improper use of restraints to secure the load and a sudden change in speed or motion that causes the load to shift, knocking the truck off balance.

Of course, there are many other reasons for thousands of accidents every year, such as distracted driving and off-dock accidents. But nearly all forklift truck accidents, minor or deadly, could have been avoided if the driver had undergone professional training and upheld basic safety rules.

Training Requirements

Both OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in the U.S. and the HSE (Heath and Safety Executive) in the U.K. recognize the need for proper training for all operators, and the responsibility for these types of forklift training courses always lies with the employer.

In the U.S. employers are expected to develop and implement a training program based on the general principles of safe truck operation and the general safety requirements of the OSHA standard. Trained operators must be able to demonstrate their ability and their employer must review each operator at least once every three years. They must also provide refresher training if an operator demonstrates any unsafe working practices.

In the U.K. the requirements are similar. Employers must arrange suitable training for anyone expected to operate or work around a forklift, and ensure regular monitoring and refresher training. The initial training should include:

  • Basic training to give the trainee an understanding of all the skills and knowledge they need to safely operate the truck.
  • Specific job training tailored to the particular needs of the business, safety procedures and the type work to be undertaken.
  • Familiarization training which should be completed on the job and under supervision to familiarize the trainee with the truck, the layout of the site, etc.