Forklifts are valuable pieces of equipment in various California industries. If you are a forklift operator in a warehouse or fulfillment center, this time of the year is particularly hazardous. Thousands of workers suffer forklift-related injuries during the rush to get the shelves of stores filled with merchandise for holiday shoppers.
Safety authorities say most forklift accidents are preventable. They urge employers to provide frequent safety training sessions to prevent complacency. If you have worked on a forklift for many years without any accidents or incidents that caused injuries to you or your co-workers, you may begin to take shortcuts and risk your own safety. It is not a good idea to lose sight of the potential forklift injuries, some of which are more common than others.
Common forklift-related accidents
To ensure your forklift is safe to operate, it is wise to get into a habit of giving it a once-over at the start of each shift. If you find anything that causes concern, you have the right to refuse to operate it until maintenance and repairs are complete. Operating a forklift that is not in perfect working order could lead to serious injuries.
Hitting co-workers or objects
As the operator of a forklift, you must never lose sight of the pedestrian workers who, during busy times, rush around with too much to do. The following are typical hazards:
- Make sure to drive the forklift only in designated areas where other workers expect the presence of these dangerous machines.
- You may not always be able to see randomly placed boxes or debris, and while you keep a lookout for those, remember that a worker on his or her haunches while packing or sorting merchandise may not be visible.
- The cooperation of co-workers at ground level is crucial in keeping the aisles on your route clear of obstacles.
- Striking a pedestrian worker can cause severe or fatal injuries.
- Be extra alert when you haul large loads. If your load blocks your view, lower or lift the fork to improve your vision, and if that does not work, you could drive backward and turn your body to see behind you.
Because the center of gravity of a forklift varies according to the weight of the load, the following hazards exist:
- Unbalanced and improperly secured loads can fall off the forks and onto pedestrian workers.
- An unbalanced load could cause the forklift to tip over, spilling the load and risking the lives of anyone in the way.
- As soon as you become aware of a potential tip-over, you should warn anyone in the danger zone to get out of the way. If the machine falls onto a co-worker, you might not even know that someone is underneath the heavy machine.
- Safety authorities warn that, although it might be an instinctive move, you will risk your life if you jump off a forklift when it falls over. They suggest you remain in the seat, use your legs to brace for the fall, and try to lean away from the ground with your head and body.
Balance the load
As a qualified forklift operator, you will know that the machine is not a passenger vehicle. Never become complacent because allowing passengers and the failure to balance the load can have the following consequences:
- Passengers on your forklift will not only risk suffering injuries if they fall from the machine, but what if you are not able to stop before running over them?
- Never accept that cargo loaded by someone else is safe and secure. Before you carry such a load, inspect it yourself to make sure it will not cause your machine to roll over or drop the load on unsuspecting pedestrian workers.
Your rights to compensation
Despite all your precautions, accidents happen when you least expect it. If you are a victim of a forklift-related accident, you will likely be entitled to compensation through the California workers’ compensation system. However, navigating the benefits claims process without the support and guidance of an attorney could be challenging. A lawyer with experience in fighting for maximum compensation under applicable laws can be an invaluable asset in your corner.