Earlier this month, Gustavo Tapia, aged 22, was killed 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 injuries.
The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that a number of accidents on a job site are caused by inadequate training. Twenty to twenty-five percent can be attributed to lack of knowledge about safety procedures involving heavy machinery. Approximately 100 fatalities and 36,340 serious injuries involving powered industrial trucks aka forklifts occur in the United States every year.
The machinery is used in many industries. Forklifts or lift trucks are used to raise, lower, and remove large objects. They are utilized in warehouses and big box retailers to move boxes, crates, and containers. They can be ridden by an operator or controlled by a walking operator like Tapia.
OSHA notes that there are hazards involved with operating powered industrial trucks. Each type of forklift has its own set of instructions on how to operate it safely. Trucks that are sit-down, counterbalanced, and high-lift are more likely than motorized hand trucks to be involved in falling load accidents. 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 accidents. Powered industrial trucks must watch out for pedestrians. Lift trucks are sometimes driven off of loading trucks. They can fall between docks and unsecured trailers. They can be struck by other lift trucks and even fall while on elevated pallets and tines without warning.
It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to operate a forklift. 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 following is required as written by American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)/American National Standards Institute (ANSI) with regards to maintenance and safety equipment:
• 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 shall be carefully and regularly inspected and maintained in a safe condition (ASME/ANSI B56.1-1993m 6.2.7) [ASME 1993].
• When work is being performed from an elevated platform, a restraining means such as rails, chains, etc., shall be in place, or a body belt with lanyard or deceleration device shall be worn by the person(s) on the platform (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].
Workplace accidents are covered by workers’ compensation. In New York, it is a “no fault” system of insurance. The only way that the family wouldn’t be compensated would be if the worker was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or had intentionally decided to injure himself, herself or another individual.
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.