Forklift Injuries: Are Impaired Forklift Drivers Raising Your Risk?

Posted on June 13, 2023

Operating a forklift after drinking or using drugs may increase the risk of workplace accidents that result in serious injuries or death. Forklifts are an efficient form of transport used at many workplaces in Chicago, and throughout the state. If misused, however, this machinery can be dangerous and may cause serious workplace forklift injuries.

industrial engineer worker wearing helmet hit by forklift car. Concept of forklift injuries

The Effects of Alcohol and Drugs on Forklift Operation

Drinking alcohol or using drugs can have ranging effects on the body. Some of the most common of these include:

  • Reduced coordination, reflexes, and attentiveness
  • Dizziness
  • Memory, judgement, and decision-making impairments
  • Dulled senses

People may experience the effects of alcohol after as few as two drinks, and the effects of drugs often set in shortly after their ingestion.

Just as they may cause impairments that make it dangerous to get behind the wheel of a car, these and other effects resulting from alcohol or drug use can impact employees’ ability to safely operate forklifts in the workplace.

Guidelines for Forklift Safety

To help prevent accidents that result in forklift injuries, those who operate forklifts on-the-job should adhere to the safety guidelines as established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These include:

Maintain an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workplace

OSHA strongly encourages and supports alcohol- and drug-free workplaces. Even if consumed or used before going to work, forklift operators may still be experiencing effects that affect their job performance and ability to work without putting themselves or other people at risk. To help prevent potentially serious or fatal occupational accidents, workers should refrain from consuming alcohol or using drugs before or during their shifts.

Only Use Equipment as Intended

In addition to avoiding alcohol or drug impairment, forklift operators should also ensure they only operate this machinery with an acceptable load and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Further, before moving, they should make sure their loads are balanced and stable.

To operate forklifts without causing accidents or injuries, OSHA also recommends refraining from lifting or lowering loads while traveling. Operators should also avoid using such machinery to lift or give rides to coworkers.

Provide Appropriate Training

Employers should only allow those workers who have received appropriate training and certification to operate forklifts. While OSHA does not require formal certification through an accredited program or agency, it does necessitate that any workers who operate forklifts must go through certification training by their employers. They should also have their competence regularly reevaluated.

Maintain Equipment

The OSHA guidelines for forklift safety also recommend ensuring any forklifts in use are appropriately maintained. To this end, they should be checked for cleanliness to ensure they are kept free of excess grease and oil. Regular maintenance and repairs should be done in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines. 

Common Forklift Accidents

According to OSHA, 25% of accidents in construction workplaces involve forklifts. Further, 35,000 fatal workplace injuries and 62, 000 minor injuries involving forklifts are reported yearly. These statistics show that forklift accidents account for a significant percentage of the total number of workplace accidents.

The best way of preventing injuries at the workplace is by knowing their potential causes and how to help circumvent them to avoid accidents.

Getting Hit by a Forklift

One of the most common workplace accidents is a forklift striking a pedestrian or co-worker. Such accidents may occur because the forklift driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, is distracted, or there are no warning signs. Modifications such as adding warning signs and marking forklift operating areas with floor tape might help prevent accidents.

Tip-Overs and Roll-Overs

Tip- and roll-over forklift accidents can be dangerous or even deadly. Forklifts are usually big and cannot make quick turns. Thus, any attempt to exceed speed limits, take sharp turns, or carry heavier loads than recommended can end in a fatal accident because the machine might lose its stability.

Personal Falls

Some forklift fatalities are a result of falls by drivers. You can fall from the forklift if you are not careful when getting off. Also, some people use forklifts for unintended purposes, like elevating their colleagues while working. Such negligence can result in an accident that could cause severe bodily injuries or death.

Falling Loads

Failure to balance loads properly on the forklift can result in them falling. Driving too quickly can make loads lose balance and fall off. Should a load fall on a worker, it may cause potentially serious injuries. Stabilizing loads and avoiding excessive speeding is the best way to prevent such accidents. Also, ensuring there is no human traffic along the way when ferrying huge loads can help.

What to Do After a Forklift Accident

If you are involved in a forklift accident, the first step should be obtaining medical care. You will need your medical records to help prove your injury happened, and that it occurred as a result of the workplace accident you claimed caused it. Injured workers have up to seven days after a workplace accident to report resulting injuries to their employers. To do so, you will follow your employer’s protocols, which should be readily available to you.

Your employer will file a claim with its insurance carrier for your workers’ compensation benefits. They must submit such reports within six working days of receiving your injury notification. Fatal injuries, however, must be reported within eight hours of discovery.  

The insurance company has up to 30 days after receiving notice of forklift injuries to issue a decision and begin paying benefits or to issue a denial notification. If your employer or the insurance company denies your claim, you may file a claim with the Chicago Worker’s Compensation Division.

Which Areas on a Forklift Can Cause Injuries?

Forklifts have various mechanical parts that can fail at some point. Wear and tear of such components, as well as misuse, can cause accidents and injuries. It is vital to maintain forklifts regularly to reduce wear and tear. This can also help increase their lifespan and ensure the safety of everyone using them.

Some of the parts that can malfunction in a forklift include:

• Brakes

• Steering wheel

• Transmission

• Lifting systems

• Lights

• Tires

Besides malfunctioning parts, other issues can affect a forklift’s safety. Leaking fluids and reduced visibility are excellent examples. These issues increase the accident risk and make operating the forklift daunting. As a driver, check for leaks before you start driving a forklift.

Conducting pre- and post-shift inspections on forklifts is a good idea. These inspections can help discover issues you could not notice when servicing the forklift. Training will prove essential in this effort because it involves learning some mechanics. Drivers can use their knowledge to check forklift parts that fail often.

Factors That Can Contribute to a Forklift Accident

Knowing the factors that can contribute to forklift accidents will help ensure you do not expose yourself and those around you to accident risks.

Some factors to look out for include:

Blind Spots 

There is a risk of collision when driving a forklift in areas where your visibility is impacted. It will be vital to illuminate these spots and use visibility mirrors to make the space more visible. Adding signs and mirrors to help drivers navigate such areas is a strong preventative measure.

Slippery Surfaces 

You risk skidding if water, oil, or grease make road surfaces slippery. If you must use such roads, ensure that you first clear the spills to make them safer for forklift driving.

Uneven Surfaces 

Forklifts can tip over when on uneven surfaces. It can help if you drove slowly on such a surface and approach speed bumps slowly. This will also ensure the loads you are ferrying remain intact.

Low Overhead Clearance 

Failing to adhere to height restrictions can injure drivers or damage forklifts. It is vital to know worksite limitations and the areas accessible with a forklift in advance.

Those are some of the factors that can increase the chances of getting involved in a forklift accident. 

Who Is Liable for Workplace Injuries After a Forklift Accident in Chicago, Illinois?

There is no specific way to know who is responsible for forklift accidents that cause injuries at work. You can only determine liability on a case-to-case basis. This might involve analyzing the specific circumstances of the accident.

Generally, however, employers are liable for most forklift accidents. Negligence is one of the top workplace safety violations by employers. Examples of the common mistakes employers make include poor forklift maintenance, poor workplace design, and providing inadequate employee training. 

Skilled Chicago worker’s compensation attorneys can add immense value to your benefits claim or lawsuit for forklift injuries. From analyzing evidence and doctor reports to gathering facts and building a solid argument, a lawyer may help maximize your workers’ compensation benefits or damages.