Dangerous / Unsafe Condition in Workplace: Fork Lifts

OSHA estimates that there are almost 350,000 forklift accidents a year that result in serious injuries, 85 forklift accidents result in fatalities, and another 61,800 results in non-serious injuries. Of the 85 deaths caused a year by forklifts, it is estimated that 42% were caused by the forklift tipping over, and 25% by someone being crushed between two surfaces. In this article, we will be discussing what some of the Cal/OSHA regulations are in regards to forklift operations and what the general obligations are for workplace safety that applies to forklifts. We will also cover whether or not you can bring a claim for serious and willful misconduct from a forklift injury and how to report a safety violation regarding a forklift operation.

Dangerous Unsafe Condition in Workplace Fork Lifts
What are the Cal/OSHA regulations specific to the operation of a forklift on the job?

A forklift operator is required to receive initial training on the operation of a forklift, including the specific operation of the forklift and its controls, as well as forklift stability, forklift capacity, and the forklift's limitations. In addition to the basic operations of the forklift, the employer is also required to provide the employee with training on how to operate the forklift on the applicable surface conditions and the composition of loads as well as load stability, stacking and unstacking.

In addition to initial training, forklift operators are required to certify that each operator has received refresher training when an operator has been observed as operating the forklift unsafely, been involved in an accident, nearly missed an accident, or has been assigned to a different type of forklift.

What are the general regulations related to safety guards on a job site?

In addition to regulations regarding the training of operators, there are other general OSHA regulations related to forklift operations, including that riders are not permitted on the forklift except in a specially designated riding area. Furthermore, it is illegal to allow or require an employee to stand, pass, or work under the elevated portion of a forklift, loaded or empty, unless it has been equipped and uses a blocking device to prevent it falling.

If you are seriously injured while operating a forklift or by someone operating a forklift, can you file a claim for serious and willful penalties?

If you suffered serious injuries as the result of the operation of a forklift while working in California, the workers' compensation remedy, commonly known as a serious and willful petition, might apply to you. If so, that remedy can provide you with penalties of 50% of all benefits paid in the workers' compensation matter. 

To establish a serious and willful claim, you would generally need to show that the employer had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition. It could mean that the employer knew the person was not adequately trained or that the forklift was not being operated in conformance with the general safety orders and regulations.   

In addition to showing actual knowledge of the specific danger in the way forklift was being used, it must be shown that the employer knew that the probable consequences of the injury from the forklift would likely be serious. Given the number of deaths each year from forklifts, and the fact that one-third of forklift injuries are deemed serious by OSHA, this element can often be met but depends on the particular safety violation. 

Finally, the employer must have had a reasonable time to remedy the situation after it knew of the dangerous operation of the forklift. For example, if the employer knows that the forklift is being operated by someone not trained or if the employer knows the operator has a history of not operating it safely and has not retrained the operator, this element might be met as well.

Can you report a workplace for violating safety regulations related to dangerous machines without proper guards?

If you are forced to operate a forklift without proper training, you work around employees who have not been appropriately trained or using the forklift dangerously; then, you should generally consider speaking up and notifying someone in charge at the job site. The injuries from forklifts can be severe and even fatal. If your employer does not remedy the situation, you could consider contacting Cal/OSHA directly and file a complaint about the dangerous operation of a forklift.

As Sacramento Workers’ Compensation Attorneys, we are confronted with employees that have suffered serious injuries in the workplace by forklifts, usually from them tipping or from being crushed. This article only touches on a few of the many regulations that apply to forklifts. If you have been injured as the result of the use of a forklift, please contact one of our Sacramento workers’ compensation attorneys for a free consultation.