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Forklifts: Their visible and invisible risks

Lift trucks are vital tools in many industries. They allow workers to maneuver huge loads in tight places. Unfortunately, they also can pose serious threats to workers.

Nearly 35,000 serious forklift injuries are reported each year, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. OSHA says more than 80 people are killed every year and 42 percent of fatal accidents involve drivers being crushed when vehicles tip over on them.

The risks we can see

Over the many years these machines have been in use, safety experts have identified the risks and developed safety rules to counter them. Recommendations laid out by federal regulators include the following:

  • Using seatbelts when the vehicle is so equipped
  • Putting the vehicle in neutral and setting the parking brake before lifting a load
  • Maintaining clear visibility all around, especially watching for pedestrians
  • Never using forklifts to raise people
  • Getting site-specific training
  • Properly mounting and dismounting the forklift, maintaining three points of contact
  • Conducting daily equipment inspections

The above steps address obvious risks inherent in forklift operation. Experts generally agree that the most important consideration, however, is taking center of gravity into account. The taller the load, the more likely the vehicle is to tip.

The risks we don't see

Not all risks are visible. Forklifts can be gas- or electric-powered. If a forklift is used indoors, it's important to consider how the engine might affect air quality.

Exhaust from petroleum-powered forklifts can spew carbon monoxide and other chemicals into the immediate area. Obviously, this can pose a threat to anyone working indoors - even in a large warehouse. If ventilation is inadequate and exposure to exhaust is long-term, workers can suffer poisoning, respiratory illness and can even develop cancer.

To help mitigate these risks, experts recommend:

  • Keeping forklift operations in one area to a minimum
  • Prohibiting forklift idling
  • Ensuring that emissions from the vehicle, whether owned or rented, meet safety standards

There can also be unexpected and unseen injuries from the stress of repetitive actions while operating forklifts. Indeed, it's possible for drivers for develop a range of muscle and even eye disorders due to whole body vibration exposure.

If you believe your work is causing you to be ill or other physical symptoms, workers' compensation might be in order. Consultation with an experienced workers' compensation attorney should be a priority.

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