Construction companies play a large role in the development of society. From building apartment buildings for shelter and protection to building skyscrapers that shock the world, construction companies indirectly impact the lives of millions of Americans every day.
Most people never interact with construction companies, so they never experience the immediate effects of this interaction. However, there are some, such as the 85 people who die from forklift accidents, whose lives have been dramatically affected by construction activities.
According to the U.S Department of Labor, the rates of fatality construction accidents in NYC are staggering:
- There are five times as many deaths on NYC construction sites than other NYC industries
- A third of these deaths occur because workers are “struck, crushed, or caught between objects or equipment”
- The most commonly used machine is the forklift, and it’s also one of the most common objects causing these fatalities across the city’s 45,000+ construction projects
Given these numbers and the stories and lives of the countless workers and their families affected, construction companies in NYC must improve forklift safety in the workplace.
Why Do So Many Forklift Accidents Happen?
It is truly unfortunate to hear about so many forklift accidents happening every year. What is even more astounding is that these accidents happen even after training and years of use.
Why does this keep happening?
There is a slew of reasons why forklift accidents happen every year:
Worker negligence consists of an employee’s failure to exercise the proper care and precautions necessary. Accidents and deaths happen when forklift operators neglect to follow the rules and regulations established by OSHA. It is vital that all employees who work with forklifts or might ever work with forklifts demonstrate the proper training and certification.
It is incredibly dangerous to have untrained workers operating forklifts. These vehicles are unique in structure and purpose, and they require extensive training and familiarity. All forklift operators must receive proper training and certification before driving this equipment. Not only is it safer for the company, but for everyone involved on the work site.
Unsafe Working Conditions
You can find forklifts in a variety of different workplace environments. In fact, there are several different types of forklifts made specifically for particular locations, so, not all forklifts are the same.
Using the wrong equipment not only makes the work more difficult, but it makes it much more dangerous. Combining improper usage of equipment with unsafe working conditions leaves construction companies open to a lawsuit, not to mention the risk to workers’ lives.
Just like any piece of machinery on a construction site, the area around forklift equipment must be clean and organized. Forklifts are difficult to maneuver in small areas, so cluttered spaces drastically increase the chances of accidents.
The more unsafe the working conditions, the higher the likelihood of a forklift accident.
Even the safest, most rule abiding worker can still be involved in an accident if the equipment is unsafe to use.
Just like a car, there are several different parts to a forklift. At any given moment, one of these parts can malfunction. It is incredibly important for forklifts to receive regular maintenance checks. With proper maintenance, workers can feel safe using a forklift because they know the vehicle is working and safe to use.
Pressure to Meet Deadlines
Construction companies are just like any other company — they want to make money. This financial pressure increases because of slower-than-expected construction times. The longer a job takes to complete, the less money the company makes.
This means that there’s a growing pressure on workers to complete work faster and more efficiently.
While no company would admit to nor openly recommend that their employees work unsafely, the pressure to meet deadlines inevitably falls on the backs of the workers.
In an effort to meet deadlines at all costs, workers will make decisions that can cost both them and the company thousands, if not millions, of dollars for the sake of completing a job sooner.
From an objective perspective, this sounds ridiculous. Why would anyone risk their life or the lives of others just to finish a job quickly? While this is a valid question, in the moment, the answer is valid too: The job just needs to get done. Fast.
4 OSHA Tips for Forklift Safety
For some insight into how construction companies can make workplace sites safer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, otherwise known as OSHA, has some useful tips.
As part of the United States Department of Labor. It’s OSHA’s job to ensure that construction companies and employers implement proper safety and health protocols on all workplace sites. To assist with employers with this responsibility, OSHA has created useful pages to explain and demonstrate the importance of forklift safety.
These links will be coupled with other reputable websites to provide a thorough and exhaustive understanding on how to improve forklift safety and reduce forklift accidents.
#1: Companies Must Improve Workplace Environments and Flow
One of the biggest causes of forklift accidents are workplace environments. As described in this case study, the workplace environment plays a major role in the safety of all employees. This concept is relatively broad and overarching, but nonetheless important. It is vital that employers purchase and use the right equipment in their facilities.
According to the case study, the employee didn’t receive proper training for forklift operation and passed away a mere four days into his job. While that is not the sole cause of his accident, it undeniably plays a role.
The setting of the accident is described as “an open dirt covered area surrounded by trees and brush with a slight 5 to 10 degree slope.” The forklift was also carrying a load of “gas tanks and tires,” which hindered the view of the driver.
In other words, the workplace environment was not SAFE.
A simple, yet powerful, solution to prevent future incidents like these would be to create “pedestrian-only” and “forklift-only” passageways around a worksite. With clearly marked areas, these initiatives would improve worker safety immensely.
#2: All Employees Need to Be Trained for Forklift Operation
One of the leading causes, if not the leading cause of forklift accidents is when a pedestrian is struck by a forklift.
The employee who was killed was not properly trained, was new on the job, worked in unsafe conditions, and had physical impairments. It’s clear that the employer should have made accommodations for this employee.
To begin, he should have been fully trained before ever stepping foot in the yard. It is very simple for individuals to get the necessary forklift compliance training. Programs and certifications like this one are readily available and teach new employees all they need to know about proper safety protocol.
There should have been signs around the yard explaining the dangers of the location.
While the forklift was equipped with a bell to get the attention of nearby workers, this employee was hard of hearing and did not hear the warning bell.
Whether or not this employee would ever drive a forklift is a moot point. All employees on the yard and in every industry need to be fully trained on forklift operation.
The threat of serious injury or death is too imminent to avoid this necessary precaution.
#3: Understanding the Dangers of the Forklift
Forklifts are a workplace necessity; death by forklift is not.
Forklifts play a pivotal role in helping companies meet deadlines and transport materials across worksites. Getting rid of forklifts is not an option but companies and employees must better understand their uses.
In order to reduce forklift accidents, employees must understand what they are working with, both the forklift and the items being transported.
Forklifts carry hazardous materials across worksites. They also carry heavy equipment and necessary tools to wherever they need to be. Regardless of the load being carried, the necessary precautions must be taken in order to ensure everyone’s safety.
Forklifts carry anything from pallets with furniture on them to flammable liquids and anything in between. Employees need to be very careful when transporting these dangerous items because their life and the lives of those around them are always at risk.
#4: Companies and Employees Must Properly Maintain Vehicles
Forklifts are like any other vehicle－it needs routine maintenance.
Unfortunately, forklifts are often forgotten about and don’t receive the necessary checks to ensure safety.
Typically, forklift operators maintain their own vehicles. During a regular routine maintenance check, the operator should check and monitor the gasoline and diesel levels, the battery, oil, antifreeze, and other liquids.
Operators need to also keep a close eye on the physical parts of the forklift.
- Is the fork itself tightly connected or coming loose?
- If the forklift has inflated tires, are the tires losing air?
- If the forklift has protected coverage and screens, are the windows clean and easy to see out of?
- Are any and all mirrors properly fastened and positioned to reveal blind spots?
- Is the forklift properly equipped with a working warning bell or horn?
Should the operator who is driving the forklift every day know these things already? Yes, but over time and through repeated use, it is very easy to become lax on certain standards. Operators must keep a watchful eye on their machine to make sure all of its parts are working properly.
At the end of the day, companies need to make money to stay in business. However, this doesn’t mean that employee safety should be pushed aside or disregarded.
Unfortunately, there are many employees who struggle between taking the extra moment to be safe and pushing through to get the job done quickly. In most instances, employees choose the latter as evidenced by the alarming rate of forklift accidents.
When these accidents happen, there is no one better to call than Schwartzapfel Lawyers. With a 99% satisfaction rate, Schwartzapfel Lawyers is sure to do right by you. You are their number one concern and priority!
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