Common forklift accidents: Causes and Prevention

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This article discusses the most common types of forklift accidents, their reasons, and the means to prevent them.

Table of Contents

  1. Forklift accidents: Some numbers
  2. Forklift Overturns
  3. Falling personnel
  4. Falling loads
  5. Pedestrian accidents
  6. Emission Poisoning
  7. Takeaways

Forklift accidents: Some numbers

Forklift accidents are very common in workplaces. While they are much slower than their bigger, street-roaming cousins, they can weigh up to twice as much. Forklifts can be quite dangerous when handled irresponsibly. Because of their compact size and nature of the operation, they cause many accidents in workplaces each year. Here are some important facts regarding forklift accidents that you should know :

  • Forklifts cause 1 in every 6 workplace deaths
  • Around 85 people die every year in forklift accidents
  • According to the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics, forklifts cause around 100 deaths annually
  • Around 35000 serious injuries are caused by forklifts each year
  • 11% of all forklifts are involved in accidents each year
  • During their lifetime, 90% of forklifts will be involved in a forklift accident

An image of a man, injured in a forklift accident

Figure: A forklift accident can lead to serious injury or even death

Now that we know the seriousness of the problem let's look at some common forklift accident types.

Forklift Overturns

Among all the forklift accidents, forklifts overturn are the most common. Almost a quarter of forklift accidents happen due to overturns. Yet, operators are still not very aware of this danger. A forklift overturns when it loses its center of balance. It happens mostly because of:

  • Turning at high speed
  • Carrying an elevated load
  • Unbalanced and uneven load
  • Moving downhill while carrying a load
  • Moving on an inclined surface at an angle
  • Running at a high speed
  • Carrying more load than permitted by design
  • Stopping suddenly

An image of a tipped over forklift with an elevated load

Figure: A forklift tip-over due to elevated load

Two things can happen in a forklift overturn scenario: a rollover and a tip-over. A rollover happens when a forklift takes a sharp turn, loses stability, and rolls over on its side. A tip-over occurs when a forklift's load exceeds its counterweight and tips towards the heavier side. Both scenarios can be very dangerous for the operator and the pedestrians.

Here is a simple animation showing how a forklift can roll over on its side while turning at high speed:

To avoid overturning, you can follow these preventive steps:

Maintain a safe speed: Although OSHA does not have a set limit for forklift speed, they recommend maintaining a low speed, especially when loaded. In many forklifts, speed can be limited from the control panel with restricted access. This will prevent over-speeding by the employees.

Keep the load low: Keeping the load low helps stabilize the forklift and prevents tip-over and rollover.

An image of a forklift with lowered load

Figure: A forklift with a lowered load is very stable and very unlikely to tip over

Slow down at turn:
The center of gravity shifts when turning. Turn slowly so that it does not shift outside stability. OSHA recommends stopping altogether before turning your forklift.

Consult data tag: If you are unsure about a load, always consult your lift truck's data tag to see if you can handle it safely.

An image of a forklift data plate with rated load and lifting height capacity

Figure: A forklift data plate with rated load and lifting height capacity

Necessary safety gear:
During an overturn, there can be three kinds of serious injury scenarios:

  1. Crushing a pedestrian while tipping over
  2. Crushing the driver while he was trying to escape
  3. Catapulting the driver from his seat when overturning

To avoid 2 and 3, the operator must wear seat belts to secure him to the seat. To avoid scenario 1, you can use the following accessories:

  • Safety vest that will help spot and avoid pedestrians
  • Proximity sensors and collision avoidance systems to avoid pedestrians
  • Forklift safety lights, such as red and blue warning lights, strobe lights, etc. to keep pedestrians aware of the moving forklift

At Lifts Part Warehouse, we offer all kinds of safety gear and accessories such as seatbelts, safety vests, proximity sensors, forklift safety lights, and strobe lights.

Falling personnel

This is another common forklift accident. This happens when a person rides the forklift without proper seating arrangement or uses the forks as an elevated platform. The latter is very common where workers stand over the forks and use them to reach heights. Since the forks are not designed to carry or elevate workers, people often slip and fall from them. The main reasons for this accident are:

  1. Lacking proper lifting equipment such as a scissor lift
  2. Carrying workers on the forklift without proper arrangement
  3. Carrying workers on an elevated fork while moving

An image of a forklift carrying a person on its fork

Figure: Carrying a person unsecured on the forks can lead to a nasty forklift accident

To avoid such incidents, you can adopt several measures:

  • Use ladders or mobile elevating work platforms (MEWP)
  • Use OSHA approved work platform safety cages

A safety cage is a particularly efficient solution as it requires a much smaller investment than a MEWP. These cages have proper railings and provisions for attaching safety belts.

An image of a forklift lifting a person in a safety cage

Figure: A forklift work platform or safety cage is a safe option for lifting personnel

Thinking of getting a safety cage? Please visit and browse our collection of Safety Cages for Hyster, Clark, and other forklifts at
Lifts Parts Warehouse. Also, don't forget to shop for safety belts that will further secure you to the cage!

Falling loads

Loads falling from the fork are another reason for forklift-related accidents. Loads can fall from the fork because of the following reasons:

  1. Not securing the load properly
  2. Carrying loads with odd shapes
  3. Carrying loads without balancing properly
  4. Elevating or tilting the mast too quickly
  5. Loading and unloading at heights without proper visual

An image of a forklift accident scenario involving falling loads from an elevated mast

Figure: Loads falling from elevated mast can cause serious harm to a pedestrian

A falling load from an elevated fork can become extremely dangerous for a nearby pedestrian or the operator himself.

The following measures can be taken to prevent such incidents:

Secured load: The best way to prevent loads from falling is obviously, securing them. You can secure the loads with tie-down clamps, lifting belts, or ropes. Using tie-down clamps is particularly a very effective way to secure the loads. Using a load backrest is also necessary for securing the load. You can buy load backrests at Lifts Parts Warehouse at great prices!

An image of a forklift lifting a person in a safety cage

Figure: A forklift work platform or safety cage is a safe option for lifting personnel

 An image of a forklift with a load backrest

Figure: A forklift load backrest helps secure loads on the fork

Mast camera:
Loading and unloading at heights can be very tricky, specifically when the operator can't see everything. This is why most accidents by falling loads occur. Using a mast camera for loading and unloading at heights helps avoid such accidents. Using a colleague as a spotter is a good alternative to a mast camera.

Load balancing: Balancing or centering loads on the fork before carrying them is very important. According to OSHA guidelines, carrying a load with a backward tilt is much safer as it moves the center of gravity towards the forklift.

An image showing the correct mast position to avoid a forklift accident.

Figure: Tilting the mast backward while carrying a load stabilizes it

Please watch this short training video on how to level the forklift mast:

Safe distance:
A very important preventive measure is to keep pedestrians at safe distances from the forklift. Using blue or red safety lights is a good way to mark safe distance for pedestrians.

An image of a forklift with red safety lights marking the safe distance

Figure: Safety lights will keep pedestrians away from any falling load

Here is a video demonstrating the effectiveness of forklift safety lights:

You can
buy safety lights at Lift Parts Warehouse at very reasonable prices.

Pedestrian accidents

In most cases, forklifts operate in busy environments with many workers working around. Hence, getting hit or run over by a forklift is quite common. The following reasons are the most frequent ones behind this type of accident:

  1. Blocked vision due to load
  2. Blind-spots
  3. Loss of focus, fatigue, and lack of training
  4. Over-speeding in a busy area
  5. Sharp turns in bends
  6. Lack of safety accessories like strobe lights, backup alarms, safety lights, safety vests, blindspot cameras, mirrors, etc.

An image of a forklift about to run over a pedestrian

Figure: Blocked vision and bends are two of the biggest reasons for pedestrian accidents by forklifts.

To prevent pedestrian accidents, implement the following measures:

Floor marking: Marking permanent aisles and passageways with floor marking tapes is a cheap and effective way to prevent pedestrian accidents. It is also a strict requirement of OSHA to put floor markings. Floor markings separate the walking passageway from the forklift's path and thus avoid an accident.

An image of a floor marking tape warning about forklift traffic

Figure: Floor markings are a requirement by OSHA to avoid pedestrian mishaps

Driving backward:
Sometimes loads on the fork block forward vision. In such a situation, OSHA guidelines instruct to turn around the forklift and drive backward. Also, you can use a colleague to receive direction and act as a spotter. Alternatively, using side-view, rear-view, front-view mirrors, and blindspot cameras can provide you with a clear line of vision.

An image of a forklift interior with rear- and side-view mirrors

Figure: Mirrors help avoid forklift accidents by extending your line of sight

Safety accessories: Many pedestrian accidents can be averted by using proper safety accessories. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) recommends the following accessories to minimize the risk :

  • Anti-collision warning system and proximity sensors
  • Backup alarms
  • Illuminating safety vests
  • Safety lights
  • Blindspot camera
  • Mirrors
  • Safety signs

Anti-collision warning systems and proximity sensors sound alarms when a person or another forklift is approaching. Some systems even override operator controls and slow down forklifts.

Figure: Anti-collision warning systems detect approaching workers and other forklifts

Alt-text: An image of a forklift approaching a worker around the corner

Backup alarms are also very effective in avoiding pedestrian accidents when driving in reverse. These alarms sound varying warnings as the forklift starts going reverse. Some backup alarms are smarter and sound alarms only when there's an obstacle behind the forklift. Here is a DIY video on how to easily install a backup alarm in your forklift:

The safety vest is a simple but effective way to prevent accidents. It makes the workers on foot more visible to the forklift operators. Safety signs are floor markings are also easy to implement but very effective. Safety lights, especially strobe lights, are good for attracting attention and marking safe distances from the forklift. Please watch this video discussing core safety rules for avoiding pedestrian accidents.

Emission Poisoning

This problem is prevalent with I.C. engine forklifts. It happens when carbon monoxide is accumulated in a confined space due to incomplete combustion of the fuel. Since CO is a tasteless, colorless, and odorless gas, it is hard to detect it with the human senses. It can accumulate to a dangerous level without anyone detecting it. Emission poisoning can cause damage in two ways:

  1. Short term exposure to a high concentration of CO
  2. Long term exposure to low C.O. concentration

An image of a poster describing carbon monoxide poisoning

Figure: Carbon monoxide poisoning shows signs like dizziness

The following factors are mostly responsible for emission poisoning:

  1. Too much idling
  2. Poor ventilation system
  3. Air-fuel mixture too rich
  4. Faulty engine components such as temperature, O2 and Pressure sensors, injectors, etc.

An animated image of a forklift with black smoke from the exhaust

Figure: Black smoke from the exhaust can be an early sign of C.O. poisoning

Emission poisoning can cause long-term damage to employee health and hence, requires proper attention. The following measures have been
suggested by OSHA to prevent emission poisoning:

  • Conduct regular emission tests, at least twice a year
  • Inform workers about signs and symptoms of C.O. poisoning
  • Looking for signs of rich fuel mixture, such as black smoke and fuel smell from exhaust, sooty spark plug, poor engine performance
  • Maintain the forklift engine properly
  • Install CO detector in the working area
  • Ensure proper ventilation
  • If possible, avoid using propane or diesel forklifts indoors.

Our recommendation

OSHA found in a study that over 70% of forklift accidents can be avoided with basic training and safety accessories. We recommend training your operators and equipping your forklifts with safety accessories. While training and forklift safety accessories require some investment, they will save you much more in the future.

If you want to buy forklift safety accessories at a very reasonable price, please visit Lift Parts Warehouse. We offer accessories such as safety lights, seatbelts, backup alarms, forklift cages, and many more. Order now and enjoy same-day shipment from our 21 warehouses in the USA. We also offer a limited warranty and guaranteed fit for all our parts.


  • Annually, about 100 deaths, 35000 serious injuries, and 62000 minor injuries are caused by forklifts.
  • Major forklift accidents are forklift overturning, workers falling from forklifts, falling loads, hitting a pedestrian, and emission poisoning.
  • In most cases, a forklift accident occurs due to a lack of training, concentration, and safety equipment.