A guide to help you recover maximum compensation after a forklift accident at work
In the bustling warehouses, manufacturing facilities and construction sites of South Carolina, forklifts stand out as invaluable tools, streamlining processes and facilitating efficient material handling. Yet, as essential as these machines are to our state’s industrial backbone, they also bring with them a set of inherent risks.
Every year, forklift accidents account for numerous workplace injuries, some severe and life-altering. If you’re an employee navigating the aftermath of such incidents, understanding your workers’ compensation rights is crucial.
This article delves into the dynamics of forklift accidents in the Palmetto State, offering insights into prevention, common causes, and the road to securing rightful compensation.
Statistics on forklift accidents
In 2020 alone, forklift accidents caused 7,290 injuries to workers and 70 work-related deaths, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). These injuries and deaths were most often the result of transportation accidents (52%) and getting struck by a forklift or an object carried by the forklift (15%).
Workers who suffered injuries due to forklift accidents spent an average of 17 days out of work to recuperate.
Common forklift injuries
In 2020, the most common type of forklift injury was fractures, accounting for 29% of all injuries workers sustained that year.
Other common injuries resulting from forklift accidents include the following:
- Cuts and lacerations
- Muscle strains and sprains
- Bruises and contusions
- Crush injuries
In the worst-case scenario, a forklift accident can be fatal, especially if the forklift tips over onto a worker or if the worker is struck by a fast-moving forklift.
What are the most common causes of forklift injuries and fatalities?
There are many ways that a forklift accident can occur on the job. However, certain factors make it more likely for workers to suffer injuries or even be killed as a result of using these vehicles.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these are the most common causes of injuries and deaths on forklifts:
- Getting into an accident with another motorized vehicle while driving a forklift (not on the road)
- Getting caught in between a forklift and another object
- Being hit by a forklift (as a pedestrian)
- Getting struck by a falling object or equipment from the forklift (other than the forklift itself)
- Falling to a lower level while using a forklift
- Being caught in or compressed by equipment or objects
What are the most common causes of forklift deaths?
Focusing specifically on causes of death, according to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), forklift fatalities result most often from the following:
- 42% from vehicles tipping over
- 25% from being crushed between the vehicle and a surface
- 11% from being crushed between 2 vehicles
- 10% from being struck or run over by a forklift
- 8% from being hit by falling material
- 4% from falls from the platform on the forks
What typically causes a forklift to roll over?
Forklift rollovers, or tip-overs, can result from a variety of factors, many of which revolve around forklift operator errors or environmental conditions. Common causes of forklift rollovers include the following:
- Driving at excessive speeds
- Turning too sharply or with a raised load
- Overloading or improperly loading the forklift
- Driving on uneven or rough terrains
- Stopping or accelerating too quickly
- Not performing proper forklift maintenance
- Driving with elevated forks, especially without a load
- Getting too close to the edge of a loading dock, ramp or pit
- Not having adequate training
Preventative measures, including comprehensive operator training, regular maintenance and safety protocols, can greatly reduce the risk of forklift rollovers.
In the news:
Worker dies in tragic forklift accident
A female worker was tragically killed in a forklift accident at a Columbia Pepsi bottling warehouse in October 2022 when the forklift she was operating accidentally ran into a storage shelf. One of the woman’s coworkers called 911, but unfortunately, she was unresponsive when EMS arrived and was declared dead at the scene.
What industries have the highest percentage of forklift fatalities?
Workers in certain industries have a higher risk of forklift accident fatalities, with the manufacturing industry having the largest rate of forklift fatalities at 42.5%.
Other industries with high forklift death rates each year include the following:
- Construction (12.5% of forklift fatalities)
- Transportation (11% of forklift fatalities)
- Retail (9% of forklift fatalities)
- Mining (1.2% rate of forklift fatalities)
How can forklift accidents be prevented?
Ensuring forklift work safety is paramount to reducing workplace accidents and injuries. Here are some key safety tips for operating and working around forklifts:
- Get appropriate training and certification. Only trained and certified operators should drive a forklift. Regular refresher courses are also important.
- Conduct pre-operation inspections. Before using the forklift, always inspect it for any potential malfunctions or damage. Check brakes, horns, steering, tires and other critical parts.
- Maintain clear visibility. Ensure the operator’s view is clear. If a load obstructs visibility, travel in reverse or use a spotter to assist.
- Adhere to load limits. Never exceed the forklift’s maximum load capacity. Ensure loads are stable, evenly distributed and secured before moving.
- Use the seatbelt. Always wear your seatbelt when operating a forklift to prevent potential ejections during tip-overs.
- Use ramps and grades properly. When traveling up or down grades, always drive with the load uphill. For example, drive in reverse when descending with a load and drive forward when ascending with a load.
- Maintain safe distances. Maintain a safe distance from people and other vehicles. Pedestrians should always have the right of way.
- Pay attention to parking. When parking a forklift, lower the forks to the ground, put the gear into neutral, turn off the ignition, and remove the key.
- Maintain communication. Use horns, lights, and signals to communicate your intentions to those around you. Establish and use clear hand signals with spotters or ground personnel.
- Establish and adhere to pathways. Designate and mark pathways for forklifts to reduce the chance of collisions with pedestrians or infrastructure.
- Drive at safe speeds. Always operate the forklift at a speed that will allow safe stopping. Slow down in congested areas or when turning.
- Avoid sudden movements. Sudden stops, starts or turns can destabilize a load and lead to accidents.
- Handle fuel with care. Refuel gasoline, diesel or propane forklifts outdoors or in well-ventilated areas. Ensure the forklift is off before refueling. For electric forklifts, handle batteries cautiously and ensure proper charging procedures.
- Keep clear of forklifts. Operators and pedestrians should never stand or walk under raised forks, even if they’re empty.
By following these safety guidelines and maintaining a culture of safety awareness, workplaces can significantly reduce the risks associated with forklift operation.
Which workers qualify for workers’ comp benefits in South Carolina?
In South Carolina, most employers that have 4 or more regular full- or part-time employees must have workers’ compensation insurance, which provides benefits to employees who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses.
A worker is considered eligible for benefits as long as the injury or illness they suffer is directly related to their job.
Additionally, the worker must be on the company’s payroll as either a full-time or part-time employee—not a temporary worker, freelancer or independent contractor.
What workers’ comp benefits are injured workers entitled to?
Workers who suffer job-related injuries after a forklift accident are eligible for certain types of benefits from workers’ compensation. How much you can recover depends on the nature and severity of your injuries. Those benefits include the following:
- Medical benefits. These benefits pay for medical treatment, testing, medication, surgery, physical therapy and other medical-related expenses.
- Lost wage benefits. These benefits, which typically cover two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wage, are available if your injury prevents you from working during your recovery.
- Death benefits. These benefits are available to certain family members and pay for funeral expenses and lost income if a worker dies from their injuries.
What are the steps to file a workers’ comp claim in South Carolina?
When a worker suffers a job-related injury, they must take certain steps to file a workers’ comp claim. Failure to follow these steps could result in a denied claim:
- Seek medical attention. See a doctor or go to the emergency room for a medical evaluation and treatment. This also helps to establish a link between your injury and your job.
- Report the injury. Report the injury to your employer as soon as possible, but no later than 90 days after the accident.
- Employer files a claim. Your employer is required to file a workers’ comp claim on your behalf after you notify them of your injury. If they refuse, you can file one yourself by submitting Form 50 to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission.
If your employer refuses to file your claim or if your claim is denied, it’s time to reach out to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for assistance. An attorney can review your case, explain your rights and help you file an appeal.
Contact the experienced work injury attorneys at Chappell, Chappell & Newman
Because forklift accidents often result in catastrophic injuries that require extensive and lifelong medical treatment, it’s essential that you don’t simply take the first settlement offer that your employer’s workers’ comp insurer offers. These initial offers tend to be extremely low and typically don’t fully cover your future medical care and income needs.
That’s why it’s critical to consult with an experienced work injury law firm like Chappell, Chappell & Newman before accepting a settlement on your workers’ comp claim. Our attorneys can give you an estimate of what your claim should be worth and negotiate with the insurance company to ensure you get maximum compensation for your injuries, just as we’ve been doing for our clients across Columbia for more than 30 years.
Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more about your rights.