A Historical Glimpse of Forklift Injury Rates in Australia
The popularity of the forklift
A forklift, as the name suggests, is a lift capable machine designed to lift and move heavy goods from one place to another. Predominately used within the transport, manufacturing, warehousing, wholesale, and construction industries, forklifts are designed to improve efficiency by simplifying the movement process of products and supplies. While some forklifts vary in their capabilities, all have the capacity to carry heavy loads and lift them to great heights, which wouldn’t be possible for a human centric workforce.
While forklifts add efficiency and functionality to a workplace, they can be very dangerous if not used correctly. What makes forklifts so dangerous is, not only the size and weight of the machines themselves, but also the way in which they are built. Standard workplace forklifts weigh anywhere from 1000 to 5000kg, with some larger industrial models weighing in excess of this. They are very heavy. In fact, they are about 3 times as heavy as a standard car. This is necessary, as their role is to carry heavy loads, and are designed to be heavy at the rear to compensate for the materials they are lifting. This uneven distribution of weight in the forklift can sometimes make them hard to manoeuvre and difficult to handle. This is why, if they are not operated in the manner, that they are intended by a licenced forklift driver, accidents in the workplace occur.
Forklifts and severe injuries: a case study into the facts and figures in the mid-1900s
Given the characteristics of forklifts, it’s no wonder that they are known to cause serious injuries and even fatalities in the workplace. In a project for the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Commission carried out by George Rechnitzer and Tore J. Larsson in August 1992 called, ‘Forklift trucks and severe injuries: priorities for prevention’ it read that the use of forklift trucks in industry was associated with severe injuries and fatalities. The problem was well-known and reported in the literature since the 1960s. In this study, the present regulations and standards in Victoria were reviewed and compared with a number of international regulations, severe injuries and fatalities in Victoria (1987-1990) associated with forklift used in industry were analysed, and critical incidents and risk assessments from a number of worksites in Melbourne were presented.
The main conclusion drawn from earlier research and the present data was that the most important injury problem was the result of interaction between the forklift vehicle and pedestrians. Forklift trucks were not recognised as vehicles in regulations nor in the industry thus not subjected to systematic traffic management. Statistics relating to forklift vs pedestrian injuries made up 45% of the total injuries in the study.
Other findings of the study were that the three major industrial areas with high numbers of forklift injuries were manufacturing plants, warehouses, and freight handlers with suggestions that the future regulations and standards in these areas be more specific and practical.
In the study, it is suggested that forklift truck and pedestrian movements in freight terminals only take place at separate level; all forklift truck movements in warehouses be separated and forklift trucks movements in manufacturing plants be completely separated from pedestrian walkways and work stations.
Recommendations were also made in regard to the need to upgrade aspects of forklift design and load handling practice. An implementation strategy for the report’s major findings was also presented.
Forklift injuries and statistics from 1989 -1990
The occupational injuries associated with forklifts in Victoria 1989 -1990 and fatalities between October 1987 and April 1990 were as follows:
- Hit by forklift – 101
- Fall from /by forklift – 50
- Other forklift injury – 32
- Overexertion (Fl-ass) – 41
- Manual handling – 36
- Unclear /unrelated – 52
These totalled 314 injuries over that period.
Forklift fatality analysis: jumping into the 21st century
In a more recent blog post by Adaptalift, since 2003 there had been a total of 61 forklift fatalities nationally across a wide variety of industries. Statistics from WorkSafe Australia showed that 2005-06 and 2006-07 were the worst years for forklift fatalities nationally, with 8 and 9 respectively.
Whilst Australia has had some forklift related fatalities, the fact that yearly fatalities nationally have not been higher than 9, shows that Australia has one of the leading workplace safety records in the world.
Since 2011-12, Australia has seen downward trend in forklift fatalities, as serious injury claims have decreased yearly, to the lowest number on record. The drop in serious injury claims has been mirrored in the increase of productivity due to less injuries. From a peak in 2010-11 of 6.2 weeks lost per serious injury, this level has dropped steadily to its current level of 5.4 weeks lost per injury.
The decline attributes overall to the research in this area. The forklift is now recognised as a vehicle and as such requires traffic management for separation between forklifts and pedestrians. Other improvements have been in diagnosis and treatment of injuries as well as improved safety standards, improved design features within newer forklift models and extensive safety training amongst employees.
SafeWork safety alert: preventing the increase in forklift fatalities and injuries in the workplace
In September 2021, SafeWork NSW alerted businesses using forklifts that they would be visited following the releases of astonishing figures noting daily incidents involving a forklift occurring six days a week.
SafeWork NSW Executive Director of Compliance and Resolution, Tony Williams, said, “Over the last two years, SafeWork NSW has recorded an astonishing 598 incidents involving forklifts. Tragically five of these incidents resulted in workplace fatalities…many of these incidents include collisions between forklifts or other vehicles, rollovers, and objects falling off forklifts when loading or unloading.”
The unnecessary increase in forklift incidents has sparked a rollout of compliance officers to attend workplaces with identified incidents and check that businesses are complying with forklift safety standards and regulations and also to educate users on forklift safety. This initiative is designed to reduce the prevalence of forklift related injuries to get them back down to pre 2019 numbers.
Prevention is the key
Understand forklift usage in your workplace
While forklifts are an asset to any business, as an employer, you need to ensure that your drivers are licensed and qualified to operate your forklift safely.
From the workplace safety experts
Verge Safety Barriers work with companies across Australia to create a saver working environment.
Verge Safety Barriers are dedicated to the safety of all workplaces for Australian businesses. With years of experience and extensive knowledge around traffic management, the team at Verge specialise in the separation between vehicles and pedestrians in the workplace. Verge can assist with questions around forklift safety. Reach out to the team today on 1800 765 539 or enquire online.