The Importance of Seatbelts
National Forklift Safety Day (June 8th) is upon us again, so it’s only fitting to discuss some of the most important safety considerations when operating a forklift or lift truck. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets down a range of standards for properly operating a forklift, which in its regulations, OSHA refers to as a “powered industrial truck.”
OSHA’s rules cover most of the basics of using a forklift, including the safest process for picking up, traveling with, and then placing a load. OSHA also addresses best practices for operating a lift truck in a working environment, such as never allowing anyone to stand under a raised load or elevated forks, the correct procedure for leaving a running forklift, and how to maintain the safety of pedestrians working around forklift operations. But for National Forklift Safety Day 2021, let’s focus on the simplest and easiest rule that also has the biggest impact on forklift safety: Wearing a seatbelt.
The OSHA Memo to Regional Managers, published in October 1996, states that,
OSHA’s enforcement policy relative to the use of seat belts on powered industrial trucks is that employers are obligated to require operators of powered industrial trucks which are equipped with operator restraint devices or seat belts to use the devices. OSHA should enforce the use of such devices under Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act.
Wearing a seatbelt on a powered industrial truck is more than a good idea, it’s a mandatory requirement, and with good reason. There are an average of 85 deaths per year in the U.S. from forklift accidents, and 42% of those are due to the forklift tipping over and crushing the operator — the number one cause of death by far. In many cases, these injuries and deaths could have been prevented if the operator had been belted in.
Many operators across industries give similar excuses for not wearing seatbelts, complaining that securing one is a hassle, or that they’re uncomfortable over long shifts, or that the likelihood of a tip-over accident is too low to be worth the effort, but years of statistics clearly show that ignoring a truck’s seatbelt can have lethal consequences.
Even at low speeds, operators can be ejected from their seat and into the path of the truck, or they can panic when a unit is tipping and accidentally jump or slide underneath the truck instead of away from it. Even if the accident does not result in death, serious injuries to arms and legs being crushed can and do occur.
It’s not the most interesting, fun, or maybe even comfortable part of operating a forklift, but it’s the easiest thing to do and the best way to stay safe before you even start the truck. So, engage your seatbelt. Those few extra seconds can save your life.