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Many forklift operators spend as much time out of their vehicle as they do behind the wheel. With all that jumping in out of the forklift cab, it’s often easier not to fasten and unfasten the vehicle’s seat belt every time.
But what are the laws concerning seat belt usage and forklifts? Are operators required to wear seat belts? If so, what’s the penalty for non-compliance?
Seat Belt Requirements
Technically, the federal agency regulating the use of forklifts in the workplace — the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) — has no explicit rules requiring forklifts built before 1992 to even have seat belts, let alone mandating that drivers wear them.
All forklifts manufactured since then and used in the US are required to have working seat belts. And the requirement for operators to wear them is widely believed to be covered under the OSHA Safety Act, which requires employers to protect employees from “serious and recognized hazards.”
The federal agency specifically admonishes employers to prevent their forklift operators from becoming “mousetrapped”, or crushed, in the event of an accident in which a forklift tips or flips over.
Mousetrapping is recognized by OSHA as a serious hazard, and the agency requires employers to enforce seat belt usage among workers operating forklifts in order to prevent these type of injuries.
In automobiles, local and federal laws requiring seat belts and seat belt usage are meant to protect drivers from being thrown from the vehicle in the event of a high-speed collision.
In forklifts, however, seat belts are designed to hold the operator inside the cabin in the event of a tip-over accident. The number one cause of injuries in forklift accidents is drivers being crushed by their own vehicle.
That has to do with the operator’s natural instinct to leap from a tipping vehicle. Forklift seat belts essentially prevent forklift drivers from making rash decisions that can cause them to become hurt or even killed.
Forklifts are durable heavy machinery and tend to stay on the job much longer than cars, trucks and other vehicles. Consequently, there are a lot of forklifts build before 1992 still being used in businesses today.
While companies are not specifically required to provide seat belts on these aged vehicles, OSHA can require companies to retrofit these forklifts with seat belts. Failure to comply could result in fines and other penalties.
Penalties and Compliance
Forklift operators who don’t wear seat belts part or all of the time not only put themselves in danger but also put their employers at risk of being targeted by OSHA for unsafe workplace practices.
It may not always be convenient to buckle up, but it’s the law.