Lessons Learned from Breaking Down a Fatal Forklift Accident

The accidental death of a warehouse worker who fell to his death while improperly from a wooden pallet elevated from a forklift offers important safety lessons for other businesses.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in its monthly “Fatal Facts” newsletter for the month of November, broke down the recent accident to determine what went wrong and what steps other businesses can take to avoid similar tragedies.

What Happened

The warehouse worker, who was not identified in the analysis, was killed after he fell a distance of seven feet from the wooden pallet he had been standing on. The pallet was elevated by a forklift, according to OSHA’s incident description.

“The warehouse inventory was stored on steel storage racks with the highest shelves about eight feet from the concrete floor,” the report stated. “It was common practice for warehouse workers to place one foot or both feet on a pallet and move inventory on the top shelf while a coworker lifted them to the top shelf using the forklift, even though the equipment was not designed for this purpose.”

The worker slipped on the pallet while moving the inventory and fell. He died a few days later at a local hospital as a result of his injuries.

Why It Happened

In its analysis of the accident, OSHA identified three main reasons for the accident:

  1. The employer didn’t provide workers with the proper equipment for reaching inventory stored on higher shelves.
  2. The employer didn’t follow manufacturer instructions and prevent workers from using pallets on forklifts as makeshift work platforms.
  3. The employer didn’t provide training and certification to forklift drivers on how to safely use and operate their vehicles. Specifically, they didn’t tell drivers not to use their forklifts to lift workers without an approved personnel lifting platform.

These shortcomings ended up costing the worker his life. But there are important lessons to be learned from this tragic accident, according to the OSHA analysis.

Lessons Learned

To prevent similar accidents from happening in your workplace, OSHA made the following recommendations:

  • Don’t let workers ride on or occupy pallets lifted by forklifts
  • Give workers the right tools and equipment for each task, including accessing working surfaces like elevated storage shelves
  • Equipment designed for lifting workers properly should include manufactured personnel platforms specifically designed for lifting workers on a forklift. These should include fall protection such as guardrail systems
  • Provide training on forklifts to all employees who work with or near them. Training needs to include formal instruction and hands-on training at a level and in a language workers understand.

Anybody who works with forklifts needs to understand that you can’t allow drivers to lift employees standing on pallets, directly on forks, or in any other specifically designed use.

As in this accident, failing to follow the rules can be fatal.



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