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There’s an ongoing debate in practically any business that uses forklifts: Some drivers religiously attach their seat belts whenever the moment then sit in their cab while other drivers claim that seat belts can actually be harmful because they prevent operators from bailing should something go wrong while operating the forklift.
Despite what many forklift operators believe, seat belts really do protect drivers in the event their vehicles should tip over. In fact, in some ways seat belts are actually smarter than the operators themselves.
First Instinct Is to Jump
That’s because the most common human reaction whenever trouble occurs — such as when your forklift is falling over — is to get away from the situation as quickly as possible. But a driver’s instinct to jump from their tipping vehicle is precisely what causes the majority of forklift-related injuries and fatalities.
Tip over accidents in the US claim about 40 lives each year and are responsible for about one quarter of all recorded accidents.
Think about it: Your typical forklift weighs an average of roughly four or five tons — or about 9,000 lbs. That much weight dropped onto a person’s arm or leg can crush the bones into a hundred pieces almost instantly.
The seat belt prevents the panicked operator from jumping from the vehicle, saving them for their instincts and also from being crushed by a forklift that weighs about the same as a Lincoln Continental.
Avoiding Injury During Tip Overs
Seat belts will keep operators inside the cab when a forklift is tipping over, but operators need to be trained on other safety protocols to prevent injury:
- If your vehicle is tipping, keep both of your hands on the steering wheel and brace your upper body for impact.
- Push both feet into the floor of the cab and brace your lower body in the seat.
- Most importantly, lean away from the point of impact.
While inevitably there will be a concussive impact when the forklift slams to the ground, as long as there are no body parts between the vehicle and the ground and the driver has prepared him or herself for impact, if there are any injuries they probably won’t be serious ones.
Stay Safe, Be Smart
After an impact occurs, the driver should not immediately detach their seat belt and attempt to scramble out of the vehicle because the forklift may still be unstable and could shift or move again. Or the tip over could have caused another hazard, such as a load to fall or a shelving unit to collapse.
Instead, assess the situation and determine if is safe to move. Only after you are relatively sure that you can escape the forklift without further harm should you unbuckle your seat belt and move to safety.
While there are always going to be forklift operators who argue that seat belts restrict movement and can be dangerous in the event of a tip over, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Plus, in most workplaces seat belt use is mandatory, so there is the end of that argument.
Seat belts are mandatory safety equipment on forklifts because they save lives and prevent injuries. And anybody who argues to the contrary doesn’t know what they are talking about.