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Any forklift that has a seat should also have a seat belt. But the purpose of the seat belt on a forklift is very different than those installed in cars and trucks.
Unlike cars, forklifts don’t typically travel at very high speeds. Most top out at 10 mph or lower.
Collision vs Tipovers
So they are less likely to be involved with a high-speed collision, such as can occur in cars and trucks. While seat belts in cars, pickups and other passenger vehicles are designed to keep the person from being ejected from the vehicle during a collision, in forklifts the primary purpose is a little bit different.
Seat belts in forklifts are designed to keep the operator inside the vehicle so that they aren’t crushed if the forklift tips over.
Tipover accidents are far more likely in forklifts than they are in passenger vehicles. That’s because of the way forklifts are designed: They typically have a heavy counterweight in the rear of the vehicle to counter-balance the weight of the load being lifted.
Especially when a load is raised to a height by a forklift’s hydraulic mast, the center of gravity of the vehicle can raise or become off-center. If the forklift is on an uneven surface — such as a ramp or rough terrain — this change in the center of gravity combined with the imbalance of the weight can be enough to tip the forklift over frontwards or to one side or the other.
Because forklifts are made of industrial strength steel and generally weigh several tons, tipover accidents present a huge risk to the operator. Getting trapped under a forklift in a tipover accident is the leading cause of on the job deaths and injuries among forklift operators.
The seat belt, therefore, is designed to keep the operator in the cabin should a tipover occur, rather than prefent him or her from being ejected during a collision.
National Safety Regulations
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires all passenger forklifts — that it, those with seats — to have seat belts. The agency also requires employers to enforce rules that seat belts must be worn anytime the vehicle is running — even when it is not moving or lifting a load.
That’s because the risk of a tipover accident is present even if there vehicle is not in motion. For example, if an operator raises a load up high then stops the vehicle, the center of gravity can still be imbalanced and the vehicle could tip over — especially if it is parked on an incline or uneven surface.
Always Wear Seat Belts
Every forklift built since 1992 is mandated to have factory installed seat belts. But if older vehicles that were built prior to that date and don’t have seat belts are being used, OSHA can order that they be retrofitted into the vehicles and cite their owners for violating national safety laws.
The best approach is to simply require all forklift drivers to always wear seat belts all the time, regardless of whether the vehicle is parked or moving, or whether the engine is running or turned off. If they are in the cabin, the seat belt should be worn.