Forklift Seatbelt Safety

What is the leading cause of work-related deaths?  Motor vehicle accidents.  What is the leading cause of work-related deaths for farmers?  Tractor overturns.  What is the leading cause of work-related deaths for warehouse employees?  Forklift overturns.  What is a simple device that could prevent some of these fatalities?  Seat belts.  With all the latest technology and innovations in the workplace, a device that was first seen in the 19th century is one that cannot be replaced.

The use of a seat belt in cars and trucks are at an all time high.  As reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 89.6% of Americans use their seat belts. Seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017 alone.  Unfortunately, the number of heavy equipment operators using seat belts is far less.  Over half of the work-related deaths involving heavy equipment (tractors and forklifts included) were due to failure of the operator to wear a seat belt.  According to David Hoover with Material Handling & Logistics, “if you have a safety belt on and tip over, you’ll live 99.9% of the time.” One of the biggest complaints from operators is that it takes too long to put it on “100 times a day”.  But that argument can quickly be settled when you actually look at the numbers. Putting on a seat belt takes approximately 3 seconds. 3 seconds times 100 times a day is 5 minutes (Not to mention you can usually double task putting on your seat belt with starting the engine or checking your surroundings). 5 minutes out of an 8-hour day is 1%. Is 1% too much to ask if it could save your life 99.9% of the time?

FORKLIFT SEATBELT SAFETY

Seatbelts are important safety devices that were designed to secure vehicle occupants against the harmful movements that may occur during a sudden stop or collision.  Seatbelts work to restrain passengers and reduce the force experienced during secondary impacts, which could result in serious injury or death.  In automobiles, seatbelts apply an opposite force to vehicle passengers that will prevent them from making contact with the interior portion of the car and restrains them so that they are not ejected from the vehicle.

Seatbelts were originally invented in the 19th century by George Cayley, an English engineer.  However, the first patent was granted to New York resident Edward Claghorn in February 1885.  The idea spread from the automotive industry to other areas, and in 1911 the first seatbelt was used in an aircraft to provide for better control during rough landings and takeoffs.  Unfortunately, it would be many years until the aviation industry adopted standard seatbelt use, and World War II was the first recorded instance of widespread military aircraft seatbelt usage.

Today, 33 states in the U.S. have primary seatbelt laws for vehicle occupants in the front seat.  This means that law enforcement can ticket vehicle occupants who aren’t wearing a seatbelt, regardless of whether any other traffic offense has taken place.  Maximum fine amounts for a first offense can range from $10-$50, depending on the state, but fines are typically higher for minors.  Another 16 states have secondary laws in place, meaning occupants can be ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt only if another traffic offense has also been committed.

A History of Automobile Seatbelts
Dr. C. Hunter Shelden, a neurologist with Huntington Memorial Hospital in California, is credited with making one of the first major contributions to the automotive industry in regard to seatbelts.  After seeing many head injuries come through his ER doors due to car accidents, he came up with the idea of using retractable seatbelts.  He researched the primitive designs of early seatbelts and found that these belts actually contributed to vehicular deaths and injuries more than they prevented them.  In 1955, his findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and not only did he suggest the use of retractable seatbelts, but he also called for other car safety measures.  Four years later, Congress put legislation into effect that required all vehicles to comply with safety standards.

Since legislation has mandated the use of seatbelts in automobiles, these safety mechanisms have saved numerous lives.  Every day, approximately 6,400 adults are injured in the U.S. in car crashes.  Seatbelts have shown to reduce fatalities and serious injuries in auto crashes by approximately 50%.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seatbelts saved close to 63,000 lives from 2008 to 2012, with approximately 12,100 lives being saved in 2012 alone.

Seatbelt use has also improved over the years.  In 1994, only 58% of the population reported that they regularly used their seatbelt, and the percentage of unrestrained auto accident fatalities that year was 57%.  Ten years later in 2004, the belt use rate had increased to 80% while the percentage of unrestrained auto accident fatalities had fallen to 47%.  In 2012, the seatbelt use rate had increased to an all-time high of 86%.

Seatbelts and Heavy Machinery
When it comes to seatbelt safety, automobiles aren’t the only place that safety restraint systems are useful, and seatbelts should also be considered when operating heavy machinery.  Each year, hundreds of people die as a result of mobile heavy equipment accidents, including forklifts, mobile cranes, backhoes, road grading machinery, bulldozers, tractors, and loaders.  While many of these accidents happen by workers on foot, other workers could be thrown from the machinery if they are not properly restrained using a seatbelt system.

Seatbelts are especially important when operating forklifts, as forklift trucks are highly susceptible to tip over incidents.  Failing to wear a forklift seatbelt will increase the forklift operator’s risk of injury in the event of an accident.  Forklift safety seatbelts are recommended as part of an operator restraint system that is designed to reduce the severity and incidence of injuries in the event of a tip over.  While there are no safety regulations mandating that operators use a seatbelt on these machines, forklift manufacturers recommend the practice and encourage managers to ensure that their staff are using the included safety restraint system.

Despite the increase in the number of seatbelts found on heavy machinery, many workers are still failing to adhere to recommended forklift seatbelt policy.  If a forklift or other piece of heavy machinery has a missing or broken seatbelt it is important to fix it or replace it asap. You can easily find forklift parts, or other heavy equipment parts online, and most suppliers will have the parts you need to ensure the equipment is safe.

According to the Federal Highway Administration’s Work Zone Mobility and Safety Program, 720 work zone fatalities occurred in 2008.  Of these fatalities, the top contributing factor was lack of seatbelt use, which occurred in 383, or 53%, of cases.  Speed and alcohol followed up as the second and third greatest contributing factors.”

Seatbelt Use Overview
Seatbelts have a long history in the U.S. as a method of restraining vehicle occupants to prevent injury or death in the event of an accident.  Since 1994, automobile seatbelt use rates in the U.S. have increased from 58% to 86%, and the number of fatalities that resulted from auto accidents has been dramatically reduced.  Safety seatbelt laws and fines have also provided an additional incentive for drivers and passengers to buckle up when they get into their vehicle.

While seatbelt use has increased on the roadways, improvement is still necessary when it comes to seatbelt use with heavy machinery.  Over half of all work zone deaths involving heavy machinery were due to failure to wear a seatbelt on the part of the operator. Employers need to take a more proactive approach to promoting the use of seatbelts in heavy machinery to prevent injuries and more unnecessary fatalities.

4 Tips for staying safe during a forklift tip-over
No matter how many safety precautions you take there may still be a possibility that your forklift may tip over due to unforeseen circumstances.  You should do everything in your power to prepare for the possibility of a rollover.

1) Put on your seat belt every time you operate a forklift.  You should put on a seatbelt even if you intend to move the forklift just a short distance.  An accident can occur at any time and you should always be prepared.
2) During a tip over, place both of your hands on the steering wheel and lean forward.  This will allow you to use the steering wheel as a support for your upper body.  This position should minimize the possibility of bouncing violently forward upon impact.  You may feel jarred when you hit the ground, but at least you’ll be in a braced position thus reducing the possibility of injury.
3) Lean away from the point of impact.  For example, if your forklift is tipping right you should lean left and vice versa.  Tip overs can happen in an instant, so you’ll likely only have a few moments to react.
4) Push as hard as you can against the steering wheel and brace your feet firmly into the floorboard.  This will plant you in the seat minimizing the chances of injury.

 

Intella Liftparts. “Forklift Seat Belt Safety | Importance of Forklift Seat Belts.” Forklift Parts, Intella Liftparts, 1 Oct. 2018, www.store.intellaliftparts.com/c/forklift-seat-belt-safety-tips-regulations.html.

Currin, Andrew. “Seat Belts.” NHTSA, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 2 May 2019, www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/seat-belts.