Designing Facilities to Limit Forklift Accidents

Julien D.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that there are 34,900 serious injuries, including 85 fatal accidents per year in the United States involving forklifts. It is estimated that 11% of all forklifts will be involved in some type of accident each year. The manufacturing industry is the industry that is most affected by forklift accidents, representing 42.5% of fatal accidents.

Drivers of Forklift Accidents

Many work-related factors can cause accidents with forklift trucks, such as lack of training, poor maintenance, blocked vision, improper backing, speed, poorly stacked loads, improper communication or workplace design. In assembly factories, poor workplace design is one of the main factors for forklift accidents.

Design and Layout Considerations

Creating designated walkways to separate pedestrians and forklifts is a must in the industry but poor workplace design also includes narrow, crowded and cluttered aisles, working in the general area of forklift operations and mainly forklift traffic in work areas.

Traffic in work areas occurs when forklifts are used to handle and transport input, work in progress or output to work cells.  Most companies have limited work space increasing the risk of accidents. To reduce the risk of accidents, process engineers need to consider handling the material differently. Light materials (less than 2000lbs) can be handled by using jiggers, conveyors, push carts, tugger carts or by redesigning the floor layout and redefining processes. The spaghetti diagram below is a good tool to review forklift congestion.

Substituting Forklifts

In addition to just optimizing layouts, reducing forklift use can be part of the solution.  Besides improving safety, lower forklift can potentially benefit maintenance, congestion, flexibility and productivity. For example, instead of carrying 1 load of finished products at a time from a work area to storage area with a forklift, tugger carts can be used to carry multiple loads of finished products including empty carts that can be left in work areas afterwards.  Furthermore, tugger operators always have a clear view because the loading is done in the back.

Overall forklifts should be restricted to their designated work areas, where vertical storage is needed or for shipping purposes. This should contribute in the reduction of accidents involving forklifts.