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Forklift accidents declining, but still injure and kill workers

The next time you drive your car, think about how often you see semi-trucks towing containers, box trucks or other commercial delivery vehicles sharing the road with you. Chances are you see them so often that you do not think about how prevalent they are in delivering the materials and goods that are staples of our modern way of life.

Then ask yourself a follow-up question: How are these trucks unloaded when they arrive at their destinations? The answer is quite often, a forklift.

Forklifts are the necessary bridge between the delivery vehicle and the user level, but the nature of translating a pallet load into single items can be a dangerous process, especially when the forklift operator is either untrained or inadequately trained.

Loads can easily become unbalanced, resulting in loads falling onto others who are nearby or causing the forklift itself to tip over presenting a risk of injury or death to the operator.

The good news, nationally as well as for North Carolina, is that forklift accidents have been trending downward. Along with that decrease has been a parallel reduction in the number of injuries and fatalities that are directly and indirectly attributable to such accidents.

According to the National Safety Council, the frequency of work site accidents attributable to forklifts has been steadily, if slowly, going down since 2007. The number of fatalities nationally, for example, declined from more than 40 in 2007 to about 30 in 2010.

Nonetheless, workers in warehouses, factories and construction sites are still injured annually, and some still die, in forklift-related accidents. When this occurs, deficiencies in operator training or work procedures must be examined to identify whether they played a role in the incident and, if so, what factor workers' compensation, employer liability or manufacturer liability might also play.

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