How to Prevent The Most Common Forklift Operator Injuries

Twisting and turning into and from awkward positions, sitting for long periods, and spending long hours on a machine with no suspension are reason enough to be sore and tired at the end of a workday. They’re also why forklift operators so often find themselves with musculoskeletal and repetitive use injuries. Lower back pain, musculoskeletal and repetitive strain injuries are some of the most common reasons for missed work and worker’s compensation claims, according to a report on OSHA’s website.

“Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are the most widespread occupational health hazard facing our Nation today. Nearly two million workers suffer work-related musculoskeletal disorders every year, and about 600,000 lose time from work as a result. Although the median number of lost workdays associated with these incidents is seven days, the most severe injuries can put people out of work for months and even permanently disable them. In addition, $1 of every $3 spent on workers’ compensation stems from insufficient ergonomic protection. The direct costs attributable to
musculoskeletal disorders are $15 to $20 billion per year, with total annual costs reaching $45 to $54 billion.”

The following are some of the most common injuries forklift operators experience, and how they can be avoided.

  • Lower back issues from prolonged sitting, along with shock and/or vibration caused during travel
  • Getting on and off a forklift numerous times each shift
  • Musculoskeletal injuries from repetitive movements
  • Neck and back pain due to vibration, poor posture and shifting into an awkward position to maintain visibility
  • Whiplash Injuries such as headaches, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating from abrupt stops and starts

Some of the issues described above may start as slight pain, but can turn into chronic pain, reduced movement and even the inability to work.

To prevent some of the issues above, forklift operators should:
– Stretch their hands, shoulders and neck regularly: before and after each shift and during breaks
– Never drive with a wallet or other bulky object in a back pocket 
– Position the seat so their feet can easily reach the pedals
– Adjust the backrest (if possible) so it is tilted slightly backward
– Slow Down! Faster speeds increase shock and vibration that can cause bad posture and fatigued muscles

Facility managers can prevent injuries by:
– Keeping forklift tires in good working condition.
– Fixing rough, broken floor surfaces and potholes.


– Replace the seat every three years, or use an anti-vibration seat cushion  – Install a grab handle-mounted horn button, so drivers don’t have to push the horn button on the steering wheel while traveling in reverse.

When buying a new forklift, look for ergonomic features such as:
– A vibration-dampening steering column
– A mast designed for the best possible visibility
– Angled cross braces so looking up through the overhead guard is easy without neck strain
– Low step height for easy entry and exit
– A small steering wheel combined with a large operator cabin
– For stand-up lift trucks, look for intuitive, low force single-hand control operation and low-vibration suspended floorboards

Minor discomfort and little injuries can add up to a big expense for the forklift operator and the employer. To learn more about ergonomic options on a new forklift, or ergonomic accessories for any lift truck in your fleet, contact us online, or by phone at 800-666-1774.

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