What to Do If You Are Injured by a Forklift at Work?

The details are scarce, but there are plenty of stories. A quick Internet search reveals that there were two highly-publicised forklift accidents in the Sydney area last year. One of them happened at a Banksmeadow business on November 29. The other happened at a Condell Park warehouse on May 11. Both were fatal, according to media reports.

Sadly, these were not isolated incidents. Between July 2014 and July 2016, for example, more than 1,300 workers were injured in forklift incidents. Three of the workers involved did not survive. Then, in 2017, SafeWork NSW prosecuted and issued fines to four NSW businesses totaling more than $830,000 “for incidents where workers were injured or killed by a forklift”.

In light of that, here’s what you need to know about how to avoid getting hurt in a work-related forklift accident and the actions to take if you are injured.

Know the basics

According to SafeWork NSW, a forklift or industrial lift truck is generally defined as a vehicle used to “used to lift, stack and transfer loads”. As such, they are commonplace in warehouses and other industrial or commercial workplaces throughout New South Wales.

In certain circumstances, forklifts are also dangerous. Serious or fatal workplace accidents involving or attributed to these vehicles usually happen when the victim:

  • Is hit by a forklift because of driver error, working too close to the forklift or inadequate traffic management;
  • is hit by a load a forklift was moving because the driver did not use an  attachment when one was needed, or while helping adjust or steady the load;
  • is not wearing a seat belt in a tip-over. The forklifts are prone to tipping while operators are turning on uneven or sloping ground.

Common injuries include but are not limited to:

  • Superficial and deep bruises;
  • broken bones;
  • crush injuries involving trauma to skin, bones, underlying tissue and internal organs;
  • back and spine injuries;
  • head injuries.

Due to the settings in which forklifts are most often used, construction workers and their counterparts working in manufacturing, food, trades, wholesale, transport, mining and agriculture are most likely to be involved in forklift accidents.

What are my options if I was injured by a forklift at work?

If you are an operator or another worker injured in a forklift accident at work, your options for legal recourse and compensation will depend on your specific situation.

Ordinarily, you will be entitled to claim workers compensation benefits and the accident is a motor accident within the meaning of the Motor Accidents Injuries Act which may mean that you can make a third party claim for damages.

You may be able to pursue a civil claim if you can prove that someone’s carelessness contributed to or caused the accident. However, the best way to ascertain this is to consult a qualified lawyer who can thoroughly assess your circumstances and determine whether you have a viable case.

You may also seek compensation if you can prove that your employer’s failure to maintain “suitable conditions” contributed to or caused the forklift accident. This is because all New South Wales employers are legally obligated to:

  • make safe work systems available;
  • take care of all relevant equipment/machinery and make sure it’s working properly;
  • provide a safe working environment;
  • ensure that all employees have sufficient training and supervision;
  • provide and maintain adequate facilities.

How compensation is awarded

Compensation in forklift accident cases is generally awarded based on several factors. These include but are not limited to the severity of the injury, your age, your overall health, and your occupation.

As in other types of personal injury cases, you may seek compensation for costs incurred due to hospitalisation and other treatment; medical expenses; rehabilitation costs, such as those incurred for physiotherapy and similar treatment; home assistance (if any); loss of past and future income due to the inability to work; and loss of superannuation (if applicable). You may also request compensation for “general damages” such as past and future pain and suffering.

A case in point

In one case, a 65-year-old man injured by a forklift at his Sydney workplace received more than $600,000 in compensation.

The victim reportedly suffered “multiple internal injuries requiring surgery as well as soft tissues to his neck and back” after a co-worker driving a forklift ran into him.

As a result the man had to take a considerable amount of time off work before he could return to light duty. And in spite of his age, he had reportedly intended to keep working  for at least five more years, or as long as he could do so. Unfortunately, however, he never recovered fully enough to do that.

Upon evaluation of the situation, the man’s lawyers determined he was eligible not only to make a Workers’ Compensation claim, but also to pursue a motor vehicle accident claim. This goes to show the importance of getting the proper legal advice from someone qualified to assess your situation as soon as possible. Don’t leave anything to chance. Contact us for an assessment of your forklift injury case today.