Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Archive: Subrogation

The FORKLIFT 500 – A Need for Speed

From a young age, many children are typically drawn to things that are fast.  Fast toys, fast race cars, sports that require speed.  Is it possible that “feeding” this desire tends to make many of us resist, whether consciously or subconsciously, the request or demand to “Slow down!” once we’ve grown up, even when we know that it is the right and wise thing to do?  Now couple this with the natural tendency of most businesses to push for more productivity by doing things faster and more efficiently.  This can be dangerous when we take this combination into a workplace where forklifts are a necessary and integral part of the day-to-day operations.

Race cars are designed to go fast, and they rely on a properly trained and experienced driver to complete a race successfully and safely.  Forklifts are designed to lift and transport heavy loads, and they also rely on a properly trained and experienced driver to successfully and safely complete the tasks they are designed for.  The statistics for injuries from the use of forklifts and industrial trucks may surprise you.  A recent estimate by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)  estimates that approximately 8,500 to 9,000 non-fatal forklift accidents occurred between 2011 and 2017 in the US.  In 2019 alone, the National Safety Council (NSC) attributed 79 deaths to the use of forklifts in the workplace.  These injuries are not just those that happen to forklift operators…a large number of them happen to  pedestrians and other co-workers who are struck by the forklift or by a falling load.

The “Hard Hat Hauler”, by Model Products Corp.

Excessive speed is consistently given as one of the top 4 causes of all these injuries and deaths.  When forklifts go too fast for conditions, bad things can and do happen.  How fast is “too fast” for a forklift?  This is something that must be determined by each individual facility where a forklift is being used.  Some of the important factors that must be considered when determining a safe speed for a forklift are:

  • Size and weight of the forklift and load being carried
  • Type of forklift (i.e. stand-up, sit down, reach truck, etc.)
  • Type and condition of surfaces being driven on (i.e. concrete, asphalt, smooth or rough, wet)
  • Number and proximity of pedestrian traffic
  • Amount of other forklift traffic
  • Warehouse and factory aisle widths
  • Visibility around fixed obstacles and turns
  • Inclines and declines to navigate

ANSI/ITSDF B56.1 defines “the safety requirements relating to the elements of design, operation, and maintenance of low lift and high lift powered industrial trucks controlled by a riding or walking operator, and intended for use on compacted, improved surfaces”.  This standard provides methods for testing the service brakes and for estimating the stopping distance required for each forklift, both of which are impacted by the maximum speed setting of the forklift being tested.  Using this standard along with the expertise and experience of forklift dealers and manufacturers, businesses can help ensure their workplace is safe with respect to forklift speed.  New forklifts leave the factory at a preset maximum speed which does vary from manufacturer to  manufacturer.  Once a safe maximum speed has been determined for a facility, that value must then be set on each forklift.  Not all forklifts have a speed control feature, so the dealer or manufacturer must make that change for them.  Although it is not an enforced standard, 5 mph is the “safe maximum speed limit” that is generally accepted by the forklift industry.  OSHA has not defined a standard setting for forklift speed…the maximum safe speed is left up to each employer to determine.  On average, most companies choose to decrease their maximum speed setting to 5 mph, especially when there are pedestrians and other forklifts present in the work area.  It is possible that this maximum speed setting may need to be reduced even further based on the unique features of each workplace environment.  MHEDA (Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association) recommends a 3 mph maximum speed in areas with high pedestrian traffic.

Forklift fail

Possibly more important than determining a maximum speed setting for forklifts in a facility is the implementation of proper training for each forklift operator.  It is mandatory that every forklift operator is trained and certified to operate a forklift and that the performance of each operator is evaluated every 3 years based on the provisions found in OSHA standard CFR 1910.178.l.3.  In addition to these training requirements, there are additional guidelines that address forklift speed found in 1910.178.n.1, n.4, n.8, n.10, n.11, n.12, and n.15.  Employers should be familiar with these guidelines and make sure that their forklift operators understand and follow them.  Operators must be made aware of all the risks and hazards associated with excessive speed such as compromised steering, the risk of tip-over, and an increase in stopping distance.  It is estimated that approximately 70% of forklift accidents in the workplace can be prevented with the use of stringent training policies and the enforcement of forklift safety rules.  Determining and enforcing safe maximum speeds for forklifts is also an excellent business practice that can help prevent many severe injuries and even deaths that occur each year.

If you need an investigation of an incident or injury involving any type of forklift or industrial powered vehicle, please call our experienced mechanical engineering experts at Warren.

Bob Hickman is a Licensed Professional Engineer and Certified Machinery Safety Expert.  He has over 30 years of manufacturing and machine design experience in production and quality-driven environments.  Bob holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson University.  Over his 30-year engineering career, Bob has designed many custom manufacturing machines and processes that improved quality, productivity, reliability, and safety.  He designed several machines to automate manual processes, replacing inefficient/unreliable manual equipment and has assisted with plant layout/production line planning.  He has significant experience with pneumatic systems and components, as well as hydraulics.  Bob regularly investigates personal injury, wrongful death, and product liability claims, as well as property damage claims involving machinery and equipment in a variety of environments for both insurance adjusters and attorneys.  Bob has an in-depth knowledge of many standards with emphasis on ANSI B11 standards for machine tool safety.


Improperly Used Space Heaters Can Be Dangerous


As the temperature outside slides from the cold to the “bitter” cold range on the thermometer, most people tend to turn the heat on inside their home. Some homes, however, do not have whole house heat or sufficient heating capacity and therefore the occupants  may rely on portable space heaters. Portable space heaters, used properly, can be a good choice to warm a small area of a home. Unfortunately, while they can warm your cold and tingling hands and feet, they can also warm nearby materials to the point of ignition. Read More

The Vehicle – Tires


In a previous blog post, I gave an overall introduction to the 9-Cell Collision Matrix as an investigative tool used in collision reconstruction. Now let’s focus in a little at each element.

They are called car wrecks, after all…so let’s start with a more comprehensive look at the vehicle component of the matrix.  This review of the vehicle before, during, and after the collision will highlight a few important factors but is not meant to be all-inclusive.  So, let’s get started! Read More

Everybody Has A Part to Play – What’s Your Role?

Across industry and construction sites, there are times when employees of different employers are working side by side, or at least on the same site at the same time.  Some industry examples are when chemical plants have contractors on-site for routine maintenance or during process shutdowns for major overhauls or repairs. OSHA refers to these as multi-employer worksites.  In December of 1999, they revised their citation policy which allows for more than one employer at a worksite to be cited for conditions that violate OSHA standards. Read More

HEY…Cover Up Please!


Machine guards can be compared to the clothes we wear every day.  Indeed, they serve a very important purpose.  Imagine someone leaving their home on a fine, sunny morning wearing nothing but a smile.  Wonder how far they will get through the day before things start going poorly for this individual?






There will be more than a few raised eyebrows and blushes when he stops into the local Starbucks for his usual morning double-dipped and whipped, chocolaty chip with a touch of pumpkin spice cappuccino fix.  Good luck with that!  Probably going to leave disappointed, empty-handed, and likely wearing handcuffs.  This will be the beginning of a very long, very bad day for that individual.  Had he recognized the risks associated with this type of behavior, and then put forth a little effort to cover up, he would have prevented many unfavorable and possibly life-changing personal and legal problems from ever occurring!

And so it is with properly guarding a machine.  Machine safeguarding helps to protect workers from preventable injuries. Read More

One Small Step…


Ladders…not a particularly exciting topic I’ll admit.  But hey, we need ladders to help us accomplish all kinds of tasks.  Most people have used at least one of the many types of ladders that are available today.  And the odds are probably pretty good that many of those users strayed outside the limits of safety a time or two while on a ladder.  It is amazing the risks some people will take to save some time or avoid the inconvenience of getting down to move the ladder into a safer position.  I wonder how many of those risks would be taken on a ladder if the users knew they were on camera.

Think about astronaut Neil Armstrong.  He travelled by rocket almost 239,000 miles through space and Read More

Financial Injury.…From a Machine?!?!


Forensic engineers may be called upon to investigate a broad array of problems concerning a machine.  Cases involving physical injuries and even death are a large part of what we investigate in order to determine what caused the accident to happen and who may be at fault.  Occasionally, problems with a recently designed custom machine do not cause a physical injury, but instead cause a “financial” injury.  This type of “injury” can negatively impact the machine designer, the machine purchaser, or possibly both.  Financial injuries can be quite substantial, just as physical injuries can be, and may severely impact a company’s cash flow which can make or break a company.  A refusal to pay a designer/builder of a machine or paying for a machine that ends up not meeting the agreed upon performance specifications can have catastrophic consequences for many businesses, especially for small ones. Read More

How Long Before the Pipes Freeze?


An unexpected severe winter freeze will remind many people and businesses that when water in a pipe freezes, the ice will expand and burst the pipe or pipe fitting.  Large losses will result from flooding when the temperatures rise.  Insulation will help, but not prevent freezing.  Insulation simply slows down the rate of heat loss.  The time of exposure to subfreezing temperature is an important factor.

The American Society of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Handbook of Fundamentals has a short entry on the topic (Chapter 23, page 23.5-6), which gives an equation for estimating the time that it will take an insulated pipe to freeze, Read More

Industrial Equipment Failures and Construction Disputes


At Warren, we frequently investigate losses involving industrial machinery.  Many of the losses involve workplace injuries, fires, or explosions; however, we also analyze industrial machinery and processes for other types of problems.  For example, we analyze failures of machinery or industrial processes to perform as expected or disputes that arise from the commercial supply and construction of such systems.  This can encompass a range of issues from failure to achieve required levels of product quality or production quantity, to matters concerning unclear specifications or contracts, Read More

Interpreting Industrial Incident Data – Lesson Learned

This is a case study about an incident I investigated involving a major upset in a distillation column.  This blog builds on the previous blogs about the Distributed Control System, DCS – Data is the Key.

Distillation is a method of separating mixtures of compounds with differing boiling points.  Uncle Bill with his still on the hill separates ethanol, that boils at 173°F, from water that boils at 212°F.  If the mixture is heated to above 173°F, but below 212°F, the ethanol will boil, the vapor will travel up out of the unit and then can be condensed and served over ice with an olive…   Any mixture of two or more chemicals with different boiling points can be separated in this way.  The distillation Read More

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