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Forklift seatbelts

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

When I was a kid in the 1970’s, I never worried much about seatbelts or what might happen if I didn’t wear one. When I became a teenager in the 1980’s, it was still not a big deal, since I was used to motorcycles and tractors that didn’t even have them. In the 1990’s, it became law in certain parts of the U.S. that you had to wear them or risk a fine; once again, no big deal since I could afford the fine. Only when my wife pointed out to me what a bad example I was setting for our new baby boy did I change my habits. She told me “if he gets hurt or killed because he sees you not wearing your belt and does the same, I will never forgive you.” I started wearing my belt that day and only a few years later it saved my life in a serious head on accident, in which I was not at fault but would have been killed without the belt.

I do not know all the regulations across the globe or how people react to seatbelts abroad, but I can tell you how it is here in the U.S. OSHA does not mention the word “seatbelt” in 29CFR1910.178, the U.S. forklift standard, but they do make mention of having to train the operators regarding the contents of the operator’s manual, which now almost always would have instructions regarding seatbelt use. They also have several letters of interpretation, which say some basic things that I will paraphrase below:

1) Any unit manufactured with a belt better have one as good or better in place.
2) If they were not made with a belt, then you should be contacting the manufacturer and asking if a retrofit is available to make your lift safer. If they offer one you must take advantage of the offer. On a side note, older electric units need to have the battery positively contained before belting the operator in or the sliding battery might kill the operator in a tip over situation.
3) OSHA will enforce the use of seatbelts through their “general duty clause.”

So you can get a fine, big deal you might say. In the U.S. about 25% of the 100+ fatalities involve a tip over situation. We see and hear about so many statistics that we forget these are 25 real dead people that did not have to die! They were someone’s Dad, Mom, Brother, Sister or friend. I have heard many stories about people getting killed or horribly injured as the result of being on forklifts that didn’t have belts or just not wearing the belt that was there. On the other hand, I have never heard of an incident where a person wearing a belt was killed or that anyone was more seriously injured as the result of wearing a belt. This should be a wake up call for companies, trainers and operators around the world to start wearing and enforcing the use of belts, because the life you save might be your own, or your friend’s or your child’s.

Written by Brian Colburn of Forklift Training Systems, provider of forklift safety training and materials. Forklift Training Systems can be contacted at 614-583-5749 or at

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