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Forklifts hurt nearly 97,000 people every year

Data compiled from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimate 85 forklift-related deaths every year in the United States. In total almost 97,000 forklift-related injuries annually. That's enough to nearly fill the Horseshoe at Ohio State University. (WSYX/WTTE)

Every year, tens of thousands of people are hurt in warehouses and stores by forklifts, and many of those accidents could be avoided if safety procedures are followed.

The family of Mark Daniels remembers a fall day in 2015 when they received devastating news about what happened at the Abercrombie and Fitch distribution center in New Albany, Ohio.

"There was a knock at the door and there were three police officers there and they said 'sorry but there's been an accident,'" Mark's brother, Corey Daniels, said.

The family described how Mark was working on an order picker forklift when a coworker hit his machine by mistake. It tipped over and fell to the ground. Mark did not survive.

"I just shook," mother Marsha Daniels said. "You know when you wake up in the middle of the night and somebody tells you that, it's like a bad dream."

Data compiled from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimate 85 forklift-related deaths every year in the United States. In total almost 97,000 forklift-related injuries annually. That's enough to nearly fill the Horseshoe at Ohio State University.

"The machines are just as dangerous as cars," Corey Daniels remarked.

David Hoover with Forklift Training Systems saw the need for a greater focus on forklift safety so he started a business centered on training.

"Knowing that it was preventable and easily preventable, that's a tough thing to live with," Hoover said. "If you get hit by one of those it's not going to bruise you, it's going to take your leg off."

At Startech.com's Columbus warehouse, there's a comprehensive equipment training program the company has implemented. Warehouse supervisor Tom McIsaac said no one will be operating equipment until they go through classroom training and a driving school of sorts.

"It's imperative that we keep our employees safe," McIsaac said. "We've never had a forklift accident and we want to continue that. We're sort of setting the benchmark for other companies around here."

Clint Taylor is one of the lead associates who said he has been through regular training and re-certification many times.

"You come out of the training and you come out of these meetings with a heightened sense of what can go wrong," Taylor said.

Employees said forklifts weigh as much as four small cars and it's one reason why safety experts like Hoover said deadly accidents have happened and often.

"It's a silent killer. It's something that we see in the background," Hoover said. "We don't think much about it."

Federal records show since 2010 there have been two dozen forklift deaths in Ohio alone. Last year, an employee at the Honda facility in Marysville was struck and killed by a forklift. In 2010, a worker was crushed between a forklift and a compressor at Marzetti Co. in Columbus.

Now, more companies are changing safety protocols to better protect and to avoid forklift-related injuries or death. There's a push by safety advocates to raise safety standards in warehouses and with equipment. Many times it's awareness, patience and care that are the keys to avoiding close calls.

"These deaths don't have to be occurring and these injuries don't have to be occurring," Hoover said. "If they knew more about the dangers, I think they would respect the trucks and stay back and there would be less injuries."

However, for Mark Daniels' family, it's too late as they reflect on what happened and hope more families won't wake up to hearing a similar story.

"I wasn't ready to say goodbye," Marsha Daniels said. "All of a sudden, in just an instant, you really value life when something like this happens."

A pond on Abercrombie's property is named in Mark's honor not far from the warehouse where the accident happened.

"I just want him to be remembered for his kindness and for how hard he worked and how willing he was to do anything for anybody," sister Erin Sujka-Ossman said.

Some safety advocates argue OSHA standards don't go far enough to hold companies accountable and want to see more required training and testing to avoid injuries.

The Bureau of Workers' Compensation's, Division of Safety & Hygiene has a number of resources for employers including free safety consultations, educational materials and safety education courses. Safety experts can visit Ohio workplaces to review their health and safety program and advise on how to implement effective safety practices. Contact the BWC at 1-866-569-7805 or click here for more information.

In March, the Safety Congress & Expo is being held at the Columbus Convention Center and includes more than 200 educational sessions with topics including occupational safety and health, wellness, rehabilitation, controlling claims costs and medical treatment of injured workers.

Keep clicking on this story as Investigator Brooks Jarosz adds more resources for companies and those who operate or work around forklifts.

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