Forklift trucks (FLTs), also known as rider-operated lift trucks, cause more injuries than heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and are involved in one in every four workplace transport accidents. Accidents such as the one experienced by an untrained 18-year old, able to access an FLT because other drivers habitually left keys in vehicles. When the vehicle tipped it fell on him causing fractures in both legs and nerve damage. Despite multiple prosecutions, there are still a surprising number of accidents where people are lifted on pallets by an FLT to access a height. A worker painting guttering fell six meters when working in this way, suffering multiple fractures. His employer was fined £100,000. Other accidents occur because of poor work planning. Two workers were trying to load cars onto a transporter, one using a lorry winch, the other an FLT. When the car rolled off the forks it landed on the other worker, breaking both shoulders and shattering his pelvis. Many accidents are life-changing, like the Banksman who had his leg amputated after an FLT drove into him. Others are fatal like the delivery driver struck by a heavily laden FLT in a badly managed transport yard.
If you have FLTs in your workplace you need to think safe site, safe vehicle, safe driver.
Lines on the floor to separate pedestrians from vehicles is not a reliable form of protection. Administrator Lisa Ramos was using the prescribed walkway, marked out on the floor with tape, as she’d been instructed. The FLT driver didn’t see her. Lisa’s injuries were so serious she had her leg amputated above her knee. Ideally, pedestrians need to be given a route that completely avoids areas used by FLTs and other vehicles, but where this is not possible take a lesson from pavement design – pavements have kerbs, and the change in level tends to keep most vehicles off the pavement.
Poor lighting, uneven or slippery surfaces, and slopes are also blamed for accidents. If you do add a kerb to protect pedestrians, make sure that there is still enough space for vehicles to manoeuvre without the kerb becoming a hazard for the driver.
Ensuring safe vehicles is a combination of making sure that the right vehicles are purchased, and that those vehicles are looked after. The latter is often managed with pre-use and post-use inspections. One danger with paper checklists is that there is a temptation to complete them “on batch” – for example, writing out 20 daily checks at the end of each month. Equipment checklists on a mobile device are easier to complete, can include photos and extra notes – and are automatically time-stamped.
When a cider factory purchased brand new FLTs, the warehouse manager was disappointed that after only a few months many showed signs of damage. The manager set up a “Champions’ League”, creating teams of people to be responsible for checks and routine maintenance (such as replacing tyres). Periodic audits awarded teams points if the FLTs had been looked after well, and prizes were awarded to teams with the best scores. Exceptional maintenance almost disappeared. Although they hadn’t experienced a serious accident, by tackling the high incidence of damage-only accidents they made an injury-based accident less likely.
The safest vehicle is one driven by a safe driver – the company where the 18-year old crashed the FLT did not control access to the vehicles. Where are the keys for your FLTs kept – and who can access them?
Before you train people to drive FLTs, some basic health checks might be useful. In investigating non-injury accidents one organisation found that several employees needed glasses, and a few even needed hearing aids!
Driver training is not a one-off process. It consists of several stages, and as with any skill, needs to be refreshed. Basic classroom training or e-learning can provide an understanding of the principles of working safely with FLTs, but site-specific training is needed to focus on the actual vehicles used, the loads transported, and the working environment. A site walkabout is essential to see how vehicles operate, to identify hazards - and to understand a pedestrian’s viewpoint.
Competence needs to be assessed on the job. A trained supervisor should initially provide close monitoring and feedback, reducing supervision as competence grows. Driver behaviour should be monitored formally by a specified interval of observation, and informally, by daily walkabouts. Many legal cases – and large fines – have shown that management ignorance of habitual speeding, failure to wear a seat belt, or moving with loads at a dangerous height is no defence in court. The HSE suggests a minimum refresher period of five years, but emphasise this should be more often for new users, less frequent users, or users observed not to be following a safe practice. Any changes to vehicles, workplace layout, or working practice should also trigger re-training.
Make sure all training is properly recorded in a way that can be accessed by anyone who needs to know who is trained to use which equipment – and in a manner that could be used as evidence should the worst happen.
Don’t forget to train the people who work around forklift trucks. 57% of FLT accidents are to pedestrians. A safety advisor at one manufacturer decided to get every non-FLT driver to sit in a (stationary) lift truck whilst he moved around in the vehicle’s blinds spots. The staff realised the difficulty from the driver’s viewpoint and became much better at staying clear when lift trucks were in the vicinity.
With so many safety processes involved with FLT safety and so much importance place on its management, there needs to be a system in place that can streamline all of this. EcoOnline offers an all-in-one health and safety system that allows for the management of the likes of plant management software, audit & inspection software, training management software, incident reporting software, PPE, risk assessment software, and much more.