Forklifts: essential tool needs careful handling

Simon Creasey
Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Lift trucks of various kinds are necessary for the smooth running of printing firms of all sizes. Safe operation must be a top priority to prevent accidents.

Each year in the UK, around 1,300 people working on or alongside forklift trucks are killed or seriously injured, according to figures from the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA). That equates to five people each working day.

As well as the worst possible scenario of a workplace fatality – with two such tragic incidents in the printing industry occurring since the beginning of 2017 – serious injuries sustained because of the unsafe use of lift trucks range from fractures through to amputations. And collisions between forklift trucks and “pedestrians” can also lead to serious injury or death.

In recent months, there has been a series of incidents involving forklifts at print and packaging related businesses. In February, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) issued rulings on two cases – one at a packaging company and one at a postal service company – that saw workers struck by forklift trucks, with the companies involved issued heavy fines.

It’s important to note that almost every single incident involving a forklift truck that occurs in the UK each year could have been avoided had companies and forklift operators followed basic operating protocols and procedures.

Safety procedures
So what measures do printing companies need to put in place to protect their workers and ensure forklift trucks are used safely in the industry?

According to Tim Waples, CEO of the FLTA, in any workplace where forklifts are operating, there is always a risk of serious incidents that could ultimately result in injury – or worse. “Different industries bring different challenges for forklift operators, whether it’s large loads, tight spaces with blind spots, loading docks where trucks and pedestrians are both working, and countless other hazards,” says Waples.

“Whether it’s a DIY store, an oil rig, an industrial plant or a warehouse, forklifts can be a danger if proper precautions are not taken. If there’s one thing more dangerous than a forklift in a workplace, it’s complacency.”

This complacency is the root cause of two of the most commonplace accidents in the workplace, says Kanwal Kanda, head of transportation at the HSE. The first of these is where trucks collide with a pedestrian.

“In broad terms, that is as a result of ineffective segregation between the lift truck and pedestrian, and where measures such as physical barriers haven’t been properly considered,” says Kanda. “We don’t say physical barriers should be achieved in all cases because in some workplaces it’s not achievable, but it is up to an employer, or those in control of premises, to determine if such controls are achievable.”

The best physical barriers are elevated kerbs and railings, but a more rudimentary approach can work if implemented correctly. “You can visually demarcate [an area in which forklift trucks can operate] with a bit of paint on the ground, but that needs to be accompanied by rigid systems and procedures of work so that everybody knows what they mean,” says Kanda.

This rigid approach to pedestrian safety is a view shared by Phil Ashcroft, health, safety and environmental adviser at the BPIF, who says: “Forklift truck operators must treat all pedestrians with respect, due care and with attention by driving carefully and slowly when pedestrians are within the vicinity, and keeping vigilant for any sudden appearance of pedestrians from blind spots, by using positioned mirrors to review hazards.”

The other commonplace incident involving forklift trucks is when they overturn. This typically occurs when trucks are not being operated properly and the driver is speeding or manoeuvring with a load or forks in the air, which alters the stability of the truck and can cause it to topple over. “When travelling either with a load or without a load, the forks must be kept at the lowest point – remember an unloaded forklift truck is particularly vulnerable to tip over when turning,” says Ashcroft.

The situation is made worse by people who do not wear seatbelt restraints, according to Kanda. “The provision of restraints on lift trucks are a legal requirement – they have to be provided – so employers need to ensure that their employees are wearing those restraints.”

Often incidents of both types outlined above occur because a safe system of work hasn’t been established, procedures haven’t been properly communicated and employers are not monitoring for compliance against the system among their workforce.

“One of the things that’s paramount is if you’re setting up a system, it’s pointless just setting it up and not measuring if it’s effective and being followed. You have to complete that essential step,” cautions Kanda.


Safe use of lift trucks

Think about the safe movement of lift trucks and loads as part of your overall safety policy for people, plant and equipment.
Reduce risks at points where lift trucks might meet other traffic or pedestrians, including areas where lift trucks load and unload other vehicles. This risk assessment should form the basis of a safe system of work, and you should take account of the extra risk when planning lifting operations.
Where possible, prohibit pedestrians from areas where lift trucks are operating and only allow access to those who operate truck equipment, or supervisors. If this isn’t possible, assess the risks to pedestrians and, where necessary, provide ways to adequately control the risks.
All lift-truck operating areas should be suitably designed and properly maintained. Make sure the surfaces used by lift trucks are as level and firm as possible, and preferably surfaced with concrete or other suitable material.
Make sure the workplace is adequately lit, particularly where there is regular movement of vehicles; where pedestrians and vehicles circulate and cross; and near buildings and plant. Arrange lighting to avoid glare and avoid sudden changes of lighting levels (for example, where lift trucks may pass from bright sunlight into a building).
Lift-truck stability (both longitudinal and lateral) can be affected by the load, the task and the environment where it is operating. Lateral stability is affected by the forces generated, such as when turning, or if the truck is tilted sideways by, for example, travelling across an incline or running into a pothole.
At the beginning of each shift, the operator should check the lift truck in accordance with the vehicle handbook and document the results. They should report to the supervisor any defects which might affect its safe operation to ensure they are put right.
You should have a system in place to ensure that only authorised operators use lift trucks and that they are parked safely.

Source: HSE Approved Code of Practice and guidance: Rider-operated lift trucks. Operator training and safe use

Appropriate training
Another essential step is giving operators appropriate training. Kanda says there are three different training stages: basic training, specific on the job training and then training relating to familiarisation of the job the driver is doing.

It’s a legal requirement that all forklift truck operators are given basic training and trained to the standards outlined in the HSE’s L117 ACOP, which relates to the safe operation of trucks. Kanda says that ultimately it’s down to individual employers to decide whether or not to deliver refresher training as over a period of time operators can develop bad habits and/or their skills can erode, which is why it’s vitally important to keep competency levels high.

To ensure operator standards are maintained, he advises printers take advantage of training courses provided by companies that are members of a voluntary accredited body or quality assured schemes. Although it’s not mandatory for training organisations to be part of these bodies or schemes, Kanda says companies who are can help set and maintain professional training standards – these providers are listed on the HSE website, which also contains a host of free information about the safe operation of forklift trucks.

One organisation whose aim is also to promote the safe use of forklifts in the workplace is the FLTA. Members of the association have to abide by a strict code of practice and the FLTA has also established a ‘safe user group’.

“With best practice and legislation always changing, it can be difficult for managers and supervisors to stay on top of everything,” says the FLTA’s Waples. “To help combat this, the FLTA set up a safe user group – a resource of clear and concise information developed especially for fork truck users. Members receive privileged access to legislation guidelines and advice, specialist publications, health and safety updates, safety alerts and more.”

He explains that sometimes legislative changes are made – such as the Accrediting Bodies Association introducing new standards for testing the basic operating skills for rider and pedestrian pallet trucks and stackers in December last year – and the group helps members keep abreast of these changes.

However, Waples says that for significant and lasting changes to be made around the safe use of forklift trucks in the workplace, management needs to step up and take ownership of the issue to influence company culture and behaviour from the shop floor all the way up to the boardroom.

“Management should be equipped with the training and background to competently identify hazards, backed by the confidence to act when bad practice occurs,” adds Waples. “Although managers have a key role to play, it is also up to an operator to take responsibility for how they work day to day. Safe operators take training seriously and maintain high standards at all times. Operators should not, for instance, work with equipment they haven’t been trained to use – and must not allow untrained colleagues to operate any kind of materials handling equipment. It is crucial that operators check their truck properly before every shift, report any defects and not use a truck that’s considered to be unsafe.”

By following this guidance, companies will help to significantly cut down on those 1,300 forklift truck-related incidents that take place in the UK each year. While the printing industry may have seen its fair share of incidents over the past few years, it’s by no means unique.

The problem is that when incidents involving forklift trucks and humans do occur, there is only ever going to be one loser, so the more printing companies that follow advice offered by organisations like the HSE, the safer the printing industry and its workers will be.

Managing the risk
The Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) head of transportation Kanwal Kanda offers the following advice on how to avoid workplace incidents involving forklift trucks.

How to avoid collisions
Get competent people to carry out risk assessments to identify the specific risks associated with using forklifts in your workplace. After you’ve identified these risks, segregation is key, accord-ing to Kanda.

“At HSE, we talk about a hierarchy of control,” he explains. “At the top of the hierarchy is if you remove pedestrians from where the forklift tucks operate the risk of collision is removed. How-ever, that quite often isn’t reasonable or achievable, which is why we go down the hierarchy and see if it’s possible to install physical controls and physical barriers, such as railings or high kerbs because that will physically restrain a lift truck from entering a pedestrian only area. If that doesn’t work, it’s about painting lines and devising procedures and communicating them effectively. Then you have to measure and monitor how those procedures and systems are be-ing adhered to because that will tell you if they’ve been effective or not.”

How to stop forklift trucks overturning
At the end of the day, this comes down to basic training, followed by specific on-the-job train-ing and familiarisation training. “Using this three-limbed approach you can ensure as an organi-sation that your operators are not only fit for purpose, but also competent,” says Kanda.

He adds that operators should avoid manoeuvring loads in the air at all costs because it affects the stability of forklift trucks and is one of the common causes of trucks overturning. Companies should also enforce the use of seatbelts as that provides extra protection to operators.

Lastly, he advises companies to “enforce” and hold operators and pedestrians to account if any-thing untoward happens.

“When an incident does occur, from our experience there would have been previous near misses which haven’t been realised,” says Kanda. “So there would have been an opportunity to uncover a potential incident or a defect in the system. We say to organisations develop what we call ‘leading indicators’ – these are predictors of where there may be a defect in a proce-dure in training or other controls. What it does is allows an employer to make decisions before an incident occurs.”


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