A little over a decade ago, the storage and warehousing industry was the UK’s worst for fork lift safety. Through greater awareness of the key issues and engagement by key stakeholders, its record has improved significantly – with accidents reduced by 77%.

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With safety, there is zero room for complacency; but always room for improvement.

Company fined after worker speared by fork lift

Just last month, a Blackpool confectionery company was fined £120,000 for safety failures in its warehouse that resulted in a worker’s foot being impaled by a fork lift truck.

The operator suffered life-changing injuries in the September 2012 accident when his pallet truck collided with another lift truck as it entered the warehouse where he was working.

The court heard how recently installed plastic pest control curtains obscured visibility. However, workers’ concerns about this issue was overlooked by management. At the time of the accident, the warehouse was also overcrowded with pallets due to maintenance work.

Most worrying, however, was the revelation that this was one of three collisions which took place in this particular part of the warehouse over a three-month period.

Your duty of care

The safe operation of fork lift trucks is everyone’s responsibility. Crucially, it is the duty of managers and supervisors to provide a safe environment and culture for the vehicles to work.

This sounds simple, and, in practice, it is. But alll too often supervisors lack awareness of the basic procedures which need to be followed to ensure safe operations.

Legislation

Observing good practice is not just helpful – it is required by law. In addition to the Health and Safety At Work Act (HSW), there are two further vital pieces of relevant legislation: Provision and Use of Workplace Equipment Regulations (PUWER98) and Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER98).

Training

It is paramount that only those who have been fully trained to operate a fork lift truck are allowed to do so – and that everybody onsite is aware of this. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) case histories are littered with injuries caused by untrained operators.

In the UK, there is no such thing as a “fork lift truck licence” which gives an individual authorisation to operate any kind of truck.

Instead, operators should receive training on specific types of truck. Employers must give written authorisation to each individual to operate a particular type of truck in a particular location which matches their training. Importantly, no one without this authority should get access to the keys.

Supervisors must know how to recognise potential dangers in the workplace and implement appropriate safety measures. Covered by HSW, supervisor training is now so important that it is included in the HSE’s key guidance for fork lift truck operations: L117: the Approved Code of Practice and Guidance on Operator Training and Safe Use for Rider-Operated Lift Trucks.

Approximately two-thirds of those injured in fork lift truck accidents are pedestrians, so it is critical that everybody on site is aware of the areas where fork lifts operate, and systems are put in place to prevent pedestrians and fork lifts from coming into contact with each other.

Maintenance

Professional advice should always be sought to ensure that any equipment used – including any specialist attachments – is suitable for the task at hand. Importantly, this should be reviewed every time the task or location changes.

There should be a formal regime for daily/pre-shift checks, maintenance and inspections – enforced by managers and supervisors. Daily/pre-shift checks should be scheduled, carried out properly and recorded, and trucks should not be used if a fault affecting safety is discovered.

A related issue, as it involves checking the truck’s condition, is Thorough Examination. For more information on this, visit www.thoroughexamination.org.

It is important to remember that Thorough Examination is not normally part of routine maintenance, so its requirements must be satisfied separately.

Essentially, you must arrange for this to be carried out at the legally required intervals and obtain a Report of Thorough Examination. You should also clearly display the next examination date on the truck.