The perennial problems of forklift safety are like a struggle between the forces of light and darkness, with existing corporate culture representing the dark side. It is to this culture companies must look if they are genuine in their drive to cut serious forklift injuries and death, which while still falling are still much too high, with around 800 serious forklift accidents reported every year, 60% of which affect pedestrian victims working close to the trucks.
This does not, of course, mean that management should downplay the importance of taking a holistic view of the problem, because there are so manly peripheral factors that affect truck safety. It simply means that a change in corporate culture is likely to bring down the accident rate more than any other single action.
To their great credit, the forklift manufacturers have done much to improve their truck safety and still do, a recent example being Linde’s Safety Pilot, a unique assistance system that tells the driver the load and resulting maximum lift height and ensures that the truck stays within the limits, greatly reducing the most common cause of accidents – driver operating errors. Over the years ergonomic improvement has also cut the fatigue factor that contributes to accidents.
It seems that at the heart of the corporate safety culture problem is the unwillingness of operating staff to speak up when they spot clearly dangerous practices, often encouraged by operational deadlines to meet hectic delivery schedules. Consequently, around half of all FLT accidents derive from unsafe practices, and this must be placed squarely on management’s shoulders. Managers need to take note of this because more of them are now being held accountable and prosecuted personally by the HSE, with a maximum of two years in prison or a heavy fine. The fact is that most accidents could be avoided if bad practice was not accepted by work mates and a benign climate created to allow them without fear to report potential accident practices. That may not be easy but that is partly why the FLTA wants to acknowledge the efforts of those who inspire others to follow their lead in pioneering safety advances at their sites, hence the creation of a national Safety Champion Award.
Outside the need for corporate culture change, the next most essential move is to adopt a holistic view. Trucks themselves, while much safer than they were, must be thoroughly examined as part of a responsible maintenance regime, yet standards here are variable. Floors can be a major source of safety problems, from lack of safety markings clearly segregating truck from pedestrian traffic to poor maintenance and house-keeping involving potholes, expansion joint crumbling, detritus and slippery surfaces. Lighting needs to be considered because older drivers in their early sixties need six times as much light to discern objects clearly as a 20-year old. Truck reversing is more dangerous than forward travel so it might be possible to introduce a one-way system. A look at the racking and its loads could enhance safety if changes are made. If one uses drive in/drive through racking, notorious for their higher accident rates, would it be feasible to change to other, safer forms of racking? And are there any damaged wooden pallets in the racking? In a large warehouse the chances are there will be some whereas there should be none. Could safety be improved by fitting netting or mesh barriers at the racking rear to protect against falling pallets and cartons and have you considered safety posts to cut the need for rack repairs? Are the rack repairs tardy?
Driving skills, of course, are a critical issue with safety so it makes sense to consider refresher training courses. The big problem, however, can occur when taking on temporary drivers to cope with peak periods like Christmas. Many of these drivers may come from other countries but their driving qualifications may not be recognised in Britain. They should, therefore, be put through an intense test, including a thorough understanding of the written and spoken English word.