Industrial accidents generally may be falling so why is this not reflected in forklift truck accidents, which sees 1,300 UK workers seriously injured every year and million-pound fines being handed out to blue chip companies who should have known better. And can more use of technology make a real dent in the figures?
As with many such safety questions there are a mix of causes, and sadly it seems that the profit factor is a serious one, despite clear legislation demanding adequate training, like PUWER. The feeling seems to be that training schemes are expensive, but then the cost of an accident can be far more so. Take, for example, a leading supermarket who took on a new worker to operate a powered pallet truck who was expected to shadow other drivers to pick up the skills necessary for the job, before working alone, rather than undergoing formal training. The employer had no standardised training programme. The result was an accident which broke the operator’s five toes, with the loss of two, leading to a £1 million fine because the company failed to provide the structured and necessary training.
Doubtless some companies view the lower risk factors of powered pedestrian pallet trucks compared with ride-on forklifts as an excuse to feel formal training is really not necessary on what seems a basically simple work task and so formal training would be a waste of money, but the supermarket case cited shows how crass that can be. This blasé view seemingly includes pedestrians who do not operate trucks but of necessity must work alongside them, a view supported by the accident figures. According to HSE figures, 57% of injury accident cases involve the victims on foot, so can technology make a significant difference where training seems in need of help?
Much has been said about the need to segregate operating areas through signage but in the real world such physical segregation is often not possible. Many companies in such scenarios, therefore, opt for a generic safe distance rule across their entire sites. But there are risks because not all lifting tasks are the same, and so each should be judged on its own merits. This is where the latest safety technology devices can make a difference.
The forklift truck manufacturers have done well over decades to make their trucks safer but new, safety-enhancing systems continue to evolve and could be most effective in collision scenarios. Take, for example, RFID, radar and intelligent, laser-based safety solutions and driver assistance systems for MHE from Elokon. These incorporate the latest sensor technology used in the car industry in its distance warning systems, mobile personnel protection devices and fleet management systems. These give various types of alerts – optical, acoustic or tactile – before or during critical situations.
They can also intervene in the drive, steering or signalling functions to prevent incidents. Integrated warning systems can be configured to monitor specific risk zones, acting as a protective shield. This raises the levels of safety for drivers and co-workers in high risk areas such as blind slots at busy intersections and during transition from outdoor, where movements are faster, to indoor operation. The fleet management system can not only ensure only authorised drivers are allowed but also prevent trucks being used for sabotage by nocturnal, nefarious intruders.