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Every day in Britain at least one worker is taken to hospital with injuries following an accident involving a forklift truck. And, on average, once every six weeks someone is killed. Statistics from the Health & Safety Executive show transport is the second biggest cause of work-related deaths, after falls from a height. In 2007/08 74 people were killed in transport-related accidents in the workplace, eight of which involved a forklift truck.

However, the total number of forklift injuries was down 4.1 per cent to 1,595 in 2007/08.

In a bid to raise awareness and reduce the fatality and injury rate, the Fork Lift Truck Association launched Britain’s first ever National Fork Lift Safety Week in September, alongside an employee safety booklet titled Working with Fork Lift Trucks. The campaign’s key message was: pedestrians and forklift trucks don’t mix.

FLTA chief executive David Ellison says: “Over the past ten years there has been a lot of development. The main manufacturers have designed various warning and stability support systems, alarms, overload signals, better tyres, high visibility masts and more, yet the number of accidents has stayed the same or got worse. It was this realisation that started us on the road to launching the safety week.”

Martin Turner, counterbalance product manager at Toyota Material Handling, says as part of the development of its Tonero IC forklift, they interviewed hundreds of truck users across Europe to determine their key priorities and it was no surprise that safety emerged as a key consideration across all markets.

One of the most potentially life-threatening accidents is when a truck tips over, so Toyota has developed the System of Active Stability, which constantly monitors critical factors and takes preventative action if a potentially dangerous situation is detected. Turner says: “The rear axle of the truck is free to pivot to cope with uneven floor conditions, creating a triangle of stability, however if instability is detected, a Toyota truck has the ability to temporarily lock the steering axle, transforming the triangle into a rectangle.”

Nissan has also developed a number of safety measures as part of its Risk Reduction System, which is applied to each model according to its type and likely application. The concept includes cushioned stability control, pin-coded technology, improved forward and rear visibility and fuzzy logic on electric models for smoother acceleration. The system also incorporates Syncro steering, which helps to increase manoeuvrability and productivity particularly when working in narrow or restricted areas.

Crown has developed InfoLink – a wireless system that monitors and communicates a range of fleet truck usage and performance information. It helps reduce risks and allows for full health and safety compliance at all times. In the event of an accident or any damage to the truck, InfoLink send an instant e-mail alert to a supervisor.

Forklifts have become considerably safer, but they are also more widely used, so the potential for accident has increased. Bob Hine, technical consultant at the British Industrial Truck Association, says: “Warehouses are busy places in which people, loads and vehicles are continually in motion and, thus, continually at risk of coming into contact with each other in dangerous and alas, life-threatening ways.”

The two most common types of forklift-related accident in and around the warehouse, according to the accident data Jungheinrich collects from its clients each month, are forklifts colliding with each other, particularly when entering or leaving an aisle, and trucks hitting pedestrians.

Peter Scott, Jungheinrich’s HSE manager, says the way in which a warehouse is designed can help reduce the risk level. “There are a number of relatively simple measures that, if introduced, will significantly cut the likelihood of an accident. For example, it is worth considering introducing a one-way system in and around racking as a way of reducing the chances of two forklifts colliding. And the best way of lowering the risk of pedestrians being hit by forklifts is to build in some form of physical barrier that keeps people and trucks are apart.”

If it is not possible to do this at the very least a pedestrian walkway should be clearly painted on the floor of the warehouse, and all staff should be made to understand that a pedestrian has the right of way, in addition to wearing hi-visibility vests, says Scott.

John Maguire of Narrow Aisle Flexi agrees it is particularly important to create clearly identified pedestrian walkways to separate staff from forklift traffic.

In addition, he says it is important for truck operators to sound their horns when approaching parts of the warehouse where visibility is poor. “Because truck operators can spend a good deal of their time driving in reverse, our Flexi articulated trucks are available with a horn built-in to a grab handle fitted to the overhead guard behind the operator seat.”

Comfort and safety are also high on the agenda at Linde. Sales & service training manager David Bowen says: “When we design a machine we look at a number of things, such as operator comfort, ergonomics, performance and productivity, as the fundamental design of a truck can play a significant role in improving safety. But it is the duty of everyone, from designer and manufacturer to manager and operator, to contribute in their area to make sure the overall safety levels rise.

“If an operator is put under unnecessary or excessive pressure to perform because they want to keep their job there is the possibility they will crack. If they are pushed too far it will compromise safety.”

In fact, a number of experts suggest that most forklift truck-related accidents are a result of operator error or misuse, so the proper management and training of drivers is essential if the accident rate is to be lowered.

Hine says: “Operator training is a vital part of an effective health and safety policy, since a powerful tool as easily becomes a dangerous weapon in unskilled hands. This is particularly true of a forklift truck, where the challenge is to continually reinforce and expand the wisdom imparted during compulsory initial operator training.”

Legally obliged

Employers are legally obliged to train staff to use machinery safely, but it has been recommended they put all prospective new forklift operators through a 30 minute practical test before even considering hiring them to ascertain what level they are currently at.

Garry Fillingham, national driver training manager at Barloworld Handling, says basic equipment training leads to fewer accidents, a reduction in damage costs and greater productivity, and that failure to comply can incur heavy fines and custodial sentences, particularly if an accident prompts an HSE inspection.

However, he says: “Even trained operators need to be evaluated. For example, lift truck familiarisation, refresher or conversion training is often required when new types of trucks are introduced or when operators are given new roles. The HSE provides considerable guidance to employers on driver training standards. This advice highlights that employers should only use professional training providers, who are accredited by one of the HSE-recognised training bodies such as RTITB and ITSSAR.”

However, rather than offering refresher training for all employees at periodic intervals, David Ellison reckons regular monitoring and routine reassessment is far more valuable and effective. He says that while proper training is absolutely vital no matter how experienced an employee is, blanket refresher training is not always appropriate, so can be a waste of time and resources. Instead, he thinks operators should be individually assessed so that any weaknesses can be picked up as and when they occur.

Ellison adds that one of the most widespread, and potentially dangerous, misconceptions is that there is a transferable national forklift truck driver’s licence. Rather than improving safety, he says a licence of this kind could stop employers from properly assessing new recruits or monitoring and reassessing existing operators.

John Maguire agrees: “I think that a move to a standardised DVLA-type operator licence would, arguably, reduce levels of truck operator competence. The present certified system of operator training means that drivers can provide details of the products they have been trained to use and the companies where they have worked.”

A national licence could pose an even greater risk at peak times when employers are under pressure to take on additional staff, so it’s imperative they don’t let standards slip. One of the reasons the FLTA ran the safety week during September is because the accident rate sharply increases at this time as a large number of temporary workers are hired to cover the busy run up to Christmas.

Fillingham says: “Employers are both morally and legally obliged to ensure all staff are adequately trained, regardless of job role or contract length. However, extra caution must be taken at peak times when the workforce is expanded and there is greater pressure on staff to work quickly.

“Of course this applies to all forklift truck drivers who must hold a valid operator certificate, which determines what class of truck, including the type of attachment they are qualified to operate. At peak times, new or temporary staff must be carefully managed and should not be asked to operate equipment they haven’t been trained to use. Barloworld provides driver training courses that help companies maintain safety during peak periods by educating drivers of the best practice.”

To stop unauthorised forklift truck use ID Systems launched PowerKeyPLUS earlier this year, which provides vehicle access control, safety checklists and impact sensing.

Ken Ehrman, president and chief operating officer, says: “More often than not keys are left in a forklift truck, so anyone could get on board and start operating the vehicle. PowerKeyPLUS allows complete control over who is able to use the vehicle. It stops any unauthorised users from operating a truck, and more than that, stops any untrained users, which could pose an even bigger risk.”

In addition to temporary staff many companies need extra forklifts at peak times, so Fillingham says it is equally important to make sure the vehicles themselves are up to scratch. “Whether bought and kept on site for peak times or hired on a short-term basis, all forklift trucks must be properly maintained and have a valid certificate of Thorough Examination to be legally compliant. Without one, wear and weather damage to occasional use trucks could go unnoticed, jeopardising safety. It is also important to check that your chosen forklift supplier has a proper maintenance regime in place for the trucks.”

Bob Hine agrees there are considerable risks with using ill-maintained equipment. He says: “It cannot be sufficiently underlined that regular, exhaustive and professional maintenance and inspection are vital to maintain the safety – and effectiveness – of forklift truck equipment.”

The first National Fork Lift Truck Safety Week might now have come to an end, but Ellison says it is such a necessary feature to help lower the accident rate that the FLTA will now be running it on an annual basis. “Like everything else, when people get used to something they become complacent, so we will continue to budget funds to target the problem of forklift truck safety and remind people of its importance.”




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