In modern warehouses and distribution centres staff encounter mounting pressure to keep up with customer demand and ensure the speed and efficiency of their operations. In an environment where forklift trucks and pedestrian staff work closely side by side, the need for increased safety in the workplace is becoming more and more important.
According to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 2,249 accidents involving forklift trucks occurred in the UK during 2003/4. The highest number of fatalities and reported incidents involved a pedestrian being hit by a warehouse vehicle. During this period there were eight fatalities, 626 major injuries and 1,615 over-three-day injuries (injuries sustained which lead to the employee being off work for longer than three days).
The figures are similar to previous years. In 2001/2 the number of total accidents where the forklift was the agent of the incident, was 2,062 with there being five fatalities. In direct correlation, the highest number of incidents involved pedestrians being struck by a moving warehouse vehicle. In 2002/3 the picture is very much the same with the number of reported incidents being 2,040, with the number of fatalities rising to 15.
- Accidents involving forklifts and which have resulted in HSE prosecutions include;
- In June 2001, DIY giant B&Q was ordered to pay out £800,000 in fines following the death of a shopper, who was crushed by a reversing forklift truck.
- In July 2002, Bury farm in Cambridgeshire was fined £20,000 following the death of a Hungarian employee, who was riding on a forklift when it toppled over.
- In November 2002, Pallet Network was fined £50,000 after lorry driver Kenneth Hicks died as a result of suffering severe head injuries after a forklift’s load overbalanced and toppled onto him.
- In February 2003, a teenager was killed when the forklift he was riding passenger on overturned.
- A Merseyside lorry driver was crushed to death when he was caught between a forklift and quarry equipment.
- A man was taken to casualty with severe leg lacerations, after a double-decker bus hit a parked forklift which sliced through its side.
- Earlier this year, pallet distribution network Pall-Ex (UK) admitted two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act at Nottingham Magistrates Court, after an accident led to the death of an employee in January 2003.
These types of accidents imply that the problems lay not with mechanical failure, but more specifically with the training and supervision of warehouse vehicle operators and pedestrian traffic. An HSE spokesman sympathises by saying: “The haulage and distribution industry faces many challenges in terms of health and safety. The existing dangers of materials handling, long hours and lone working have been added to by the introduction of ‘just-in-time’ (JIT) logistics.”
Although The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) does not provide any training courses of its own, it works alongside the Health and Safety Executive to help increase the level of awareness in the workplace. It does this by; conducting and sponsoring research, promoting training, providing information and also acting as an advisory service. It also submits proposals for new or revised regulations and approved codes of practice. On the April 1, 2005 the HSE and the FTA worked together to launch a Workplace Transport Safety Advice Forum (www.wptsforum.org) where web-based discussions would help managers and operators discuss the issues to help promote key principles of safety. There is also a free workplace transport advice line 0870 099 0099.
In regard to the current level of basic training, Richard Shore managing director of Mentor FLT Training, comments: “If properly conducted by an accredited training company, then I believe that the current courses are adequate for the vast majority of delegates.” When asked if operators holding a full UK road driving licence would increase workplace safety, he comments that: “I think it’s beneficial but not vital that FLT operators hold a car driving licence.” He also adds: “What is lacking in many cases is adequate supervision of operators and this is often the result of inadequate knowledge on the part of managers…in spite of the regulations in PUWER 1998 (9.2) which places a legal obligation on management to be suitably trained to manage operators.” Shore adds that: “It’s amazing that legislation coming in just seven years ago is not that enforced or well known.”
At Linde Material Handling (UK), David Bowen, product and sales training manager, comments: “Technological advances have made materials handling equipment faster, safer, cleaner and more comfortable to operate…while safety issues now have a much higher profile, there is still much to be done to raise the general awareness and to regularly assess training requirements in today’s constantly changing environment.”
Jungheinrich group health and safety manager Peter Scott says about the importance of training: “We work closely with two accredited training suppliers, which allow us to have a flexible approach to driver training in order to meet our customers’ needs. Our training can be undertaken whilst the employees are on shift and can prevent the need to disrupt a trainee’s work pattern, saving the need for overtime and travelling costs.” When discussing the safety of pedestrian staff, he comments: “We work very closely with employers to ensure safety of our equipment. Every opportunity is taken to enhance driver visibility and we stress the importance of maintaining the safety zone around any mechanical handling equipment during its operation.”
Still product manager Albert Swinton says of workplace safety: “Our products are principally concerned with the safety of the operator but we offer a wide range of products that increase [pedestrian] safety through visibility. We offer panoramic mirrors, which some operators don’t like because they can make things seem further away, but they leave no blind spots. Other features include rear-facing radar equipment which include automatic stopping.” Still also offers infra-red personnel detection and CCTV cameras as options which can be attached to vehicles to increase the operator’s vision.
Jungheinrich offers refresher courses but comments that these are only given as recommendations from the HSE. The HSE acknowledges that the primary responsibility for ensuring health and safety must rest: “With those who know the risks best, namely the employers and trainers.”
The HSE is also planning to publish a new set of management standards for workplace transport in 2007: “It aims to help organisations look at their materials handling transport step-by-step and review attitudes to the implementation of safety procedures. These sorts of incidents are the second biggest killer in the workplace and people need to be aware of that and know how to deal with it.” It is currently working on an initiative which is set to revitalise attitudes to health and safety in the workplace with the goal of reducing the number of accidents. It involves reviewing current legislation and guidelines for possible changes, as well as equipment design and site layouts. It is currently working in partnership with the Road Haulage Liaison Group and the Freight Transport Association (FTA), to identify the best strategy to tackle the potential risks to workers’ safety.
The statutory requirements for operator and personnel safety feature in “Safe use of work equipment”, issued by the HSE and contains the PUWER rules. Two important guides for rider-operated lift trucks are; “The Approved Code of Practice” (ACOP) L117 (HSE Books 1999 ISBN 0 7176 2455 2) and “Workplace Transport Safety” HSG136 (HSE Books 1995 ISBN 0 7176 0935 9).