Managers are responsible for overseeing many aspects of lift truck operations on site, most importantly, ensuring that everyone is working safely. But what do good and bad operating practices look like? Here are a few of the most common examples of dangerous practice that unfortunately still persist on sites. Any issues like these, that put safety at risk, should be resolved immediately to reduce the risk of serious and costly accidents.
Regular all-round observations are vital to safe forklift operations. Not only will they alert the lift truck driver to debris or overhead obstructions, crucially, it is the operator who is responsible for the safety of any pedestrians in their vicinity. Therefore, it is vital that the operator always completes these checks before they move their truck or raise/lower their load.
One of the main causes of serious workplace accidents and fatalities is being hit by a moving vehicle, so be sure to monitor standards and ensure that operators carry out their all-round observations every time, and do so properly (i.e. really look, not just turn their heads).
Managers must ensure that operators continue to operate as per their training and not allow bad habits or shortcuts to take root.
Loads should always be secured, and weight evenly distributed on the forks. Not only can insecure loads fall and injure those in the vicinity, the sudden loss can also affect stability and cause the truck to tip over.
Watch out for overloading too, as this can also lead to lost loads and tip overs. Make sure that your forklift operators know the difference between gross weight (load plus packaging and pallet) and net weight (load only) and never exceed the truck’s capacity.
Managers should also ensure that operators complete one manoeuvre at a time while carrying a load. For example, turning with an elevated load is a common contributor towards tip-overs, because the higher the load, the less stable the truck, and adding the momentum of a turn dangerously shifts the truck’s centre of gravity. Instead, the operator should turn then lift (not turn and lift).
Pedestrians and forklifts must always remain a safe distance apart, especially in areas where they cannot be physically separated. Pedestrians, whether colleagues or visiting drivers, should not be permitted to help with loading/unloading and should never try and steady a load, as they will put themselves at risk of trapping injuries or being hit by the truck or the load, should it fall.
Tragically, injuries to pedestrians caused by lost loads are almost always avoidable because the pedestrian should never need to be in the operating area in the first place. Should a forklift lose its load with no-one in proximity, the worst-case scenario is damage to your stock or equipment – not ideal, but far preferable to the devastating consequences should a pedestrian become involved.
Putting robust, reinforced Safe Systems of Work in place, will help to maintain safe working distances. Communicate these systems to everyone who may need to access an area where forklifts operate, however rarely this may be. This includes staff, contractors, visitors and delivery drivers.
Operators may be tempted to pile up their loads to reduce the number of trips required. Even if the weight falls within the truck’s capacity, high loads can obscure the operator’s view of their surroundings, increasing the risk of them colliding with other vehicles, pedestrians or racking.
Make sure that operators are travelling with a clear view, so that they can stay alert to any surrounding risks. If their view is obscured by the load and they cannot travel in reverse, then they should use a banksman to guide them.
The HSE is clear in its guidance: “Where restraining systems are fitted they should be used.”
Forklift operators may prefer to not wear them but the fact is seatbelts significantly reduce the consequences of an accident. If the truck was to become unstable and tip over, a seatbelt will stop the operator from being thrown from the cab, or trying to escape: which can lead to them being trapped under the truck.
All too often, avoidable accidents occur when unsuitable equipment is used to complete a task. A common example is using a forklift to raise a colleague, either on the forks or by lifting a pallet or makeshift cage, rather than a purpose-built work platform attachment or MEWP.
Managers should also look out for cases where operators are using equipment in ways it was not designed to be used. For example, lift trucks are built to lift loads, not push them.
Ensure that operators have access to the correct equipment for the task and understand the importance of using it in the way it was designed to be used, to protect themselves and their colleagues.
Operational pressures, tight deadlines and high demand can influence some operators to compromise on safety in an attempt to save time. But rushing comes at a high cost when it increases the risk of tip overs or collisions. Even a dropped pallet causes delays and disruption when you factor in clean up, aisle closures, stock replenishment and repairs, and that’s if no-one is hurt.
Check that operators are aware of speed limits on site and that they understand the need to stick to them at all times, regardless of any operational pressures.
Lift truck operators can become complacent during mounting/dismounting, simply due to the frequency that this is done every day, and may be tempted to jump from the cab. But this increases the risk of slips and falls, and also adds additional distance between them and their cab, potentially putting them into the path of another vehicle.
Managers should ensure that operators are using the 3 points of contact rule: when entering or exiting a truck, keep either one hand and two feet or two hands and one foot on the truck at all times, until seated or stood firmly on the ground. Mentor’s 3 points of contact poster provides a handy reminder to operator’s on site.
These common hazards are just a few examples of risks which managers must target to help protect your team and your business. By regularly monitoring operations and making time for proper supervision, those overseeing your operations can guard against unsafe practice, proactively rectifying any bad habits day-to-day.
According to the HSE’s ACOP (L117), all supervisory staff should be able to:
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