According to the HSE , nearly a quarter of workplace transport injuries are the result of forklift accidents. The Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA) says that forklifts are one of the most dangerous forms of workplace transport, injuring as many as 2,200 people a year, with around 1,300 of them hospitalised with serious, often life-changing, injuries.
Most accidents involving a fork lift truck will happen in a warehousing or logistics environment. There are lots of underlying causes - lack of sufficient training of the operator, operator error, a lack of knowledge about the equipment and the working environment, unsuitable premises but we’re going to specifically look at poor forklift truck maintenance and inspection.
If It’s Broken It Can’t Protect You
Any piece of potentially dangerous equipment such as a forklift truck will have a number of safety provisions built in to reduce the risk of accidents. Some measures are designed to protect the pedestrian such as a proximity warning light or horn system, whereas other features are there to protect the operator, such as an overhead guard, load backrest, operator restraint. The risk of loads falling from the truck can be reduced by the use of suitable attachments e.g. fork extensions or barrel clamps.
Having these features in place could save someone’s life but, of course, they are no good if they don’t work, which is why there is comprehensive regulatory guidance on the frequency and type of inspections for forklifts and other warehousing lifting equipment.
Several pieces of legislation apply when it comes to the use of a forklift:
The regulations place a duty of care on employers to select and procure safe fork lift trucks and once purchased maintain them by means of an appropriate inspection regime. The PUWER and LOLER regulations cover the type and frequency of inspections which fall into three levels:
Unless there is an 'examination scheme' specifying other intervals, LOLER thorough examinations should be conducted:
Pre-Use Inspection Checks
You should take the time to carefully examine forklift trucks on a daily basis. Ensure that you check for any faults, particularly focusing on the brakes, steering, controls, warning devices, masts, and tyres.
It’s worth noting that even if your fork lift trucks is hired, employers still have a duty to ensure it is safe for employees and arrangements should be made to ensure proper inspection, maintenance and servicing. Thorough examinations can be carried out by the hire company on behalf of the user but employers still need to ensure that necessary inspections and pre-use checks are carried out and defects reported and remedied as necessary.
At the beginning of each shift the operator should check the forklift truck and report to the supervisor any defects which might affect its safe operation to ensure they are put right. Checks should include:
For lift trucks in constant use, more in-depth weekly checks are appropriate. These checks should include all of the above as well as:
This pre-shift check should be documented and form part of a system for reporting defects and ensuring that remedial work is carried out. In the event of breakdown or a defect being identified, this should be reported immediately to the supervisor and where the defect is a safety critical item, (e.g. brakes, steering) the truck should be withdrawn from service until rectified. You should have a system in place to prevent future use of the truck until the fault is rectified and retain the pre-inspection documentation.
A checklist-based form is a good way to give operators a step by step guide on what to look for, ideally capturing the date and signature of the person checking. Many companies use a system which includes a highly visible PASS or FAIL status so that unsafe vehicles are easily identified, a supervisor can quickly determine the operational status of warehouse equipment and whether the inspections are up to date.
The size and nature of fork lift trucks means that accidents are often life-changing or even fatal. With a forklift, there are no minor injuries. In short, you don’t walk away from a forklift accident. Senior management have a responsibility to promote safe working and are being held accountable when violations occur. Even if a forklift driver is directly responsible for a safety violation, an investigation will be looking for supervisory measures that actively police and promote safe working such as a robust inspection regime.