Where workplace transport risks are not being correctly managed and an incident occurs the consequences for a driver or any pedestrians in the workspace could be disastrous and the business is likely to be the recipient of a significant fine. As workplace transport related injuries tend to be serious, it should be considered a moral as well as being a statutory obligation to ensure these activities are being managed in a compliant and safe manner.
HSE figures demonstrate that workplace transport fatalities are responsible for approximately one fifth of all fatal accidents in the UK’s workplaces (not to be confused with the fatalities that occur on the roads whilst employees are undertaking normal driving duties).
If there are vehicles moving within your companies’ workspaces, whether they be in a company car park, a yard, a loading or unloading bay, a workshop or a warehouse, then there is a risk that both your employees and other visiting workers are being exposed to, possibly every single day.
The employer (the likely duty holder) has a responsibility to minimise the risks by conducting a workplace transport risk assessment, identifying the hazards – which whilst similar in many respects in all workplaces, will have aspects which are quite site specific – and how they will be managed. A monitoring regime should also be in place to ensure that any risks remain controlled.
The following looks at a very unfortunate but not unusual situation concerning the use of a lift truck, identifies what went wrong and how the situation could have been avoided.
A palleted load was being unloaded from a delivery lorry by a fork-lift truck which was being driven by the Owner and Managing Director, who often helped out when a large bulk delivery occurred. The MD did not notice that the lifting forks were spaced too closely together to adequately support the loaded pallet which weighed more than 800 KG and which was over two metres high. The laden lift truck was then manoeuvred away from the lorry and around a curve with the forks still raised. The load fell from the pallet, landing on the lorry driver making the delivery, who suffered serious injuries which left him paralysed and requiring 24-hour care, including help breathing.
During the investigation carried out by the authorities it was determined that:
- The MD was using the equipment without any formal or recognised training in its use;
- there were no risk assessments or safe systems of work in place covering the use of the FLT, Workplace Transport in general or the unloading / moving / loading of palleted materials to or from delivery lorries;
- there was no manufacturers operators manual available regarding the lift truck.
The company was prosecuted and found guilty of breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £115,000 with £70,000 costs. The MD was also given a 12-month community order.
To ensure you do not suffer from the same complacencies, the following are recommended:
Understand the capacity of lift trucks used for your activities-
Not all lift trucks are the same Each lift truck should have a clearly labelled ‘capacity plate’ that shows essential safety information indicating how much the truck can lift, depending on the height of the load and the load centre. Check that your lift truck is displaying this information and more crucially, that your lift truck operators are aware of its significance.
Ensure this information is included in your induction process for employees who use this equipment and remember that Agency or temporary drivers will also need to have this information, so ensure it is included within their induction / familiarisation process PRIOR to them starting work using your equipment.
It is also important that the actual weights and load centres of the loads you are unloading / moving / loading are known, as this will enable lift truck users to operate within the equipment’s design limits. Ensure you have discussed this with your supplier(s) or whomever palletises the loads to be moved so that this information can be gathered and given to the lift truck operators or that this information is indeed clearly displayed on the load.
Know how to lift the load correctly-
Having determined that the lift truck can indeed manage the loads weight, then the operator should ensure the forks are sufficiently separated to suit the width of the load.
Also, ensure the load is as close to the “heel” of the forks as possible to ensure stability and that when the load is lifted the forks are tilted slightly back as this will move the centre of gravity closer to the truck and also improve stability. Any forward tilting of the forks when carrying a load will likely move the load away from the heel of the forks and therefore decrease stability.
If carrying out ad-hoc activities where items may not be palleted it can be difficult to determine the loads centre of gravity and how to keep it stable when lifting it and under these conditions a “lifting plan” should be produced and followed.
Transporting loads safely-
Large loads can cause visibility issues, and some lift truck operators do decide to move the load in a raised position. There are also those lift truck operators who believe that travelling a short distance does not warrant lowering or raising the load from its pick-up position. These practices should be prohibited.
If a load is moved in the raised position the centre of gravity of both the lift truck and its load is altered. Not only is there a risk of the load falling but there is also the risk of the lift truck overturning or striking an overhead obstruction. Furthermore if the lift truck travels over a pothole, a gutter or drain or even up or down an incline the risk of an incident increases significantly.
To move a load, the forks should be approximately 150mm (6 inches) from the ground. If the load is obstructing the view of forward motion, then the truck should be driven in reverse OR with the use of a “trained banksman.” If traversing a steep incline the load should be in front of the truck when going up, or behind the truck when going down.
Loads on pallets should be secured, either by banding or shrink wrapping any loose goods to the pallet or if needed some specialist attachments are available such as barrel clamps and these should be made available to, and used by, the lift truck operators as required.
This is a good time to check that all relevant risk assessments, safe working procedures and training requirements are in place and up to date.
If this alert has raised questions or you need to discuss any other health & safety related issue do not hesitate to contact your health & safety consultant or the central office for advice / assistance.