Driving site safety
26 October 2020
Tim Waples, Chief Executive of the Fork Lift Truck Association, reveals a brand-new intensive safety campaign specifically designed to support those who work with materials handling equipment.
If there is a single lesson to be learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is how fragile we humans are, and how much care we need to take as employers and workmates to ensure each other’s safety.
To help businesses meet those challenges in their workplaces, and with the focus squarely on materials handling operations, the Fork Lift Truck Association has mounted a major campaign entitled Safety Drive.
Because it is such a comprehensive project — covering many different aspects of safety and best practice — the FLTA has been delivering it via a series of 6 separate bulletins designed to cover almost every aspect of on-site safety. Information and resources for each of these segments can be found on our website: www.fork-truck.org.uk/fork-lift-safety/safety-drive
This should be a natural starting point for every business that uses materials handling equipment, which is why it was the first segment of our Safety Drive.
Operator training is essential and employers must ensure that this is delivered by accredited instructors. It is also important that managers and supervisors undertake appropriate training, so they gain the knowledge and skills to assess and control workplace risks whilst creating a safety-awareness culture throughout an organisation. (Note: in a survey of delegates, the FLTA’s Safety Partner Mentor FLT Training identified that 90 percent of managers were unclear or unaware of their legal responsibilities in the area of materials handling operations).
On sites where truck maintenance is undertaken in-house, having appropriately trained and qualified engineers can also reduce downtime, extending life expectancy of equipment and ensuring it works to the best possible standard.
As the ubiquitous forklift is, by a very large margin, the single most dangerous piece of workplace transport, it’s vital that managers keep abreast of developments that can reduce incidents. The Safety Drive information sheets explore many innovations, with strong emphasis on enhancing visibility. Examples include blue beam spotlights that project ‘balls of light’ onto the floor ahead or behind a vehicle to indicate its approach (particularly valuable in environments with blind corners and racking).
A recent alternative to spotlights is the ‘safety zone’. This is achieved via bulbs mounted on the overhead guard that project lines of red light onto the floor around the perimeter of the forklift, effectively creating an exclusion zone that keeps pedestrians out of harm’s way.
It is important that managers enforce the use of restraints such as seat belts. Those responsible for supervising handling operations should consider the use of forklifts that incorporate an interlock system to immobilise a vehicle unless the operator is correctly seated.
In this same section the Association examined a range of different ‘limiters’. Suggested examples are weight limiters that enable an operator to immediately identify whether a load is within the safe working limits of the truck. Height limiters can also be valuable in preventing damage caused by raised masts colliding with overhead pipework, ducting, etc.
Perhaps most important of all are speed limiters that restrict travel speed to the maximum allowed on an individual site, or specific zoning systems that automatically reduce speed in high-risk areas.
In some locations reversing cameras can be a real asset, differentiating between people and objects and alerting a pedestrian in sufficient time to avoid an accident. Some systems actually activate the brakes to prevent a collision.
Since pedestrians are the ones at greatest risk of injury from forklift trucks, the most effective safety measure is to separate the two entirely. Where that isn’t possible, access to areas where trucks are operating should be restricted to essential staff only (it’s surprising how many people wander around these areas looking for colleagues or taking shortcuts!). A locked door with code or swipe-card activation should help ensure that only trained and authorised staff can enter a potentially hazardous area.
On larger sites or in locations where forklifts and pedestrians must operate in close proximity, the FLTA strongly recommends the use of one-way systems for trucks and/or physical separation such as walkways with raised kerbs or barriers. This should be supported by warning signage on the floor and along the whole route.
As a routine safety measure, staff should be issued with appropriate PPE including hi-vis vests, shoes with protective toe caps, ear defenders (where necessary), head protection and eyewear. Managers should consider extending this to visitors who should also be briefed on site rules and requirements.
There are two basic battery types used on electric forklifts and warehouse equipment: lithium-ion and lead acid (which remains the most common in UK workplaces).
Lead acid batteries require the most maintenance, but there are autofill systems that will streamline the topping up process. In terms of safety, it is vitally important that the designated charging area is well ventilated so that fumes and gases generated in the charging process don’t accumulate to dangerous levels. Only trained personnel should change and charge batteries wearing appropriate PPE equipment including safety goggles, face shields, rubber or neoprene gloves and aprons. The charging room/area should also have access to plenty of water for neutralising electrolyte spills and flushing burns.
By contrast, lithium-ion batteries are maintenance-free and, in many applications, do not need changing. Similarly, no hazardous gases are generated during charging. They should be stored in cool, dry conditions and routinely inspected for signs of damage. If there is evidence of bulging, cracking, hissing, leaking, or rising temperature, the battery should be removed from service/storage and away from flammable materials. In these circumstances the supplier should be contacted immediately.
Because something as potentially dangerous as a forklift truck must only be driven by an appropriately trained and authorised individual you may wish to consider measures that limit access. These include keypads with designated codes or smart cards issued only to qualified personnel. For greater control, traceability and accountability, forklifts can be fitted with tracking devices that monitor who is driving and register poor or dangerous practice, collisions, etc.
To find out more about Safety Drive visit www.fork-truck.org.uk/fork-lift-safety/safety-drive