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Avoid techno over-reliance

11 October 2021

When using lift trucks safety technology, you need to guard against sole or overuse, cautions Nicola Jaynes.

BETWEEN 2017 and 2019, 12 fatal accidents and 5,700 RIDDORS related to the use of lift trucks were reported to HSE. More than half of those injured were pedestrians or drivers stepping down from the vehicle.

Technology has an important role in safety management, but care must be taken not to overly rely on it.”

Workers and pedestrians might feel relatively safe walking around lift trucks, but these vehicles can weigh as much as a bus, and that’s before you include the load. Contributing factors to accidents include: 

• Inadequate or insufficient training.

• Lack of sufficient supervision and monitoring.

• Poor communication of company safe systems and standards.

• Inadequate truck maintenance.

• Insufficient knowledge of the vehicle.

• The working environment, small gangways, poor lighting, unsuitable flooring, bends and doorways.

• The repetitive nature of task.

• Work targets and deadlines for goods leaving and entering the premises.

What can be done about this?

We accept that lift trucks need to be used for many applications in industry. Removing them from use isn’t an option in many cases, so lift truck movement and interaction with pedestrians must be properly controlled.  

This starts with commitment from senior management, coupled with robust health and safety management arrangements and effective risk assessment. 

• When done properly this means keeping lift trucks and pedestrians apart, using physical means where possible, and if this is not possible, use of practical signs, and warning notices. 

• Pedestrians, whether workers or visitors, require suitable information and instruction to keep them safe.  

• Businesses should ensure the ground is kept in good condition to avoid lift trucks becoming destabilised.  

• Roads, aisles and gangways should be sufficiently wide enough, free from obstruction, with adequate clearance room overhead. Ideally, routes should be free of sharp bends which could be precarious if the operator is carrying a large and heavy load.

• Where possible, a one-way system should be introduced to avoid the risk of collisions. 

• Regular lift truck maintenance and investigation of issues following the reporting of accidents or near misses remain important.

• Critically companies must ensure operators have basic training, including site specific training and follow the requirements of L117 Rider-operated lift trucks before they can operate lift trucks. Ongoing competence to operate a lift truck must be monitored and refresher training delivered. 

The role of technology

Technology can play a part in lift truck safety. Measures such as: 

• Access control: e.g., PIN code or employee badge.

• Electronic, company specific pre-use checks.

• Telematics:  can be effective in monitoring risky operator behaviours, including excessive speed, impacts, harsh manoeuvring and braking.

• Tracking maintenance systems.

• Smart seatbelts to ensure use.

• Camera and digital recording systems.

• Overload prevention.

• Pedestrian warning devices and proximity sensors. 

… but we need to guard against sole or overuse of technology.  

Warning devices can sound constantly creating false warnings, for example when lift trucks get close to obstacles in the normal course of their use. Operators and pedestrians run the risk of tuning out to these sounds instead of acting upon them.

In conclusion

Lift trucks are in use on an estimated one hundred thousand sites in the UK, and incidents involving lift trucks happen practically every day. Consequently, the safety of both the operators and of any nearby pedestrians is paramount.

Technology has an important role in safety management, but care must be taken not to overly rely on it. Technology must complement, not replace, effective health and safety management. This must include suitable risk assessments that create safe systems of work and supervision requirements. Training and audits remain vital for a safe workplace.

Nicola Jaynes, HM Inspector of Health and Safety, Transport and Public Services Unit Engagement and Policy Division