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Safety the watchword

26 October 2020

For more than 75 years the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA) has promoted the principle of ever improving safety standards across the whole of the material handling industry. 2020 has seen this principle challenged like never before, but in the true spirit of the association, BITA rose to the task and by its swift and decisive action, ensured the industry – and everyone working within it – could continue to operate safely.

Supporting the critical role the material handling industry is playing in maintaining the UK’s essential services during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, BITA set about producing a series of Fact Sheets to identify safe working practices during the ongoing coronavirus emergency. 

Under normal circumstances, such advice would be chargeable to non-members, but due to the national emergency the association opted to make the information freely available.

It reorganised its website (www.bita.org.uk) and created a new Coronavirus section where the Fact Sheets could be accessed by anyone needing to check the latest information. Guidance on standing down MHE, cleaning equipment to reduce the risk of spread of infection, protocols for service engineers visiting customer sites and much more was all made available.

BITA also collaborated with fellow industry body, the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA) on a joint statement highlighting the importance of maintaining Thorough Examination standards during the ongoing emergency. BITA, FLTA and the HSE all combined to provide guidance on Thorough Examination. The special Fact Sheet clarifies the existing general HSE guidance in a specific MHE and logistics industry context.

The move was recognised by the UK Government, which included BITA on the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) listing of trade bodies providing coronavirus-related support for their individual sectors. Without a dedicated Material Handling category, BITA was listed in the Automotive category, alongside the high-profile automotive trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Simon Barkworth, President, BITA said: “It is gratifying to receive Government recognition for our efforts but that is not the reason we have taken the action we have. In the current emergency, the ability of the logistics industry to maintain an uninterrupted supply of essential goods such as food and medical supplies is vital to the nation’s wellbeing – and the role played by the materials handling sector in this cannot be overlooked. Without MHE being able to operate at peak efficiency then the ability of the logistics industry to fulfil its requirements will be in jeopardy.

“We have therefore seized the initiative and begun producing these Fact Sheets so that everyone working in the materials handling industry can instantly check on what the latest safety requirements are and how these should be implemented. In this way, we hope to control the spread of infection and ensure the materials handling industry remains operationally effective.

“Here at BITA we stand ready to support this vital industry in whatever way we can and as such, I would urge everyone in the industry to read the latest guidance and ensure it is followed.”

BITA remained – and continues to remain - in close contact with bodies such as the Health & Safety Executive to ensure the information contained in the Fact Sheets is current and that the industry continues to function so essential services can be maintained.

Any update in national guidance has been reflected in a review of the Fact Sheets and these have continued to be freely available from the BITA website.

Under the dire circumstances created by the pandemic this year, it would have been easy for BITA to relax its safety advice to the industry, but, if anything, the opposite was true and the association redoubled its efforts during the crisis to ensure an important message was delivered.

James Clark, Secretary-General, BITA said: “With the onset of lockdown and the inability of organisations such as ours to stage important conferences it might have been all too easy to shelve plans for National Forklift Safety Day 2020. However, BITA recognised the importance of continuing to deliver important safety guidance and pressed ahead with the event, which is why we worked with our partners and stakeholders to ensure vital advice continued to be delivered.

The purpose of National Forklift Safety Day 2020 was to raise awareness of safe working practices amongst anyone working on or near, material handling equipment. The message for 2020 was that for all sites where material handling equipment is in operation, effective systems must be in place to keep pedestrians and co-workers safe from collision with such equipment – and the best way of ensuring this is by physical separation.

With restrictions on physical events, BITA took the decision to deliver NFSD 2020 digitally. A wealth of important safety information was created especially for the day, including the development of a new, dedicated website – www.nationalforkliftsafetyday.co.uk. The portal is the main focus of the campaign and features detailed information about safely segregating pedestrians and MHE in the workplace. The website also hosts a series of special videos created for the campaign, each one encapsulating a key theme.

Other material created included a campaign eBook – Segregating People from Materials Handling Equipment, poster, social media imagery, email banners, campaign logo and a simple guide on how to get the best out of National Forklift Safety Day. These continue to be available as a downloadable media pack.

David Goss, BITA Technical Manager, said: “The importance of safety within the materials handling sector has been thrown into sharp focus this year in a way that could not have been imagined prior to the pandemic. With the logistics industry working at full capacity to keep up with the supply demands from the essential services, so the need to ensure the safety of every worker in the sector has never been more important.

“We had been concerned that the message of National Forklift Safety Day might be lost in everything that was going on due to the pandemic. However, the campaign proved to be so effective that levels of interaction were far higher than expected and I would like to thank everyone who helped to make this possible.”

The lessons to be learned from 2020 will continue to shape the industry for years to come – and for BITA it is vital that relevant advice is delivered on a continual basis. The duty of care placed on employers has never been higher and by continuing to supply relevant safety guidance, the association is hoping the burden on industry will be lessened and our essential services continue to operate effectively despite the ongoing and evolving challenges faced.

Recovering from the economic shock of the pandemic may be a little more difficult to predict. Given was has happened this year accurately predicting how the economy will reshape itself has proved extremely difficult. Factors including a possible second wave of coronavirus and the outcome of post-Brexit trade deals continue to play havoc with predictions. Nevertheless, BITA is optimistic the material handling sector will endure and if the pick-up in bookings evidenced since the end of lockdown continues, then the exclusive analysis supplied by Oxford Economics to the association suggests a modest recovery during 2021.

For more information, visit www.bita.org.uk