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Let culture and tech work together

08 November 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.

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

Keep it safe

The Warehousing and Storage: Keep it safe document produced by the HSE is well worth a look.

The leaflet deals with some of the key cases of accidents in the warehouse: slips and trips; manual handling; work at height; vehicles in and around the warehouse; and moving or falling objects, and examines ways in which these risks can be mitigated.

Slips and trips are often seen as trivial and ‘just one of those things’, but most slip and trip accidents can be avoided. For example, most slips within warehouses are caused by water, oil, cleaning products, dry powders and foodstuffs making the floor more slippery. Other items, like stretch wrapping, label backing and plastic bags, can also cause slips.

Try to stop the floor getting contaminated, eg by maintaining equipment properly. When contamination does happen, deal with it immediately.

Think about all systems of work and tasks that involve manual handling. Where appropriate, redesign tasks to avoid the need to move loads manually, or use mechanical handling devices, eg lift trucks, pallet trucks, trolleys, conveyors, chutes, scissor lifts etc. Where necessary, introduce additional mechanical handling devices to avoid or reduce manual handling operations.

Any work at height, including maintenance work undertaken for you by a contractor, must be properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe way.

Select the correct equipment for the task. People can fall from stepladders or ladders. Never use pallets on fork-lift trucks for accessing work at height or as working platforms.

Never climb on racking. Make sure that everyone involved in working at height has the ability to do the work safely, training may be needed.

When dealing with Vehicles in and around the warehouse, pedestrian safety is key. Pedestrians and vehicles have to be able to circulate safely. Workplace traffic routes should be suitable for the people and vehicles using them. Where vehicles and pedestrians use the same traffic route, there should be adequate separation between them. Consider the complete separation of vehicles and pedestrians first – where this is not possible you will need to use other control measures. 

Take steps to prevent people being injured by moving or falling objects. This includes making sure storage areas should be properly designated and clearly marked. The layout of storage and handling areas should avoid tight corners, awkwardly placed doors, pillars, uneven surfaces and changes of gradient.

Inspect pallets each time before use to make sure that they are in a safe condition. Take damaged pallets out of use for repair or destruction. Handle empty pallets carefully – do not drag or throw them about.

Pallets should be loaded correctly to ensure load stability; banding, shrink or stretch wrap can help with this. If you use pallet racking in your warehouse, make sure the pallets you use are suitable for the type of racking you have. Racking systems should be properly designed, installed, and inspected.

The Warehousing and Storage: Keep it safe leaflet can be easily downloaded free from the HSE website: https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg412.pdf

You can find more detailed information in Warehousing and storage: A guide to health and safety HSG76