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Forklift regulation changes: what they mean for you

26 July 2013

In March, the Health & Safety Executive issued its long-awaited update to fork lift truck safety guidelines, Rider-operated lift trucks. Operator training and safe use. Approved Code of Practice and Guidance (L117). Owen Delaney, technical manager at the Fork Lift Truck Association takes us through the revised documentation.

The guidelines are aimed at employers and those responsible for ensuring safe operations, including those who are in control of worksites – including the self-employed, managers, and supervisors. Importantly, it is made very clear that the onus is on the employer to ensure the safest working environment.

L117 outlines the main legal requirements relating to the operation of lift trucks, and contains the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) and guidance on operator training for stacking rider-operated lift trucks. However, it is important to note that, although  the ACOP text relates to stacking rider-operated lift trucks, as an employer your duty under PUWER 98 is to ensure that operators of all types of lift truck are properly trained:

"Operators of types of truck not covered by the ACOP text, for example pedestrian-operated trucks, ‘stand-on’ pallet trucks that do not lift materials for stacking, and straddle carriers, will also need training. The advice given in the ACOP text and the guidance on training can be used as an indication of the standard of training to provide for all types of lift truck.”

The crucial point is that employers must meet their legal obligation to ensure that all operators receive adequate training.

Importantly, the revised version of L117 clarifies the law for employers in coincidence with the HSE acquiring greater powers. While their ability to intervene, and bring a company’s safety up to scratch, is nothing new, they can now charge for the privilege. With a standard fee of £124 per hour to resolve material breaches of the law, the HSE expects to generate £37 million in the first full year after implementation.

Clearly, it’s now more important than ever that you know your responsibilities as an employer. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what’s changed.

The new documentation incorporates some of the information contained in Safety in working with fork lift trucks (HSG6), fully replacing it.  

In addition, the publication also offers guidance on:

  • the characteristics of a lift truck that should be considered;
  • the safe use of lift trucks, including how to protect pedestrians;
  • maintenance and Thorough Examination of fork lift trucks.

With the updated L117 come four key considerations for those responsible in ensuring safe operations, each of which are outlined below. 

Refresher training

Once an employee is trained, how long is that training valid? Contrary to popular belief, there is actually no legal requirement for fork lift truck operators to receive refresher training at specific intervals.

Even the best fork lift operators can, if left unchecked, become complacent with safety measures or develop bad habits over time. 

Reassessment allows employers the opportunity to identify and address such lapses before they lead to potentially serious accidents. The new guidelines recommend automatic refresher training or a retest after a set period of, for example, three to five years as the best way to ensure employees remain competent.

When set refresher training is adopted, managers and supervisors must still monitor performance, in case operators need extra training before the end of the set period. 

In addition to this, formal re-assessment is likely to be needed where truck operators: 

  • have not used trucks for some time;
  • are occasional users;
  • appear to have developed unsafe working practices;
  • have had an accident or near miss;
  • have changed their equipment or environment.

Online re-assessment tools, such as Virtual Risk Manager – FLT, enable managers and supervisors to quickly and objectively identify the most at-risk operators, and issue refresher training accordingly. Such strategic training saves time and money, while ensuring optimum levels of competence and safety.. For more information on the benefits of this tool, visit the FLTA website.

The ‘Example of employer’s training record’ within the L117 appendices has been amended to include details of refresher training.

Supervisor training

The importance of supervisor training is covered by the Health & Safety at Work Act. However, it is now considered so important, that the L117 now mentions it, too. It’s important to note that, unlike some other guidelines, this is not a recommendation – it’s a solid requirement:

The HSW Act requires you to provide adequate supervision. It is essential that supervisors have enough training and knowledge to recognise safe and unsafe practices. This does not mean they need full operator training, but they do need to understand the risks involved, and how to avoid or prevent them. Some organisations offer training courses for supervisors and managers of lift-truck operations.

Supervisors should be able to:

  • carry out an effective observation and know what to look for;
  • communicate effectively with operators and line managers;
  • recognise unsafe practice and behaviour;
  • maintain and promote health and safety standards.

Daily or Pre-shift checks

While this isn’t strictly a new addition to the L117, its importance warrants inclusion here. 

The revised guidelines state that, at the beginning of each shift, operators should check their lift truck in accordance with the vehicle handbook, and document the findings. Any defects identified which could affect the safe operation of the vehicle must be reported to a supervisor to ensure they are fixed.

Resources to assist in vehicle checks – including guides, checklists, and pads of inspection forms – are available through the FLTA online shop. 

Medical considerations

Disabilities (mental or physical) do not automatically disqualify an individual from being a fork truck operator. Fitness for such work should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, through risk assessment and medical advice. 

The latest L117 guidelines suggest that the DVLA’s publication, At a glance: Guide to the current medical studies of fitness to drive, can be applied to all fork trucks – not just to those operating on public roads. 

Guidelines recommend that operators possess a standard of fitness equivalent to that required of an ordinary driving licence. 

However, for more technical work, such as demanding environments, night driving or moving hazardous materials, it is suggested that lift truck drivers possess a level of fitness equivalent to that of a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) licence holder.

While the HSE does not demand medical assessments to determine fitness to operate a fork lift, the new guidelines suggest that managers may wish to screen potential operators before placement. From there, employers could administer medical examinations according to the DVLA’s HGV licence requirements – every five years for operators over the age of 45, and every year for those over the age of 65. 

As ever, medical advice should always be sought if there is any doubt as to a person’s physical or mental fitness to safely operate equipment.