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Taking supervision seriously

14 January 2015

Stuart Taylor from Mentor Performance Risk Management looks at the importance of competent, confident supervision in minimising risk in logistics.

Over the last 25 years, more than 10,000 UK workers have been seriously injured with permanent, often life-changing injuries, as a result of accidents involving forklift trucks. And, sadly, hundreds more of their colleagues were not so ‘lucky’.

Tragically, many of these accidents could have been prevented. The HSE states that "a large proportion of accidents are due to poor supervision.”

In most forklift accidents, human error is a key factor. Often, there is an assumption that driver training will ensure a site’s best operational procedure. While quality forklift training covers a host of different working scenarios, every location presents its own unique set of challenges and dangers which must be managed. And this is why it is so important that supervisors and managers are competent, confident and committed.

However, this assertiveness and expertise isn’t just picked up on the job. Typically, less than half of delegates attending one of our Managing Forklift Operations courses will have driven a forklift truck or received any type of formal training.

The release of the update to the Approved Code of Practice (L117) underlines the HSE’s intense focus in recent months on the role played by managers and supervisors in ensuring safety.

This is already being reflected in the latest prosecution statistics. In the months ahead, it is expected that these numbers will rise further, as managers and supervisors are held to account. And if found guilty of neglect, these men and women face uncapped fines and possibly prison sentences.

The latest edition of L117 defines the supervisor’s role and importance quite clearly. Typically, as many as 9 in 10 managers attending our courses arrive unaware of this document – our industry’s Approved Code of Practice. However, they finish their day with a good working knowledge and appreciation of why it’s known as the "Forklift Bible”.

As well as being informed of the laws governing forklift operations, supervisors and managers must be able to identify hazards, unsafe practices and behaviours and confidently act upon them. This includes the introduction and implementation of the protocols to minimise those risks.

This updated guidance recognises that good supervision doesn’t ‘just happen’. Supervisor training is now held in such high regard by the HSE that has been included as a solid requirement, rather than simply a recommendation.

For managers and supervisors, this training doesn’t mean learning how to operate a forklift truck. The focus is on managing operations and should provide them with the ability to recognise, understand and act upon the risks associated with operations.

Delegates attending our course are equipped with the information they need to manage safely and efficiently. They’ll learn about the laws governing operations, the importance of management, the real cost of a forklift truck accident and the steps they can take to ensure a safe site.

While most organisations appreciate their legal and moral duty to their employees, there’s a commonly held view that maintaining safe operations comes at a cost to productivity.

"The focus is on managing operations and should provide them with the ability to recognise, understand and act upon the risks associated with operations.”

But, in practice, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Training your operators to be safe and your managers to manage safely makes them automatically more efficient – saving your money and contributing directly to your bottom line.

Take day-to-day damage, for example. At one UK-wide firm, a racking bill of £3 million is the accepted norm. And that’s just the beginning, for where there’s racking damage, there will be damage to trucks and stock, too.

By investing £50,000 in training, one UK retail chain immediately reduced its stock damage costs by £130,000 per year. What’s more, the organisation continues to benefit by the same amount, year on year.

While adequate training ensures your operators work safely and, as studies have shown, productively, it’s very difficult to achieve and sustain any level of success – including daily damage – without confident, competent and committed supervision