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Get with the programme

22 October 2015

Peter Harvey, Chief Executive of the Fork Lift Truck Association, looks at the key issues affecting fork truck safety and outlines its most ambitious safety initiative yet: the Safer Site Programme.

You may not realise it, but if your organisation works with or alongside fork lift trucks, your operations are at risk from the most dangerous piece of workplace transport equipment in the UK – injuring as many people at work as vans, cars and HGVs combined.

The scope of the problem

Fork lift trucks seriously injure more than 800 workers in the UK every year. Because of the weight and momentum of a fork lift truck, these result in much more than a knock or scrape: often devastating, with life-changing consequences. Bones are crushed, fractured and dislocated and limbs are routinely amputated.

The work undertaken by the FLTA and others in raising awareness of the risks posed by fork lift trucks has resulted in significant improvements in the field of fork lift truck safety over the past 25 years. Currently, the UK has one of Europe’s lowest accident records – falling just behind top-ranked Norway.

This is has been achieved through safety campaigns and initiatives, including National Fork Truck Safety Month (Safetember), which have engaged the key stakeholders in fork lift truck safety. From the HSE to manufacturers, dealers and end users, we’re working together to increase awareness of the problems, the causes and, most importantly, the steps needed to reduce risk.

Collaborations like this in Europe are not the ‘norm’. In Italy, for example, complex legislation and lack of freely available guidance regarding best practice leaves room for misunderstanding and danger. 

Staying legal

Observing good safety procedures is not just helpful. It is required by law. The foundations of fork lift truck safety are contained within the Health & Safety Executive’s Rider-operated lift trucks. Operator training and safe use. Approved Code of Practice and Guidance (L117.)

It is aimed at employers and those responsible for ensuring safe operations, including the self-employed, managers and supervisors. Importantly, it makes it 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, crucially, 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.

By following the ACOP, you can be assured that you are in line with the 10 pieces of legislation relevant to fork lift truck operations, including:   

Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW Act).

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER 98).

Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER 98).

Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).

Supervisor training

The importance of good supervision – both morally and legally – is paramount. Management should be equipped with the training and background to competently identify hazards, backed by the confidence to act when bad practice occurs.

But this doesn’t come naturally. Instead, the key to doing this is becoming familiar with the important issues affecting fork lift truck safety.

While supervisor training is covered by the Health & Safety at Work Act, it is now considered so important, that it is specifically identified in L117, which was also updated in 2013.

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. So it is essential that supervisors have enough training and knowledge to recognise safe and unsafe fork lift 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.

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.

For managers and supervisors looking for in-depth knowledge, companies, such as Mentor FL Training, offer specialist courses aimed at developing competence and confidence in those overseeing fork lift truck operations.

Leading the way to a Safer Site

Last year, we launched our most ambitious safety initiative yet: the Safer Site Programme. It is an ongoing step-by-step safety initiative, designed specifically for fork lift truck users, that any company, regardless of size, can implement.

We’ve worked closely with representatives from the HSE and other leading bodies and experts within the materials handling industry to produce a programme that will make a difference to each and every company operating fork lift trucks.

The idea is simple. We provide a series of practical steps needed to move forward through the programme. Every step of the way, you will be supported with free fact sheets, posters and safety resources, as well as signposts to the right places for further guidance and important safety advice.

Step 1, ‘Getting informed’ is the first and most important step of the programme. Within it are six mini-tasks – complete with free safety resources.

They are: 

Choosing your fork lift safety champion.

Completing a self-assessment checklist.

Distributing free Safety4Most packs to managers, supervisors and fork lift truck operators on site.

Read L117.

Get acquainted with useful publications (including LOLER and PUWER).

Take next steps.

Working towards a Safer Site

Visit www.fork-truck.org.uk to take your organisation’s first step to a Safer Site. There you will find a range of free materials and advice on best practice, as well as details of intiatives such as Safetember: National Fork Lift Safety Month and the annual National Fork Truck Safety Conference. 

If you are committed to improving safety, it’s worth considering membership of the FLTA’s Safe User Group. It’s been developed especially for fork truck users and provides privileged access to: 

Legislation guidelines.

Advice on regulations.

Specialist publications.

Health and safety updates.

Technical Bulletins.

Safety alerts.

And much more. 

In addition, members get discounted entry to events, as well as access to a free, independent and confidential telephone helpline. 

I would urge that every person reading this, and every company whose work involves fork lift trucks, gets involved with the Safer Site Programme and takes this simple first step for their colleagues’ benefit, and their own. If you want to know how to save a life, now or in the future, this is it.