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Operating safely alongside fork lift trucks

28 October 2016

Who is most at risk of being injured by a fork lift truck? Peter Harvey, Chief Executive of the Fork Lift Truck Association, reveals the answer and explains what you can do to minimise the dangers at your site.

Spending most of their working day in fork lift trucks, it’s easy to assume that drivers are most at risk from injury. While operators are injured – sometimes fatally – they aren’t the most at risk of injury, according to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). 

Figures indicate that a staggering 57% of those injured in lift truck accidents were on foot at the time of the incident. This means that whether you’re a warehouse operative, HGV driver, supervisor, manager or an office worker, you are at risk. 

According to the HSE’s most recent figures, accidents involving fork lifts resulted in 1,300 hospitalisations in the UK. That’s three lives changed. Every day. It is a tragic and heavy toll. 

The solution

While speed limits do help, physically separating fork lift traffic from pedestrian routes is the number one way of reducing the risk of injury to those working alongside trucks. This can be achieved through barriers, raised kerbs and elevated walkways.

Of course, every operation and site is different. Often, it can appear impossible to separate the two, particularly in a warehouse, but as long as you understand who is most at risk everyone can take steps to minimise the threat. 

Segregation rules should be enforced strictly and consistently to reinforce the message that fork lift trucks are the most dangerous form of workplace transport (which they are).

You and the law

There are a number of pieces of legislation to bear in mind when looking at the issue of segregation, including the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations.

The Health & Safety at Work Act (1974)

Under this (and other legislation) you are responsible for the health and safety of your employees (including part-time and temporary workers), contractors and visitors. Importantly, this applies to all workplaces. 

This legislation also states that every employee has a responsibility for his/her own health and safety while at work.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations

This spells out your responsibility to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments. In short, this is a careful examination of what could cause harm to people, so you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions (or need to do more).

Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations

Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations include requirements for:

• The organisation of traffic routes to enable pedestrians and vehicles to navigate safely,

• Floor and traffic routes to be constructed so they are suitable for the purpose for which they will be used, and do not expose users to health and safety risks,

• Sufficient lighting so that people can work and move around safely,

• Doors and gates on traffic routes to be fitted with a transparent viewing panel which gives a clear view, when shut, of the area on the other side.

All of this legislation is covered in the Approved Code of Practice for fork truck operations: Rider-operated lift trucks: Operator training and safe use (L117). Often referred to simply as L117, it is the must-read guidance for anyone overseeing fork lift operations.  

You can download it now for free from the HSE website (www.hse.gov.uk), or you can visit the “Best Practice Advice” section of the FLTA website for a clear introduction to this important Approved Code of Practice (ACoP).

Advice and guidance

Strategies to reduce the risk of fork lift trucks coming into contact with workers on foot and separate truck traffic from footfall areas include:

• Introducing crash-proof barriers,

• Using raised kerbs to separate the two traffic routes,

• Painting segregated traffic routes on warehouse and loading area floors,

• Installing elevated walkways,

• Imposing speed limits to reduce risk,

• Installing warning systems on trucks or doorways,

• Introducing proximity alarms on fork lift and pallet trucks,

• Conducting safety awareness training courses for operators, warehouse workers and other site staff.

The FLTA website contains a huge library of resources to help reduce the risk to pedestrians, including Safe Site checklists, site survey guides, case studies and more.

Safety first

Safety is a top priority for the Fork Lift Truck Association. As such, the FLTA offers fork lift truck users numerous ways to raise their awareness and enhance safety on site, including:

National Fork Lift Safety Conference: This is Europe’s only event dedicated to improving fork lift truck safety. Held each September, it has been developed specifically for those responsible for ensuring safety. It hosts presentations from companies that have made a genuine difference to workplace safety – identifying innovative ways to overcome problems (often at little or no cost). 

FLTA Safe Site Award: This annual prize recognises the fork lift truck site that has committed to safety and demonstrated the greatest improvements.  

Safe User Group: This class of FLTA membership for fork lift truck users provides them with the resources they need to improve their operations, practices and sites, including Safer Site Pro, an online safety programme. Members also have access to legislation advice, specialist publications, an independent advice helpline, etc.

Fork Truck Watchdog: This Primary Authority Partnership scheme has been designed to tackle rogue traders selling substandard or dangerous equipment. 

Safer Site Essentials: a free four-step online safety programme which provides managers and supervisors with a starting point for enhancing safety.