Last reviewed 28 September 2016

The Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA) has been running its Safetember safety campaign throughout September. The industry sees 1100 fork lift truck accidents a year so this is a timely reminder to consider the safety issues associated with this equipment, as Nigel Bryson reports.

This year the FLTA theme for Safetember was Make Sure Your Mates Get Home Safe. This is because 57% of victims in fork lift incidents are pedestrians, says the Association, so fork lift safety should not just consider the operator.

While it is important that fork lift trucks are well maintained and in good working order, they must also be considered within a framework of traffic movement around a site.

Within the construction sector, a variety of fork lift trucks can be operating. On larger, complex sites several different types can be used to move materials about the site. This helps to reduce manual handling risks but increases the risks associated with moving vehicles. This is a particular problem where operatives or visitors are walking about a site.

Fork lift trucks can include the common industrial types, rough terrain masted fork lift trucks, side loaders, telescopic handlers or reach trucks. It follows that when considering fork lift trucks, key risks are associated with the movement of the vehicle and the stability of the load.

On a construciton site, the movement of fork lift trucks will often need to be included in a more extensive traffic management plan.

Fork lift truck incidents — main causes

Sites will vary in the ground stability, condition and evenness on which to move vehicles. A warehouse will be unaffected by the weather, but outside surfaces can become wet or icy. This would need to be considered for traffic movement generally; more so when the vehicle is carrying different types of load.

The main causes of incident with fork lift trucks include the following.

Toppling over

Uneven ground or loads that are unbalanced or too heavy may cause a fork lift truck to topple over. Industrial fork lift trucks have a small turning circle and, if the operator turns too quickly, the load can be dislodged or the truck itself could topple over. In some incidents the operator has been thrown out of the cab or has jumped out as it topples over, only to be crushed as the truck comes to rest on him or her.

Given that construction sites may have sloping land, soft and hard surfaces, pot holes, etc any fork lift truck must be appropriate for the environment within which it operates. Clearly, the surface on which the trucks operate should be as even and level as practical.

Load being carried

Overloading can affect the stability of the truck as it moves. Overloaded vehicles can become unstable, difficult to steer and be less able to brake. In extreme cases, it could cause the lift to fail. Materials that are loose can become dislodged and fall off the arms, causing damage or injuring people below. While a pallet may be secure on the forks, loose or unbound materials sitting on it may be dislodged as the truck moves.

Damage racking or delivery vehicles

If an operative does not line up the forks properly, the trucks could push materials off racking or vehicles while loading and unloading. Hitting racking could mean the structure collapses or materials fall off. Similar incidents may occur where materials on a delivery wagon are dislodged.

Alternatively, if the operator places a load onto an uneven surface or on the edge of a platform, for example, the load itself may topple once the forks are removed from the pallet.

Collision

As a fork lift truck moves around — loaded or unloaded — there is a potential to collide with another vehicle, a person or another object. This is why it is important that traffic movement as a whole is considered and efforts made at a planning stage to minimise traffic overlap. Organisations should consider designated storage areas, separate people from traffic as far as possible, and barrier off pedestrian walkways if at all practical.

It is not uncommon for fork lift truck drivers to collide with object such as lockers, racking and desks. Equipment may fall and crush someone, causing severe injuries and even fatalities. So operatives should make sure they watch where they are driving and do so with patience and steadiness.

Preventing incidents

In view of the main causes, measures that can be taken to prevent incidents include the following.

  • Vehicles should only be driven over the surfaces they are designed for.

  • Suitable routes for regular vehicle movements should be planned out, avoiding steep slopes, uneven or slippery surfaces, curbs and sharp turns.

  • Vehicles should be driven at a suitable speed for the task, load, ground conditions and vehicle.

  • Vehicles must never be overloaded.

  • Loads should be evenly distributed across the forks and must be secure.

  • Loads must be carried in a lowered position wherever possible.

  • Loads must only be carried by fork lift trucks designed for the work being undertaken.

  • Speed limits must be considered and set where necessary. Where speed limits are implemented as a control measure they must be enforced.

  • Speed humps are generally not recommended, as they may cause a fork lift truck to overturn or shed its load.

  • Seatbelts help keep the driver within the operating position. However, if the truck topples over, an operator may try to jump out. Several operators have been killed or seriously injured when doing so. Hence, seatbelts should be worn at all times the plant is moving.

  • Fork lift trucks should not be allowed in recognised pedestrian areas unless the pavement is level, can take the weight involved and is part of a planned loading/unloading activity. Alternatives off the highway and pavements should be considered first.

Training

There is a legal requirement for fork lift truck operators to be trained before using such plant. The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Approved Code of Practice and Guidance L117 — Rider-operated Lift Trucks. Operator Training and Safe Use — identifies what the employer has to provide for operators of lift trucks (see the HSE website).

The HSE states lift-truck training should include the following.

  • Basic training: the basic skills and knowledge required to operate a lift truck safely and efficiently.

  • Specific job training: knowledge and understanding of the operating principles and controls of the lift truck to be used and how it will be used in the employer’s workplace.

  • Familiarisation training: applying what has been learnt, under normal working conditions, on the job.

Employers must use accredited training providers or have their internal training accredited to the standards within the Approved Code of Practice. The HSE itself no longer administers accrediting bodies. While the accredited body should supply a certificate for successful operators, the HSE is keen to stress that there is no such document as a lift truck licence.

In the HSE guidance on training, its website states:

“Certificates issued [by an accredited training provider] should quote their accreditation number, the name of the accrediting body, and the name and registration number of the instructor who conducted the training. Certificates should always provide sufficient information to allow the training to be traced back to course content. If training has been limited (eg lifting to (say) 3 metres), then the certificate should identify this limitation to ensure operators only undertake work for which they have been trained.”

[See www.hse.gov.uk.]

In view of the safe operation of a fork lift truck being directly affected by the operator him or herself, the HSE sees operator training as a key issue. Should an operator not be trained or the training certificate be out of date, this will be seen as a serious failure.