Forklifts, although relatively small pieces of plant and equipment are known to be one of the most hazardous workplace vehicles. Incidents involving forklifts are frequently serious and often fatal.
They are used regularly in warehouses, workshops and on construction and mining sites. It’s this frequent use, the fact that they’re quiet and also seen as part of the environment that there’s the potential for employees to become complacent when working in and around them.
Work Safe Queensland have seen on average 430 accepted workers’ compensations claims for injuries involving forklifts each year since 2012. Forty per cent of these involve serious injuries with five or more days required off work. Sprains and strains from sitting, or getting in and out of the forklift are the most common injury. The next one is being hit by a forklift or its load.
It’s not just the forklift operator who is at risk. Manoeuvring around people, shelving, intersections and cornering can all place workers on foot in the line of fire. During the same period, Work Safe Queensland were notified of 137 incidents involving workers or bystanders being struck by, run over or trapped by a forklift. Two of these resulted in a fatal injury and for 88 workers, a serious injury requiring hospitalisation.
Why are forklifts so dangerous?
Forklifts are useful vehicles and they have changed the way warehouses, workshops and sites operate. They’re also dangerous pieces of equipment when not managed safely as they
- weigh up to 4 tonnes, which is about three times heavier than most cars
- reach speeds of up to 30 kph
- only have breaks in the front, making them harder to stop
- can carry heavy loads, making the counterbalance of weight sometimes difficult
- usually carry large and awkward loads, causing visibility issues for the operator.
The cost of forklift accidents
Sometimes it takes a near miss whilst driving your car to wake you up, refocus and remember that you’re behind the wheel of a powerful piece of machinery. The same goes when operating a forklift. In most states in Australia and many countries globally, specific and certified training is a prerequisite to operating a forklift. Safety at work is everyone’s responsibility, however the onus falls on the employer to provide and maintain a safe working environment. This includes ensuring the safe operation of equipment such as the forklift.
There are two examples reported by Work Safe Queensland, where things went wrong. In August 2013, a large truck manufacturing business was fined $35,000 after a forklift reversed into a worker resulting in multiple fractures to his lower left leg. In December 2016, a company was fined $35,000 after a worker was crushed by a pallet being moved by a forklift. The worker was kneeling down to remove a product from another pallet when he was struck, resulting in several broken ribs. The defendant was prosecuted for failing to monitor adequate traffic management procedures for moving plant and workers on foot.
Minimising the risk
Employers are responsible for providing a safe work environment, safe systems of work, safe and well-maintained machinery and information, training and supervision. These combined with the principles of hazard identification and control, risk management and an effective traffic management plan can help reduce the risk of forklift-related injuries.
Workers have responsibilities too. These include working with, and communicating to, employers and co-workers to improve safety, complying with instructions and training, reporting hazards, and using PPE correctly.
See our post on recognising, recalling and reporting hazards.
Education and training are fundamental
To safely and legally operate a forklift in most states and countries you must have a valid license. Organisations need to have safe operating procedures in place and employees are under an obligation to follow them.
No matter how simple or complex your facility, it’s critical to have an induction and on-boarding program for new team members. It’s recommended that ongoing fresher training is undertaken to address complacency, especially when work is repetitive or tasks are completed the same way every day.
The Safe Work Australia Code of Practice for Managing the risks of plant in the workplace states that
“training programs should be practical and ‘hands on’ and take into account the particular needs of workers, for example literacy levels, work experience and specific skills required for safe use of the plant”.
Don’t wait for an incident to occur, have your employees trained and competent in under 15 minutes with the Tap Into Safety Training Platform.
The Warehouse and Dispatch Yard workplace safety training modules include detailed education on forklift safety. These safety training modules can easily be added to your existing induction, on-boarding and refresher training modules via a simple URL integration.
The training modules show a 360-degree panoramic photo of a typical warehouse and dispatch yard. Not only do they both cover forklift safety, they also train on a variety of major hazards and risky behaviours. Some of these include
- Manual Handling
- Slips and Trips
- Falling Objects
- Poor storage
- Various plant operation