A proactive approach

With UK HSE data showing forklifts are involved in a quarter of all workplace transport accidents, it’s clear more needs to be done to protect people and save lives says David Thomas


In warehouses and industrial worksites where forklifts are commonly used, its important stringent safety precautions are put in place. Forklifts are very popular in the warehouse and logistics sector as they offer great flexibility in handling heavy loads in confined spaces and are able to operate with small turning circles that other vehicles can’t handle. But whilst they provide a highly practical materials handling solution, accidents are unfortunately all too common with forklifts being involved in around a quarter of all workplace accidents.

The unfortunate frequency and severity of accidents have earned forklifts a reputation as the most dangerous piece of workplace transport equipment being reportedly involved in up to 50 percent more serious accidents than large good vehicles (LGVs). Accidents are often due to poor training, procedures or supervision and lack of segregation. The design and operation of the vehicle also presents problems with forklifts being very heavy with the weight unevenly distributed at the back to compensate for heavy loads, and this makes them prone to overturning which can result in serious crushing incidents. There are around 1,300 serious forklift accidents reported each year often resulting in life changing injuries, but when employers and employees work together to commit to safe working strategies around forklift use, most of these accidents are avoidable.

What can employers do?
Assess the risk
Employers should start by establishing a good understanding of the risks involved around forklifts and the specific hazards within the work environment. Under The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, businesses are required to assess and manage risks to their employees and others arising from work activities. The risk assessment should identify what hazards there are and what precautions need to be taken to reduce risk.

The assessment provides the basis for putting targeted safety systems and procedures in place to address concerns and reduce the opportunity for accidents. Where forklifts are used, a risk assessment should be carried out to identify the risks around the vehicle operation and in relation to the specific work environment where it is used.

RIDDOR reports that 25 people lost their lives after being struck by a moving vehicle at work in 2020/21 highlighting the need to protect pedestrians. Segregation of people and vehicles is recognized as one of the most effective ways to reduce the opportunity for forklift accidents and fatalities so any risk assessment should include a review of the worksite and locations where forklifts are used and the challenges and opportunities for providing total segregation.

Address the risk
Once risks are identified, formal procedures should be established to ensure that work is carried out in the safest way possible. Clear company safety procedures ensure everyone has access to a common set of rules to follow. Employers are responsible for putting suitable procedures in place and communicating these to the workforce.

Most serious accidents are down to poor training or supervision so the importance of training can’t be underestimated. Forklifts should only ever be operated by trained personnel. Training should be made available to everyone who works in or around forklifts as sadly many accidents and fatalities occur with pedestrians in the area. RIDDOR data around forklifts shows 75 percent of ‘impact with a third person’ involve pedestrians that were completing tasks ‘unrelated to the immediate truck operation at the time of their accident’. Pedestrians need to understand the risks to others and the procedures in place for their protection.

Reduce the risk
There are several pieces of legislation and mandatory requirements around safety at work and the safe use of workplace transport which must be followed. But employers can opt to go above and beyond mandatory requirements to make their workplace safer. Incorporating additional safety systems and procedures is a good idea to help reduce the chance for accidental injury and financial damage.

To achieve segregation, it’s worth considering one-way systems and completely separate turning circles or reversing areas if space allows. This significantly reduces the risk of collision with pedestrians.

There is a vast range of safety equipment available that can enhance workplace safety. Proximity warning systems and wearables can make a real difference by alerting pedestrians and operators of hazards through vibration, audible alarms and lighting that raises users’ awareness to risk. These system can also directly interact with vehicles to slow them down or stop at junctions. It’s also helpful to use technology to gather event data from every breach so that each incident can be used as a learning tool to prevent future accidents.

In addition to standard safety signage requirements, it’s also worth considering extra measures such as reversing cameras, automatic barriers and control gates that interact with users and additional illuminated signs, projectors and signals all help increase situational awareness.

Workplace accidents and injuries not only risk lasting impact on individuals lives but can also destroy businesses financially and reputationally. Employers have a duty under health and safety law and a moral responsibility to the workforce to ensure safe working practice. Never wait until a forklift injury or death takes place to take action. Taking a proactive approach to safety is the best way to prevent accidents from happening. v

For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor

David Thomas is General Manager at ZoneSafe. ZoneSafe Proximity Warning Systems, manufactured by Avonwood Developments Ltd, provide a range of practical solutions to help reduce accidents, collisions, and serious near-miss occurrences when working with plant and materials handling equipment. ZoneSafe increases visibility and awareness, improves performance, and positively changes organizational and workforce behaviors. ZoneSafe solutions enhance worker safety across many industry sectors, including warehousing and logistics, waste and recycling, construction, utilities, and aviation.
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