“When operators become complacent, accidents sometimes happen and it’s not just safe driving that must come under scrutiny,” said Nick Welch, senior technical development executive for forklift truck training accrediting body RTITB, formerly the Road Transport Industry Training Board.
“It’s not just about driving carefully, it’s about segregation of vehicles and pedestrians; it’s about load safety both on the vehicle and on the racking; it’s about good all-round awareness and guarding against the unexpected, not to mention how the machinery is maintained and checked.”
In 2010/11, the last period for which the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) captured figures specifically for forklifts, there were a total of 101 reported accidents involving forklift truck; 87 in food manufacturing plants and 14 in beverage plants. From September 2011, the method used for collecting accident data changed. As a consequence, the provisional data for reported accidents involving ‘being struck by a moving vehicle’ were 116 (108 in food premises and eight in beverage)
Serious forklift accidents
Over the past year, a number of serious forklift accidents in the food and drink and associated industries have resulted in successful HSE prosecutions of the companies involved. In January last year a fine of £165,000 plus costs were awarded against vegetable business Lincolnshire Field Products Ltd following an accident in 2010 in which a manager was killed when he was struck by a forklift truck.
Then, in April 2014, Tangerine Confectionery, based in Blackpool, was ordered to pay more than £129,000 for an accident in 2012 when a truck’s fork pierced an employee’s foot after a collision with another forklift as it drove through plastic strip curtains.
In another case in May, food ingredients firm AAK was ordered to pay more than £162,000 after a forklift truck driver was killed in an accident in 2011 at its Runcorn factory when a lorry reversed into the side of his vehicle.
The following August Buxton-based food packaging firm Primopost Ltd was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £2,979 in costs in a successful prosecution brought by the HSE following an accident in 2012 in which an employee sustained severe injuries when his leg was struck by a forklift truck.
“Forklift trucks are responsible for around a quarter of all injuries involving workplace transport and so it is vital companies have systems in place to keep them away from pedestrians. This can be as simple as painting a white line on the floor,” said HSE inspector Stuart Parry after the hearing.
Key to factory safety
Segregation of workers from unauthorised areas is key to factory safety, according to A-Safe. It supplies polymer safety barriers which absorb and dissipate impacts from vehicles and are used by blue chip companies such as Coca-Cola Enterprises, Nestlé and Carlsberg.
A-Safe has also recently developed its iFlex RackGuard, a product that protects rack legs from the impacts of vehicles.
Even experienced, fully trained forklift truck operators should be routinely supervised and monitored when operating machinery to ensure that they are abiding by safety protocols, according to RTITB. Far too many supervisors are unaware of their accountability, it added.
“Whilst there is a certain amount of responsibility placed on the forklift operator, it is up to management to oversee the operation,” said Laura Nelson, operations director for RTITB. “This helps to avoid accidents in the workplace and also prevents potential damage to valuable stock or equipment.”