Warehouses are among the most hazardous environments in the materials handling sector, which is why creating a safe working environment is so important. Here James Clark, Secretary-General of the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA) looks at how this can be achieved.
So called ‘struck by’ incidents – where a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle – are the most common cause of major workplace accidents in the UK. Sadly every year sees workers killed or injured and companies prosecuted over entirely preventable accidents, where forklifts have been used in an unsafe manner. For this reason warehouse managers and operators should always prioritise developing and maintaining safe systems of traffic management based on three core activities:
· Physically segregating pedestrian and vehicle areas in the warehouse
· Training and supervising vehicle operators
· Raising awareness among all pedestrians, employees and visitors
Although it isn’t a specific legal requirement to segregate pedestrian areas, there is an overall enduring obligation for managers to ‘provide a safe working environment’.
At BITA we believe that materials handling stakeholders have a vital role to play in the process – and must be accountable. We have developed publications such as our safety best-practice booklets for operators, as well as guidance notes for employers and managers which include the latest developments in legislation and best practice.
However, it isn’t just knowing what to do – but actually doing it and building corporate culture around site safety and security. Safety best practice should be seen not as a cost or an encumbrance, but a fundamental investment in the future health of employees and the company’s own bottom line.
The importance of training
Another vital part of safety in the warehouse environment is training. Forklifts are the warehouse workhorses, but like all powerful tools they can be dangerous if not used carefully – which is why driver training is so important.
No one can operate a forklift truck below the age of 16, but in ports this rises to 18. Regarding physical requirements, each person’s fitness for operating a lift truck should be judged individually, with an emphasis on matching the requirements of a task with the fitness and abilities of the driver.
Under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 employers are required to ‘ensure that all persons who use work equipment have received adequate training for purposes of health and safety, including training in the methods which may be adopted when using the work equipment, any risks which such use may entail and precautions to be taken’.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1974 and 1999 place duties on employers to provide training, information, instruction and supervision to ensure the health and safety of their employees.
This legislation means that initial operator training is in effect compulsory but this is not the case for refresher training. This means that there is an onus on employers and employees to be aware of best practice based on their own initiative.
Driver training can be delivered in-house or through a number of providers, and should always include three stages:
· Basic training
· Specific job training
· Familiarisation training – applying what has been learned under normal conditions, actually on the job, but under supervision
Undergoing training doesn’t result in a forklift ‘driver’s licence’ as such, but the training provider should issue a certificate or document detailing the training given, and the employer is required to give written authority to an employee to operate the equipment.
Again driver training should not be seen by companies as a cost or as ‘red tape’ but as a vital investment in their business.
The risks behind forklift modifications
Forklift truck modifications are offered by many companies and are widely advertised, but they don’t come without risk – as a recent presentation to our Truck Suppliers Group (TSG) clearly demonstrated.
The presentation made the point that assessment and implementation of truck modifications is a skilled task requiring detailed and specialised engineering knowledge only available to the truck manufacturer. Truck modifications that are not factory approved may affect capacity, stability or safety requirements. People making modifications do not realise the consequences, or are not aware of their responsibilities and liabilities, should something go wrong with a modification at a later date.
It’s not as if the regulations are hard to understand. There is a very clear standard for the safety requirements of industrial trucks, BS EN ISO 3691-1:2015, which states in paragraph 126.96.36.199 that “unauthorised truck modification is not permitted”.
Nonetheless, only the most cursory web search is required to identify companies advertising modification changes to forklift trucks as if this were normal practice and presented no safety hazards whatsoever. Examples of modifications being offered include mast reductions, drive-in racking modifications, and perhaps most disturbingly, truck head guard modifications.
Our TSG presentation included some examples of real concern, for example:
· A cab-pillar section was removed and re-welded as part of a drive in racking modification – without knowledge of the exact material grade used in manufacture, it would be difficult or impossible to certify the welding and it would be severely doubtful whether the modification would pass an ISO 6055 impact test
· A counterbalance truck fitted with extended 15ft-long forks, dangerously reducing stability
· Fork-mounted ‘safe’ access platforms, advertised as though permitted for routine use
· Hoists mounted to overhead guards, reducing strength, impeding operator visibility, and applying loads outside the design limits
These were just a few of the issues raised – in addition there are more ‘informal’ modifications such as adding additional weight (in the form of drums full of water or toolboxes filled with concrete) to increase the lifting capacity of counterbalance trucks. Even changing tyres to ones that don’t comply with a manufacturer’s specifications, potentially creating instability, can be an unauthorised modification.
We are sure there are many more examples out there, and accidents and deaths have been linked to making unauthorised modifications that affect the safe operation of trucks. Depending on the modification, you may have inadvertently taken on the responsibilities of being the equipment manufacturer, with all the risks of prosecution and redress this entails.
It should be remembered that modification of a forklift truck without the manufacturer’s approval could invalidate the warranty and the CE marking, making it difficult if not impossible to re-sell elsewhere.
Designing for safety
Last but by no means least, another way of improving safety is by incorporating it at the design stage. To this end BITA organises the Design4Safety awards, held every three years at IMHX, the industry’s biggest logistics event, which next takes place in 2019 at Birmingham’s NEC from 24-27 September.
As their name suggests the awards are all about designing safety into products and services with their aim being to highlight the importance of product or service design in improving safety standards. The awards recognise innovative thinking, regardless of the type or cost of the product or service.
The six award categories acknowledge achievement in automation, industrial vehicles, racking and storage, technology, warehouse infrastructure and goods in/goods out. Among winners at IMHX 2016 were Toyota Material Handling UK which picked up two awards in the automation and technology categories, and Jungheinrich UK Ltd which took the honours in the industrial vehicles category, with its pedestrian detection and speed control system lauded for improving safety without compromising productivity.
To us safety is of utmost importance and this is the reason we inaugurated the Design4Safety awards – to highlight this focus and remind firms of the need to incorporate it into the engineering of their products and services from the concept stage. To use an old adage – prevention is better than cure.