Assess Load Safety

Accident Investigation

Accident in the news

A Co Antrim shot-blasting firm was fined £120,000 after one of its employees was crushed to death when a metal rack fell off a forklift truck.

  • Workers at the factory were moving a partially assembled metal rack weighing 660kg on a forklift truck
  • While manoeuvring the metal structure onto its feet, the metal rack fell off of the forklift, fatally crushing the victim
  • The previous week a crane had been used to move a similar load
  • Had this happened in this incident, the death of the worker would not have taken place

Belfast Recorder Judge Stephen Fowler QC said the “foreseeable failings” by NK Coatings Ltd in the incident almost two years ago resulted in the death of a 56-year-old man.

Paul Harvey, a director of NK Coatings Ltd, based at Michelin Road, Mallusk, had previously pleaded guilty on behalf of the company to a single charge of failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.

Read the full story

Use the right equipment

Forklifts may be built for heavy-duty work, but they are not always the most suitable piece of equipment for a given task. As we saw in this instance, a crane had already been deemed an appropriate piece of equipment to perform this particular operation.  

Standard forklift ratings assume stable unit loads. Large loads and, most especially, loads hanging below the forks, may require deration of the truck, and this can only be assessed by a suitably competent person.

However, as well as its mass and position of centre of gravity, the security of the load must also be considered. For many non-palletised loads, a load handling attachment other than the forks may be required, and the capacity of the combination should be determined and marked so as to be clearly visible to the operator.

Planning lifting operations

Whilst a generic risk assessment might be sufficient for standard, low risk operations, complex lifts, such as those involving unusual or potentially unstable loads, or where co-workers are in proximity to the activity, require a detailed and specific lifting plan to be created every time the activity is undertaken.

The lifting plan should provide a safe system of work based on a thorough risk assessment. Risks should be evaluated, and mitigations identified in a documented process carried out by a competent person. The risk assessment must be site specific and must consider the specific equipment and loads being handled.

Segregate people from hazards

In normal working conditions, it is generally better to provide a physical barrier to segregate pedestrians from forklifts, rather than to rely on a safety distance (or, worse, pedestrian awareness). However, some forklift operations, particularly when the load may be at height, such as when loading and unloading, may present a falling object hazard over a wide area. Therefore, even for standard operations a documented safe system of work should be implemented to protect pedestrians, operators and equipment.

As noted above, if a pedestrian or co-worker is to be in proximity to a moving truck or raised/moving load, then the activity should be treated as a complex lifting operation. If the safety of all persons involved cannot be assured then an alternative method, possibly with more appropriate equipment, should be developed.

There is a National Forklift Safety Day ebook entitled Segregating people from materials handling equipment which provides further information and which is available here.

Operator Training

Of course, operators should take care at all times, but they must pay particular attention when lifting and lowering loads. Fast movement can cause instability, resulting in the load falling, or causing the truck to tip over.

Clearly, these hazards are dependent on the specific loads and working environment, and this is why the three training stages must be completed before an operator can be considered competent:

  • Basic training, generally by an ABAwt accredited training provider on the relevant equipment type
  • Specific job training, covering the actual loads, equipment and environment where the operator will work, and,
  • Familiarisation training, carried out ‘on the job’ but under close supervision.

If a forklift is not used properly, and staff do not acknowledge the very real risk they present, the consequences can be fatal. Operator training, including refresher training, is therefore essential, as is supervision by an experienced manager to ensure best practice is followed.

National Forklift Safety Day 2022 provided in-depth guidance on operator training in a handy ebook available here.

You and the law

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to carry out risk assessments that consider any and all potential hazards that can cause harm, including falling loads.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) require employers to ensure that all staff, including contract and agency workers, have received adequate training for the tasks being undertaken.

In addition, The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) specifically require that lifting operations are planned and supervised by suitably competent persons.

This legislation is covered by the HSE Approved Code of Practice for fork truck operations — Rider-operated lift trucks: Operator training and safe use (L117). Providing essential guidelines, it outlines employer’s obligations to ensure that operators have not only received basic training, but also specific job training, including instruction on attachments they are required to use.

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