Minimising Risk

Accident Investigation

A lighting manufacturer was recently fined more than £60,000 after a forklift overturned, causing fatal crush injuries to an employee.

  • The employee was driving the forklift when the incident occurred
  • The mast struck an overhead steel beam, causing the truck to tip over
  • The employee was thrown out of the cab and crushed under truck structure

Extensive investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company’s systems of work were not safe, and proper risk assessment had not been carried out.

MK Illumination of Blackburn, East Lancashire pleaded guilty to serious breaches of the health and safety laws.

Assessment is essential

Safe systems of work should be the absolute baseline of working safely.

As with the incident above, so many serious accidents can be more easily avoided through proper planning and adequate procedures.

In this case the company had simply been relying on the employees to remember to lower the forks right down while travelling to avoid low overhead beams.

Rules should be set around all parts of the job so anyone undertaking the task is carrying out the same procedures for loading, unloading, travelling etc. Without this, different operators will develop different bad habits and find their own shortcuts. Without standardised rules for working the chances of accidents, near accidents, and unsafe practice will skyrocket.

Full risk assessments and carefully planned traffic routes are a fundamental part of properly implemented forklift safety. With the case above, the traffic routes were revised after the accident to entirely avoid travelling under the low overhead beams. If this had been done at the start, and incorporated into the work plan, then then that tragic accident could have been averted.

Similarly, if there are potential hazards that may be unavoidable due to site layout or other reasons, all care should be taken to highlight them as clearly as possible to employees. This had not happened at MK Illumination and the low beams had no physical markings to draw attention to them.

Traffic routes should also ensure that pedestrians and forklifts are as segregated as much as possible, preferably by physical barriers. Crossing points should be clearly identified, with good visibility.

Take the time to plan and you’ll be able to find routes that still allow for efficient working without having to compromise on risk levels.

Seat belts are fitted to forklift trucks in order to prevent ejection of the operator in the event of a tip-over because this all too often leads to the crushing that tragically occurred in this incident. Supervisors should monitor seat belt use and intervene before poor working practices become accepted.

Learn from others

UKMHA Safe Site award winner Kellogg’s is a great example of how to make positive changes on site, and key lessons can be taken from the company’s proactive approach.

The Kellogg’s plant in Manchester is one of the largest food-production facilities in Europe, roughly the size of 16 football pitches spread across 7 floors.

A number of incidents and near-misses at the site spurred the team into conducting a thorough overhaul of procedures in order to address the problem.

Fundamental to the effort was a campaign to change the culture at the site from top down. Regular briefings and toolbox talks are held to make sure everyone hears the messages, and in turn has their chance to be heard.

Mirrors have been placed in key areas to provide better awareness to drivers and pedestrians as to any risks in the surrounding area. Signage has been improved throughout the plant, both in terms of quality and quantity. As well as this, all forklift speed limits at the site have been reduced to 5mph.

Better segregation systems are now in place with miles of barriers and designated walkways. As part of this, new pedestrian routes were added that completely avoid areas with moving vehicles. New walkways through the plant have gates to prevent pedestrians walking into traffic areas. To further separate the trucks from pedestrians, forklifts have been banned from packing areas and replaced with powered pallet trucks.

Damage to the building has been reduced, there have been far fewer near misses and the overall safety culture is much higher.

However, the new safety measures haven’t been taken as a sign that everything is fixed and all the issues addressed. They have become the first part of an ongoing process of continuous improvement at a complex site.

You and the law

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require sufficient risk assessments to protect staff.

L117 (Rider-operated lift trucks: Operator training and safe use) recommends that safety policies for people, plant and equipment consider the safe movement of lift trucks and loads. “Reduce risks at points where lift trucks might meet other traffic or pedestrians, including areas where lift trucks load and unload other vehicles. This risk assessment should form the basis of a safe system of work, and you should take account of the extra risk when planning lifting operations.”

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