Safe systems of work

Accident Investigation

A pallet transport company in Northamptonshire has been fined after a forklift driver was killed when his forklift overturned while unloading pallets from the trailer of a large goods vehicle (LGV).

  • LGV drove forward while forks were inside the trailer
  • Forklift tipped to the side and the driver tried to jump clear
  • No seat belt was worn and the driver sustained head injuries

An HSE investigation found that the company’s risk assessment failed to identify the risk of the LGV driving away during a loading/unloading task. The company was also found to be using an unsafe system of work that differed from its documented systems of work, including the supervision of wearing seatbelts when operating forklift trucks.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £107,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,436.97.

Read the full story here.

Work Safely

Our safety partner Mentor FLT Training recommends that safe systems of work be standard practice. Setting rules for certain tasks, particularly loading and unloading, means they can be performed safely and consistently. Without safe systems of work, operators will develop bad habits and perform tasks in the way they see fit. There is more chance of this happening if the operator does the task often, as they begin to feel they know the job and will become complacent. But complacency leads to mistakes, which in turn can lead to accidents.

For example, seatbelts are often a point of contention, and must be factored into a safe system of work. As was sadly the case with the accident above, operators may choose not to wear seatbelts, but in doing so they put themselves at serious risk. Injuries can be made worse if a seatbelt is not worn as the operator can fall from the cab, be thrown from it, or be crushed by it – known in the industry as mouse-trapping. 

In the UK, the HSE states: “Where restraining systems are fitted, they should be used.”

Since 2002, an operator restraining system (e.g., a seatbelt) must be fitted to all counterbalanced trucks, rough-terrain trucks and side-loading trucks.

Older trucks must be fitted with a restraining system if a risk assessment states that there is a risk of the truck overturning. Furthermore, any truck with a roll-over protective structure should be fitted with a restraint.

What can you do?

Risk assessments will be your first step. Review your site to identify any areas where there is a chance of an accident occurring. From that, you can create safe systems of work for specific tasks or areas. These systems of work then need to be communicated to all staff.

However, the key factor for successful safe systems of work is supervision. Operators must be monitored to ensure they are following best practice guidelines, and these guidelines should be regularly enforced. This can be through staff meetings, signage around the site, or by walking the floor and flagging bad practice with operators.

Make sure managers and supervisors are properly trained. They must have the knowledge and skills of what constitutes bad practice, as well as the confidence to sufficiently oversee operators on site.

You and the law

The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) states that you are responsible for the health and safety of your employees (including part-time and temporary workers), contractors and visitors.

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

These pieces of legislation are included in the Approved Code of Practice for fork truck operations — Rider-operated lift trucks: Operator training and safe use (L117).

L117 also recommends that safety policies for people, plant and equipment consider the safe movement of lift trucks and loads. Where lift trucks meet other vehicles, including where loading and unloading take place, risk assessments should be undertaken and form the basis of a safe system of work.

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