Training to avoid tip overs

Accident Investigation

A paper recycling company was recently fined £600,000 following the death of a 20-year-old agency worker who suffered fatal crush injuries at a plant in Crayford, London.

  • The operator was driving a forklift when it overturned.
  • He was not wearing a seatbelt and became trapped between the forklift’s roll-over protective structure and the floor.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found significant failings in the management of workplace transport risks at the site, including issues relating to operator competence and supervision and monitoring.

Restore Datashred Ltd of Queen Elizabeth Distribution Centre in Purfleet, Essex pleaded guilty to a breaching of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Seatbealts & Stability

As was sadly the case with the accident above, not wearing a seatbelt can lead to the operator being crushed by the cab in the event of a tip over – known in the industry as mousetrapping.

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 rollover protective structure should be fitted with a restraint.

Seatbelts are the last line of defence for operators, so it is crucial that they are worn when required.

However, it’s equally important that operators understand the basic physics of forklift operation, thereby preventing unnecessary accidents.

The stability triangle is an excellent way of explaining this simply.

The front wheels and centre of the rear-axle form a triangle of weight distribution. So long as the centre of gravity is within the stability triangle — as it should be during regular operation — the truck is safe.

On a counterbalance truck, the centre of gravity is near the base of the triangle – the weighted rear of the truck. However, certain actions, such as lifting loads, cornering, or driving on inclined or uneven surfaces, will push the centre of gravity closer to the edge of the triangle. It is of the utmost importance that operators understand how these factors can, particularly in combination, overturn a truck.

However, it’s equally important that operators understand the basic physics of forklift operation, thereby preventing unnecessary accidents.

The stability triangle is an excellent way of explaining this simply.

The front wheels and centre of the rear-axle form a triangle of weight distribution. So long as the centre of gravity is within the stability triangle — as it should be during regular operation — the truck is safe.

On a counterbalance truck, the centre of gravity is near the base of the triangle – the weighted rear of the truck. However, certain actions, such as lifting loads, cornering, or driving on inclined or uneven surfaces, will push the centre of gravity closer to the edge of the triangle. It is of the utmost importance that operators understand how these factors can, particularly in combination, overturn a truck.

What can you do?

To ensure that operators fully comprehend how forklifts operate, they must receive 3 levels of training:

  • Basic training provides your operators with the skills and knowledge necessary to operate a particular type of equipment safely and productively.
  • Specific training gives them the knowledge of the specific workplace and application.
  • Familiarisation training allows operators to put their learning into place, back on site, under strict supervision

While Basic and Specific training should be delivered ‘off the job’ and away from the pressure, Familiarisation is delivered ‘on the job’, in real working conditions, closely supervised by someone with appropriate knowledge.

Importantly, operators must be monitored — particularly agency workers who are unfamiliar with the layout — 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

Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states:

“It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.” For comprehensive guidance, follow the Approved Code of Practice for rider operated lift trucks (L117).

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