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Cleaning materials handling equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic

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BITA technical manager, David Goss explains the importance of doing everything possible to clean and maintain materials handling equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the current emergency, the ability of the logistics industry to maintain an uninterrupted supply of essential goods such as food and medical supplies is vital to the nation’s wellbeing – and the role played by the materials handling sector in this cannot be overlooked. Without MHE being able to operate at peak efficiency then the ability of the logistics industry to fulfil its requirements will be in jeopardy.

However, there remains the need to balance this with the requirement to keep every worker in the industry safe. As the HSE has made very clear, relaxing the obligations to maintain and thoroughly examine equipment is not an option because this would reduce safety and increase the burden on health care, but methods of working need to be adapted to ensure social distancing is maintained.

Throughout its history, BITA’s most significant purpose has been to ensure the materials handling industry is as safe as it can possibly be. The challenges posed by the COVID-19 virus have reinforced just how important good safety procedures are.


In its quest to help the materials handling industry remain operationally effective and to slow the spread of COVID-19, BITA has been producing a series of guidelines designed to help protect everyone working in the industry and, it is vital these recommendations are adhered to.

The notices we have produced cover issues such as the safe cleaning of MHE, deactivating equipment, the vital importance of keeping to service and Thorough Examination regimes, and the need to maintain training standards.

Work sites need to adapt to allow visiting engineers, essential for the continuing safe operation of the fleet, to access equipment and sanitary facilities whilst maintaining social distancing protocols. Where sites have to close, equipment should be left in a safe condition and must not be returned to service until all maintenance and inspection activities have been brought up to date.


Maintaining the cleanliness of materials handling and plant equipment is a sensible precautionary measure to control the spread of coronavirus. By effectively disinfecting your FLT fleet and plant equipment you are helping to secure the health and wellbeing of your own workers as well as visiting technicians to your site.

It is very important to differentiate between cleaning equipment in regular use where there is no evidence of COVID-19 contamination and instances where there is a high risk that work equipment or environments have been contaminated by a person with suspected coronavirus. In the latter situation, a formal assessment of all risks must be undertaken and the UK Government guidance on ‘cleaning in non-healthcare settings’ should be applied.

Making sure your MHE is clean may seem incidental but it will help to ensure the equipment remains in service longer and helps to protect the safety of employees and visitors to a site, thereby reducing the strain on our health services. It will also help to ensure that the logistics industry can continue to deliver the essential supplies upon which we are all reliant.


BITA stands ready to support the materials handling sector and urges an industry-wide adoption of the latest guidance to ensure everyone remains safe. Full details on all the guidelines can be found on the BITA website and these will be updated throughout the emergency to reflect latest recommendations.

Elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic is placing severe pressure on the ability of non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) and tractor manufacturers to meet EU exhaust emission regulations 2016/1628/EU and 2018/985/EU by this summer's deadline. Manufacturers using pre-Stage V (transition) engines are finding it difficult to complete their machines because they have been unable to access components from China.

Under the current regulations, manufacturers have until 30 June to produce NRMM and tractors fitted with <56kW and ≥130kW transition engines, and then until 31 December 2020 to place these machines on the EU market, or the on-road register, or to enter into service.

However, as our European Materials Handling Federation (FEM) has said, without the necessary parts, it is virtually impossible to complete the new machines, get them tested and on-road by the deadlines stipulated. If the requirements are not relaxed, then the manufacturers will have little choice than to scrap the unused engines. The consequences of this on an already-pressured industry will be significant, to say nothing of the unnecessary waste of raw materials and resources.

It is likely that disruption caused by the pandemic will continue well into the second half of the year, placing additional strain on the industry. BITA, along with our fellow European associations in FEM, and other trade bodies, have therefore urged the EU Commission and its Member States to extend the machine build deadline by six months. As the transition engines have already been built, it is only the machines that cannot be completed, this will have no negative environmental impact. Until the Brexit deal is concluded, Britain is still bound by these requirements.


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