At one of our recent National Forklift Safety Conventions, a key speaker who had worked on the shop floor said they felt greater anxiety walking in a supermarket car park than working in close proximity to fork lifts.
It’s the human condition. While familiarity may not breed actual contempt, it certainly encourages complacency. Despite the constant threat posed by fast-moving machines we find it impossible to maintain heightened states of awareness, especially when nothing has ever gone wrong...yet. The problem is that when it does, the results are almost always devastating, and the damage lasts a lifetime.
I’d like to think that in this changed climate we will be more inclined to put greater distance between ourselves and danger... but we shouldn’t count on it.
That’s why it’s crucial we put renewed energy into implementing truly effective measures that will keep fast-moving plant and people well apart. It’s also the reason why our colleagues at the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA) have made pedestrian segregation the theme for this year’s National Forklift Safety Day held on 9th June.
The starting point is, of course, detailed risk assessments of the site and all its operations.
Show your hand
According to our Safety Partners at Mentor FLT Training, a big factor in accidents is the combination of assumptions and misunderstandings between operators and colleagues on foot. Mentor’s answer is an unambiguous national protocol: Show Your Hand.
The concept is simple: if a pedestrian comes too close to a fork lift the operator simply raises their hand indicating that the colleague on foot should stop. If they don’t notice or comply then the driver must switch off the truck, to prevent any risk of an accident.
Show Your Hand kits, including posters and videos, are available free of charge via the Mentor website.
It's all about the barriers
The simplest and most effective measure for reducing accidents is to keep pedestrians and fork lifts apart. A first step in achieving that is to carry out an audit and identify which employees genuinely need to be in an area where fork lifts operate. Those who need to be there can be equipped with distinctively coloured hi-vis vests, while everyone else is banned.
Where pedestrians can’t be excluded, separate routes should be created for them. Ideally, these should follow the paths employees would normally take (often known as ‘desire lines’) to encourage maximum take-up.
Where trucks and other staff must occupy the same areas, physical barriers are far preferable to painted lines, hashed areas and signage. Raised pavements are an option, as are metal or plastic barriers. One-way systems are also effective. In areas where space is particularly tight you could consider overhead walkways.
It’s good practice to impose speed limits, install wall-mounted mirrors at blind corners, and review the many new and innovative safety devices now available on fork lifts, several of which can be retrofitted.
Follow Kellogg's example
Kellogg’s was a worthy winner of the Safe Site Award at the 2019 FLTA Awards for Excellence. A team worked painstakingly and ingeniously to transform safety at the 1930s Manchester site where space is extremely restricted, resulting in numerous blind chicanes and corners.
Detailed risk assessments were completed with perhaps the most profound change being the introduction of barriers wherever fork lifts and humans might possibly interact. These were used alongside virtually every walkway, not only inside the factory but also in the car park. They are to be found at every crossing – forcing pedestrians to check their progress and preventing them from walking directly into the path of an oncoming fork lift. Speed zoning was also introduced to reduce risk in hazardous areas.
Keen to explore every avenue, logistics manager Paul Davies worked closely with FLTA member Jofson Limited to review how its fork lift fleet could better contribute to on-site safety. A fleet of Mitsubishi fork lift trucks was commissioned equipped with a wealth of safety features. Front and rear cameras and GPRS impact detection systems with timed and dated footage allow managers to review accidents and identify areas for further improvement. Swivel seats are fitted to improve driver posture when reversing, increasing rear visibility and reducing driver strain. Speed zoning has been introduced with trucks automatically slowing down in high risk areas. In order to ensure that daily checks are carried out correctly (rather than being a mere box-ticking exercise) an electronic system is used with the order of answers to safety checks being randomised. Should a safety check be failed, they system can either report the fault, send an automatic email to management, or completely VOR the truck until management have checked the fault and made the equipment safe.