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Avoiding materials handling equipment injuries

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Protecting people must be a priority and with stringent safety measures in place, most accidents can be avoided, says David Thomas, General Manager at ZoneSafe.

The logistics sector forms the backbone of UK trade and industry, supporting the supply chain for a broad range of industries both nationally and internationally. The Road Haulage Association reports logistics business is worth £124bn to the UK economy and employs around 2.54 million people and this continues to grow. The events of recent years including the Covid 19 pandemic and Brexit have presented extraordinary hurdles to logistics operation but as the industry rises to these challenges, another remains a continuing concern.

In terms of workplace safety, the UK logistics sector reports an injury and fatality rate considerably higher than the all-industry rate. According to Health & Safety Executive (HSE) data from 2009-14, there were more than 64,000 reported work-related accidents including 46 fatalities and these figures only include a selection of the wide-ranging sectors within the logistics industry as a whole.

The sheer volume of activity and use of industrial vehicles and material handling equipment (MHE) gives rise to hazard with high potential for injury to workers. Of all workplace vehicles, forklifts regularly feature as the most dangerous. Due to their ability to lift heavy and awkward loads with ease and work within limited space, they are extremely popular particularly within warehouses and distribution centres, however, with around  8,000 accidents reported annually in the workplace involving forklift trucks, a commitment to enhanced safety standards must be a priority. The figures make clear the very real threat to safety while the list of serious injuries including amputation, complicated fractures, crushing incidents and de-gloving make disturbing reading. However, these kinds of incidents are avoidable through a combination of robust processes, communication, training, and safety technology. 

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Knowledge is power

The responsible use of vehicles and equipment is crucial to safe operation. Training is the first step in educating workers not only how to operate with and around MHE but on the risks to themselves and others and how best to avoid serious injury. It is essential mandatory health and safety training is regularly delivered and kept up to date and is extended to all workers including temporary and contract staff. Additional training on vehicle and equipment operation is also required, focusing on safe operation and general safety considerations within the specific working environment. Training should be made available across all roles including managers and supervisors and only those fully trained should be able to access and operate MHE and workplace vehicles.

Avoiding pedestrian/vehicle collisions

Pedestrians are at considerable risk when working in close proximity of vehicles and machinery. HSE data reports 57% of workplace transport injuries involve pedestrians. Life changing accidents often occur because there is insufficient safe distance around the operating area of the vehicle. Successful segregation of people and vehicles is one of the most effective ways to ensure worker safety.

It is imperative traffic routes are clearly marked, with one-way systems in place where possible. Highly visible signage and vision panels combined with interactive barriers, lighting and alarms can play a pivotal role in raising situational awareness of both vehicle operators and pedestrians. Wearable proximity warning technology is affordable and highly effective in alerting pedestrians and operators of approaching vehicles through vibration, audible alarms and lighting.

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Equipment maintenance

Equipment and vehicles must be kept in good working order being regularly checked and tested for wear and tear, corrosion and faults. Supervisors and managers should take personal responsibility for the equipment within a facility, ensuring it is kept in good working condition and fit for purpose.

This was a key message at the recent National Forklift Safety Day, promoted by the UK Material Handling Association (UKMHA). The NFSD campaign focused on Thorough Examination, highlighting the importance of mandatory inspection of all MHE and highlighted the need to check equipment that may have been idle during the last year of lockdowns.

The logistics industry is thriving and although overall safety is improving, it is clear there is more to do be done. Businesses need to commit to better safety procedures and invest in the processes and equipment to create safer worker environments.

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