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Sustaining a safety culture

With new year behind us and many resolutions already broken, Tim Waples, Director of the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA), discusses how having a good safety culture requires everyone rigorously sticking to the goals.

I’ll start with the obvious point: How do you actually define ‘safety culture’?

The way I’ve always explained it is that your company’s safety culture is what happens when the management isn’t there. If the only thing keeping people from breaking the rules and cutting corners is having someone watch them, then safety simply hasn’t made its way into the company culture.

Working in or around forklifts can be incredibly dangerous, sometimes fatal. Lapses in safety standards lead to more than 1,300 people injured as a result of lift truck accidents each year. With productivity often put first, safety is not always at the forefront of supervisors’ minds. The chance of something significant occurring is held to be remote or even completely dismissed, and so not taken as seriously as it should be.

Employee safety should always be a top priority, regardless of the situation. But with the NHS under great pressure due to the pandemic, now more than ever it is imperative that incidents requiring medical assistance, major or minor are avoided.

Workplaces are already being extra vigilant at the moment, but take that mindset further. Examine everything that could lead to potential health and safety issues and see what can be improved, such as site layout, equipment, or working practices.

Safety concerns everyone. Safety should concern everyone.

At the fundamental level, the key to a robust safety culture is getting everyone engaged in the process. Not only do staff at every level in the company need to understand and follows the guidelines (and law), but they have to want to follow them. With regular communication and feedback you can better establish how successful this is and adapt your approach as you go.

Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a wake-up call for a business to review its approach to safety. It might be an accident where someone is seriously injured or even killed, it might be a series of smaller incidents significantly costing the company in restocking and repairs, or it could be a near-miss showing what could potentially happen.

While it shouldn’t take a problem to highlight the importance of safety, it is vital to learn from such experience and follow through with a plan. As the saying goes:

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

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Find your approach

2019 FLTA Safe Site Award winner Kellogg’s are a great example of what can be accomplished with commitment to positive change. Its Manchester production facility is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe and a vast, complicated maze of a site. It would be a daunting challenge for any company, but a couple of near misses saw Kellogg’s do a thorough review of how it was working and what it needed to fix.

As well as physical changes to the site (improved signage, new walkways, better segregation between pedestrians and forklifts) and new trucks with safety devices to help drivers and pedestrians be more aware of one another, the biggest change was engaging the workforce in the new safety culture.

All meetings now start with safety as the number one point on the agenda, and staff have regular toolbox talks to learn about safety and where they stand to improve. They had a visit from FLTA Safety Ambassador Lisa Ramos who talked to workers about her experience of getting run over by a forklift.

With the workforce fully engaged with the new ways of working they have taken greater ownership of their own safety and the collective safety of all employees. At the 2019 National Forklift Safety Convention, the Kellogg’s team spoke about how staff were now far more likely to report any safety breaches they observed as they understood how important it was to the overall effort.

But that’s just one example of a company looking at their own problems and developing a solution that works for them. Your challenges might be very different.

Talk to your employees. See what concerns they have around site safety and learn what will motivate them to improve their own work practices. Remember to lead by example because safety concerns are everyone’s concern.

The FLTA’s Safe User Group ( has a wealth of practical resources to improve site safety in noticeable but low-cost ways. It provides tools to start the safety journey and to keep the conversation going.


Cultural change doesn’t happen overnight; it takes a lot of work and continuous communication. However, the benefits of change will be felt by everyone and is worth the effort to achieve a sustainable safety culture.

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