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Accidents involving a forklift truck make up, on average, nearly a quarter of all workplace transport accidents in the UK, so it’s important that we understand how to avoid such accidents, especially because in most cases there are procedures in place that would have helped to avoid it!

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The health and safety of the workforce should always be at the forefront of the way a company operates. Without careful consideration to these things employees who are involved in accidents can miss extended periods of work – but more importantly, the accidents can be very serious, and in some cases, even fatal.

Training is of course the most basic way to promote safety, both for when you are operating a forklift and when for you are merely working in an area in which forklifts are operated. Basic training should give drivers the knowledge of how the machinery works and also gives them the skills to use the vehicle safely in their place of work. Familiarisation with their tasks and the way the forklift is used in their day to day jobs, coupled with refresher training, will help build confidence when using forklifts. Speeding, improper loading and general horseplay by drivers is a huge no-no!

Supervisors should always be vigilant in preventing accidents by recognising unsafe behaviour and communicating with their team as well as line managers. Clearly no one without proper training should be using a forklift.

Outside of training there are many other factors to consider for safe operation of forklifts. For example, the forklift itself – is it maintained properly? Malfunctions and inadequate equipment will further the risk of accidents, so things such as brakes, leaks and steering should be regularly checked in line with regulations and manufacturer instructions. If a vehicle is old it will need considerably more attention to ensure it doesn’t break down during a routine task. If the horn doesn’t work how can the driver signal his presence to other workers? It’s a simple feature but it could save lives or at least prevent serious injury. As recently as January this year the HSE warned that companies should maintain forklifts rather than repairing them when they break – this came after a Wakefield firm received a heavy fine for just such an offence.

The workplace itself can be a factor in avoiding accidents, with narrow aisles, poor lighting, obstructions and people walking in the forklift working area being cause for concern. Make sure that if there are forklifts in operation that there are designated walkways for staff to travel safely (failing that, place pedestrian restrictions in those areas). On the flip side of that, staff also need to make themselves visible with high-visibility clothing and let the forklift driver know if they are working in close proximity.

When it comes to the day to day tasks of forklift driving it may be easy to become complacent. This is something everyone should strive to avoid. Poor stacking, stacking too heavily or even using pallets which are in disrepair may seem like the quick and easy way to get the job done, but in the long run that laziness can be more costly than the time people attempt to save.

Competency among staff using forklifts – whether they use them regularly or not – needs to be kept at a high level, and despite there being no laws to enforce refresher training it is the best way to avoid otherwise inexcusable accidents. Remember, it is fine to promote safe driving but unless you have excellent health and safety standards across the business, then half the battle has already been lost.

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