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As we covered last time, employers have a legal duty of care to their employees and anyone else who could be affected by their operations. Yet industry news bulletins continue to report that the HSE has found forklift accidents that have taken place to be entirely avoidable, had appropriate systems and control measures been in place and/or followed.

Risk assessments and the resulting Safe Systems of Work (SSOW) should be standard practice, providing a defined set of rules around a specific aspect of an operation, put in place to minimise the risk of accidents. Sadly, not all companies have them, and those that do don’t always ensure that they are effective and enforced. But the reality is that SSOW have the potential to save lives.

Don’t leave things to chance

Without Safe Systems of Work in place and, crucially, enforced – employees operate at their own discretion. Even though they should have received basic operator training, the nature of human behaviour means that complacency can soon creep in and bad habits can develop. If left unchecked, this unsafe practice can have severe consequences.

A recent survey into industry safety culture revealed some shocking insights which suggest many UK businesses operating forklifts are falling into this trap. Almost a third of participants believed that their lift truck operators either aren’t aware of their company’s Safe Systems of Work, or just don’t understand/comply with them.

A further 10 percent said they didn’t have a Safe System of Work in place to follow at all. For example, some said that there was no policy for reporting defects, or they only acted on defects when a truck broke down.

Proactivity is key when to comes to forklift safety. Ensuring your SSOW are established, communicated and continually enforced by management, will massively reduce the risk of accidents on your site.

Why these systems matter

Safe Systems of Work provide clear guidance for forklift operators on how they should work, and are designed to keep staff safe, regardless of their own attitudes towards risk.

Take the use of seatbelts for example. There’s a common myth among forklift operators that if a seatbelt is not specified during a risk assessment, then it doesn’t have to be used. This is absolutely not the case. In the UK, the HSE state that: “Where restraining systems are fitted, they should be used.”

Any exception to the seatbelt rule will need to have extremely good justification behind it based on a thorough, realistic risk assessment, and it would usually require, not just one, but a combination of factors to be in place that dramatically reduce the risk of a lift truck tip over.

Some forklift operators may prefer to not wear a seatbelt, but an effective and enforced SSOW outweighs any notion of giving operators an easy life.

These measures are in place for the operator’s own safety, as much as everyone else’s. If the operator is not wearing a seatbelt, then they are at risk of falling out of the cab, or even being thrown from it, should the truck become unstable and turn over. Often, the operator’s natural instinct when a forklift starts to tip is to try and get out. But this actually increases the risk of crush injuries should the operator get caught between the cab’s framework and the floor — a process known as mouse-trapping.

The role of a seatbelt in a forklift truck is to prevent this from happening. It stops operators from trying to jump free or from sliding off their seat and outside the truck’s cab.

By enforcing clear SSOW, created to keep your site safe, you will ensure that the message cannot be misinterpreted or ignored. All forklift operators will have an obligation to comply with the safety standard you have set for their own safety, and that of those around them.

For more information on creating and enforcing effective SSOW, download the Mentor Forklift Safety Insights report or give us a call on 01246 555222.

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