For businesses with forklift trucks on site, the loading and unloading of delivery vehicles will likely be one of the machine’s primary functions. It also has the potential to be one of the most dangerous, if not done correctly.
Undoubtedly, the risk of accidents and serious injuries increases whenever forklifts and pedestrians share the same working environment, so the arrival of delivery drivers into busy loading areas needs careful management.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common challenges and the simple steps for keeping drivers at a safe distance.
Hazard 1: Driver too close to forklift
It is no surprise that delivery drivers often want to have an input on the loading process – after all, it is their responsibility to ensure the security of the loads on their vehicle and they may have a preferred loading order for unloading at the other end.
However, whilst they can specify their requirements, they should not be allowed in the loading area and must remain in a safe position whilst the forklift is in operation. They may be tempted to try to help the process along, (holding back a curtain, steadying a load, directing from alongside), but this puts them in real danger should a load be lost or the operator lose sight of them. The serious injuries caused are almost always avoidable because the pedestrian should never be in the operating area in the first place.
One UK company was fined £1.2m after a HGV driver was fatally crushed when an overloaded forklift truck overturned. The resulting investigation found that the forklift had been unloading a 2.2 tonne load (42% over its maximum operational capacity) causing the truck to tip. It also found that there was no procedure in place to keep pedestrians a safe distance from loading/unloading operations.
Such segregation measures are vital because, even if unsafe operating methods occur, they needn’t cause injuries to waiting drivers, if safe distances are maintained. Yet, shockingly, in a recent study, 1 in 3 respondents said their forklifts and pedestrians operated in the same area with no segregation.
To reduce the risk: Make sure that there are adequate segregation measures in place to keep delivery drivers and other pedestrians a safe distance away from forklift trucks. Physical measures such as barriers can be used, as well as pedestrian areas and walkways, to help the relevant parties to remain in a safe space.
Of course, you should never find delivery drivers in unsafe positions if there are relevant safety policies in place that are communicated and followed, which brings us to our next hazard…
Hazard 2: No clear Safe System of Work
Risk assessments and the resulting Safe Systems of Work (SSOW) play a crucial role in ensuring that all hazards associated with tasks such as loading and unloading are eliminated or the risks sufficiently minimised. Though SSOW can significantly reduce the number of accidents on site, all too often, companies do not have these in place.
In another recent incident, a UK manufacturer was fined £38,000 after an HGV driver was seriously injured during unloading, after being trapped between a falling load and his own vehicle. The HSE found that there was no SSOW for unloading or loading and no rules for visiting drivers on where to wait.
To reduce the risk: Ensuring your SSOW are established, communicated and continually enforced by management, will massively reduce the risk of accidents on your site. Create a clear SSOW for delivery drivers and make sure they are made aware of it. This could include:
- A designated waiting area for drivers, away from the loading area, or other specified safe locations e.g. in the cab with the engine off
- A key control system where drivers hand over their vehicle keys until loading is complete (to limit the temptation to return to the vehicle during loading)
SSOW are a vital tool to keep sites safe, but are only effective if they are followed. Companies’ good intentions can often be thwarted by our next hazard…
Hazard 3: Poor communication
Sometimes, SSOW may be in place but either they are not followed or not conveyed to everyone who could be affected – including visiting drivers. This undermines any good work done to reduce risk for those involved in the task.
As an additional measure, methods such as ‘Show Your Hand’ can be used to standardise communication between forklift operators and those around them on foot. Operators can use this to alert delivery drivers or other pedestrians if they are coming too close to the truck, and signal to them that they must stop, as follows:
Step 1. If a pedestrian is coming too close, stop the truck
Step 2. ‘Show your hand’ to signal them to stop
Step 3. If they do not stop, turn off the ignition to reduce the risk
To reduce the risk: Managers have a responsibility to communicate SSOW to everyone who could be affected, including any visiting personnel, so that safety procedures can be adhered to (e.g. via briefings, training, safety meetings, signage, regular monitoring).
Many accidents and injuries can be avoided if we understand the risks and how to avoid them. Mentor offers a range of training courses including Safely Working with Lift Trucks – a concise, high-impact awareness course for anyone who works in the proximity of lift trucks – and Managing Forklift Operations which helps those overseeing operations meet their responsibilities for safety and uphold best practice in the loading area and beyond.
For more information please contact us.