Buckle up your seatbelts for safer forklift truck use

3 mins read

Though essential to most manufacturing operations, forklift truck operation still presents a serious hazard. A forklift accident can cause personal injury and even loss of life, yet some companies still refuse to comply with safety regulations leading to significant fines. Ian Hatherly, safety consultant and operations director at Southalls, explains why firms must develop a positive health and safety culture if improvements are to be made.

On average 43 people are injured in forklift accidents each week and tragically, one worker is killed every six weeks, according to the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA). As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to ensure the health and safety of your employees around these heavy and powerful vehicles.

Even if an accident hasn’t resulted in personal injury, it may instead cause damage to forklift trucks, property or even stock, impacting on productivity and your bottom line. You should therefore protect your operators to ensure your business continues to thrive through proper training and effective risk management.

What are the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt?

Forklifts overturning is the greatest threat to operators and is the leading cause of deaths. When a forklift overturns the safest place for an operator to be is in the cabin with the seatbelt on. This helps prevent the operator from trying to jump or falling underneath the forklift if it tips.

The risks associated with not wearing a seatbelt are well documented including: being thrown from the vehicle in the event of a collision; being crushed while trying to escape from an overturning vehicle or being struck by falling stock while trying to escape. The safest place from any of these risks is to remain within the forklift. The very serious risk to operators has been highlighted once again in a recent court case:

Teenager crushed to death by forklift

PVC products manufacturer, Vinyl Compounds was fined £450,000 only last month after a 19-year-old worker was killed when the forklift truck he was operating overturned. The company had failed to adequately train the worker, who was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.

It also failed to inform its workers of the onsite speed limit, had not implemented measures to control the speed of vehicles, and had not installed adequate lighting and ramp edge protection to stop forklift trucks overturning.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching s 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

Safety regulations

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) primary guidance on the safe operation of trucks in the workplace is the ‘Rider-operated lift trucks: Operator Training and Safe Use, Approved Code of Practice (L117)’.

The guidance states that ‘In 2002 the fitting of an operator restraining system, such as a seat belt, became a legal requirement for lift trucks. For older trucks, a restraining system should be retro-fitted if there is a risk of the vehicle overturning and where the operator may be trapped between the truck and the ground.’

It continues: ‘that where restraining systems are fitted, they should be used and that covering the risks of not wearing a seat belt must be covered in lift truck training.’

With so many injured or killed in forklift incidents, around 8,000 accidents in the UK annually, the courts have got far tougher on seatbelt wearing in the workplace. This has been to such an extent that it is no longer considered adequate to either retrofit or wear a seat belt only if there may be a risk of overturn as stated in this guidance.

Since the generally held belief is that any forklift is now at risk of overturn, employers are advised to ensure seatbelts are always worn despite it not being stipulated in law.

Also, beware approved codes of practice (ACOP) have a quasi-legal status, so if you are not following the ACOP then you must be able to suitably demonstrate that you have managed the risk in another equally suitable way.

Changing attitudes towards safety

If seatbelt use has not previously been required therefore, a cultural change throughout your business is necessary. Forklift trainers should always cover seat belt use. For successful implementation, it’s important that staff understand why seatbelt use is required – citing recent deaths and prosecutions will help to get the message across.

Only after a three-month grace period should you consider disciplinary action. Our advice and implementation strategy is as follows:

1. Wear seat belts at all times when using lift trucks

2. Use recent incidents as examples

3. Issue safety memos to introduce the change across your business

Forklift training

Employers must therefore, ensure that they and their staff have the knowledge required to reduce the risk of accidents. All too often managers simply don’t have formal forklift truck safety training. This makes it harder for them to spot risks and take steps to keep staff safe. It’s also important therefore that anybody operating a forklift has the necessary training and certification.

Buckle up

If enforcement of seat belt wearing is proving difficult, there are new products that can help including brightly coloured seat belts that allow you to tell at a distance if it’s engaged. Adding sensors to the seat belt too means that the truck can’t be started without the seat belt clicked in – but beware, some drivers may just fit the belt behind them.

Forklift truck training together with health and safety risk management play a vital role in changing workplace culture, helping to generate a positive attitude towards safe forklift operation. If you are unsure that your forklift safety practice is up to scratch, always seek professional health and safety advice.