There was no initial pain, just the shock

5 mins read

Gordon Rose was crushed into a concrete wall by a reversing forklift in a factory in 1991. Max Gosney finds how he's fought back and asks why some sites are still shirking safety 23 years on.

It was just another day at the dog food factory in Hetton-le-Hole for shopfloor worker Gordon Rose. Ensconced in the sanctuary of his ear defenders, the 21-year-old pictured his three-month old son's first smile as he walked through the door that evening. He glanced up to see his usually jovial co-workers staring at him in wide-eyed horror. A moment later and bone ricocheted against concrete as a two tonne steel forklift pile-drivered Gordon against the factory wall. "I remember the shock," says Rose of that fateful day in 1991. "There was no initial pain, just the shock." The pain would come during the 10 agonising minutes waiting for the paramedics to arrive, the four-and-a-half torturous months in a hospital bed and brutal flashbacks triggered by post-traumatic stress disorder. But the real tragedy of the Gordon Rose story is not the physical damage inflicted by the forklift truck. Nor the mental scars he's left with, or the lament over the days he never spent kicking a ball around with his boy on Wearside. It's not even the fact that the forklift truck driver that day was a close friend. The real weep into your shirtsleeve moment is delivered by an HSE press release published 22 years after the accident. The document details the prosecution of a manufacturer for safety failings that led to an employee being crushed by a giant 200kg fish tank that toppled off a forklift. The victim broke both his legs and had his right leg amputated below the knee. Ignorance, it seems, is alive and well in 2014. "We had a machine last week that had lost the use of its brakes," says Gavin Wickham, operations director at forklift truck distributor, Briggs Equipment. "We strongly advised the customer that machine was not used before we came to pick the truck up. But the customer simply refused to stop using it. He probably stopped it by bumping into pallets." The bump stop is just one signature move among cowboy operators, adds Wickham. "Often we have customers who are using trucks outside of the safety parameters. A classic is lifting up a load weighing three tonnes on a two-and-a-half tonne capacity machine." But, accidents don't just affect the reckless. Even the most reputable manufacturing site is awash with potential hazards. Pedestrians, blindspots, ramps – there's plenty to bring the most conscientious manager out in a cold sweat. Luckily truck manufacturers are alive to the dangers. "We have a seat belt interlock so the forklift won't drive unless the seat belt is engaged, " explains Martin McVicar, MD at Combilift/Aisle-Master, which manufactures specialist trucks for use with long loads and in narrow aisles. "We've options of driver access keypads so only nominated drivers can start the forklift."Extensive driver training is a cornerstone of a safer site says McVicar. The trailblazers are twinning this with technology to supplement workplace safety, explains McVicar. "Some companies are adding speed control sensors to limit a Combilift to 5mph inside the site and then, when it goes outside, it can increase to 10mph. The zones are radio frequency controlled." Trucks can also be fitted with standard speed limiters free of charge, adds McVicar. Jungheinrich is another truck manufacturer using technology to trump human error. The company's electric-powered EFG Series truck is fitted with an easy-to-use SnapFit battery changing mechanism in response to incidents like those encountered at plastic packaging manufacturer Sharpak. An experienced lift truck operator at the firm's Yate site spilt the battery she was removing from a truck on to the floor, leading to an expensive clean up. "Our forklift supplier at the time... shrugged the event off as human error," recalls Sharpak Yates's logistics manager, Karl Traynor." Of course, people are responsible for 99.9% of all accidents, but we wanted to see if there was something available that minimised the likelihood of the same thing happening again." Nothing is 100% guaranteed. A look at HSE statistics reveals 13 workers were killed by a moving vehicle in 2013. Proof that miracle cures aren't arriving anytime soon. But that shouldn't stop you taking proactive steps to protect your plant today. Go for the right blend of training and technology and ensure your shopfloor doesn't become the setting for the next Gordon Rose story. "Everybody's perception is it will never happen to them," says Rose. "I was 21 years old. I had a family, a newborn son. Make sure you train your drivers and keep their training up to date. Look out for one another – someone could walk out in front of a truck at any second." Gordon Rose: From tragedy to triumph "It's funny how life turns in circles," remarks Gordon Rose without any intended irony as he enthuses about his life reborn as a health and safety trainer. Rose set up Rose Health and Safety Training consultancy with his wife, Adele, to help protect others from suffering the workplace accident that has left him with lifelong injuries. His work brings him face-to-face with his nemesis. "I have no fear of a forklift now," he says. "It took a long time though. I suffered from post-traumatic stress in the immediate months after the accident. There were nightmares, flashbacks and I had to have counselling." Rose survived that day in 1991 thanks to an anomaly in the factory's wall design, he explains. "It had a benching curve shape at the bottom. This curvature acted as a survival space, dissipating some of the force of the impact." The incident highlights one of the most common and deadly accident scenarios – a reversing truck striking an oblivious pedestrian. Rose says: "The forklift truck was in an area where it should not have been. I was wearing ear protectors so didn't hear it coming." The driver was unsighted and failed to spot Gordon. The vehicle wasn't equipped with a warning siren, which is standard in modern trucks. The forklift truck driver admitted liability and there was no prosecution of the manufacturer involved. "He was, and remains, a very good friend," says Gordon. "It was hard, really hard. He is a good guy and I have forgiven him long ago." Rose made a fleeting return to the shopfloor seven years after the accident, but found the work too physically demanding for his injuries. He now helps others avoid the same fate. Proof that it takes more than a two tonne truck to keep a good man down. Four common accidents and how to avoid them 1 The pedestrian blindspot How it happens: A pedestrian steps out from a blindspot and into the path of a truck, giving the hapless driver a test of reaction speed to stretch the synapses of a fighter pilot. How to stop it happening: - operate pedestrian walkways, crossings and stick to them - educate your workforce on the importance of vigilance - stop drivers travelling with bulky loads that will block their view - ban mobile phone use on heavy traffic routes. 2 The reverse ram How it happens: Both driver and pedestrian adopt a catastrophic collision course caused by assumption. The pedestrian assumes the forklift driver has seen them. The driver, in turn, assumes no one is behind them and even if they were will hear his warning honk and move. The trouble is horns can be hard to hear for someone wearing ear defenders. How to stop it happening: - ensure pedestrians never approach trucks from the rear - try to segregate busy truck throughfares from populated work areas wherever possible - make sure drivers are performing all-round visibility checks before a change of direction and reversing in particular. Drivers should always look in the direction of travel. 3 The top heavy tip-down How it happens: Bravado overrides common sense as the driver ignores lifting capacity guidelines and decides to wing it with a heavy load. The truck tilts forward under the weight. How to stop it happening: - never lift loads greater than the capacity of the truck. You'll find these printed on the load capacity plate or ring the manufacturer - make sure heavy loads are carried evenly with materials kept against the vertical face of the forks - make sure drivers are trained to use the truck they're operating. 4 The rack attack How it happens: A careless oversteer here, or a driver using a truck they're unqualified for there, and the merest kiss of the base of a racking unit sends an entire shelving unit and thousands of pounds of stock plummeting to the floor. How to stop it happening: - use specially designed reach or pivot trucks in narrow aisles - make sure drivers are extra vigilant when passing near known collision areas - use speed limiters. Slowing down gives drivers more time to react to danger. Watch all four accidents: Watch safety video advice at: