Fork lift trucks: handle with care

Fork lIft TrucksFork lift trucks are potentially very dangerous pieces of work equipment. Here we consider some recent cases involving fork lift trucks that illustrate where things can go wrong.

The use of a fork lift truck for complex operations should be thought through and the whole operation planned. Failure to do so can have serious consequences. People and trucks should be separated within the workplace to reduce the incidence of serious injury: this should be achieved through risk assessment. It cannot be overstated that the use of fork lift trucks must be restricted to trained and authorised persons.

The importance of planning

In February 2013, a Manchester based metal manufacturer (AF) was sentenced following the death of a 25-year-old employee (BD), who was killed when a machine weighing half a tonne fell from a fork lift truck. As with nearly all such accidents, this fatality was avoidable.

BD was walking alongside the fork lift as it moved the fourth machine at the AF site when it became unstable, fell and struck him on the head. He died at the scene. The court heard that AF had taken over the factory six weeks before the incident, but had not carried out a health and safety audit of the new premises. The firm also failed to inform its own trained engineer responsible for overseeing lifting operations that it was planning to move the machines at the plant.

Further investigation revealed that the fork lift operator who lifted the machine had attended a one-day driver training course in October 2006, but that he was not trained and competent to lift complicated loads that were not on pallets. He was not competent to move this load. The HSE investigation into the incident found that AF had not planned the work in advance so that the machine could be moved safely.

AF, which went into administration before the trial, was found guilty of breaching s.2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by failing to ensure the safety of its employees. The company received a nominal fine of £1. After the trial, an HSE inspector commented: “If the machine had been strapped to the forks, and workers told to stay a safe distance away, then [BD’s] death could have been avoided.”

Separating people from vehiclesFork lift truck 2

A paper mill (PM) has been fined following serious injury to one of its employees, who suffered several fractures to his leg and foot. The investigation by the HSE concluded that this, too, could have been avoided if simple safety precautions had been taken.

The court heard that the man was in an aisle in the warehouse taking tickets off pallets that were filled with paper goods. The pallets were then to be put on racks at either side of the aisle. A colleague was using a fork lift truck in the same aisle. He reversed and backed into the worker, crushing him between the truck and a pallet. The man suffered three breaks in his right ankle as well as two fractures to his left leg. He has been able to return to work at the firm on light duties.

PM was fined £5000 and ordered to pay £3069 in costs after admitting a breach of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

After the case, an HSE inspector said: “The incident was entirely preventable. PM failed to make sure that there was a safe vehicle and pedestrian system of work in place within their warehouse. Such a measure would have prevented vehicles being able to access areas where workers on foot were moving around. Such a system was entirely possible without any detriment to the work being done.”

Stopping the movement of vehicles when necessary

A chemicals company (NR) has been fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £3139 in costs after pleading guilty to single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. An experienced, long-serving employee, who had worked for the company more than 40 years, was hit by a fork lift truck (which was carrying a one tonne pallet) as he carried out maintenance on a drain on the NR site. He suffered major crush injuries to his right leg and had to undergo an above-the-knee amputation in hospital. He also sustained ligament damage to his left leg, a dislocated left elbow and was in hospital for some four weeks. He has been unable to return to work at NR.

After the hearing, an HSE inspector commented: “It would have been relatively easy for NR to close the road down for the 15-minute period that was needed to seal the drain cover”.

Fork lift 3Pay heed to the pay load

A fork lift truck driver narrowly escaped being killed when the vehicle he was operating overturned; his employer was prosecuted and fined £18,000. The worker was using the truck to align a one-and-a-half tonne storage container on top of a stack of containers when it overturned. The employer was prosecuted by the HSE after its investigation found the container was more than two and a half times the safe lifting capacity of the fork lift.

Magistrates heard that one of the company’s employees had used the fork lift truck to lift the storage container, filled with books and magazines, on top of a stack of three other containers the day before the incident. As he lifted it, the rear wheel on the left hand side of the truck lifted off the ground and the container was left overhanging the top of the stack, more than seven metres in the air. The following day, a supervisor was asked to assess if the fork lift truck could be returned to a stable position and the overhanging container aligned. He strapped himself in and tried to move the container. The fork lift overturned. He escaped without any injuries.

The company admitted breaching the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 by failing to provide suitable work equipment. The company, which is part of a global removals, storage and shipping group, also pleaded guilty to a breach of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 after it failed to make sure the work was planned and carried out safety. The firm was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £3860 in prosecution costs.

Speaking after the hearing, the investigating inspector at the HSE said: “The worker at the warehouse was lucky not to have been seriously injured or even to have lost his life as a result of the fork lift truck overturning… The company specialises in storage and removals and so it regularly uses fork lift trucks to move containers. It made a basic error by failing to assess the weight of the container before allowing it to be lifted… The container was much heavier than most of the others at the warehouse, and the contents should have been split before it was stacked… Sadly, overturned vehicles cause several deaths in British workplaces every year. Employers must do more to make sure lives aren’t put at risk.”

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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