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Forklift trucks – Warehousing - Spotlight on workplace transport safety

Although essential equipment in warehousing and storage, forklifts pose a major risk to employees and non-employees when operated incorrectly.

Weightmans’ Regulatory team are currently instructed on several health and safety investigations involving forklift trucks in warehouse settings. Whilst being essential equipment in warehousing and storage facilities, forklifts can also pose a significant risk to employees and non-employees when operated incorrectly and when safe systems of work are not followed.

Vehicles at work continue to be a major cause of fatal and significant injuries. Being struck by a moving vehicle accounted for 23 fatal injuries to workers in 2021/22, representing 19% of the total number of work-related deaths over the year. When it comes to enforcement activity by the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) and Local Authorities, workplace transport remains a priority.

Accidents involving forklifts are often due to poor supervision and a lack of training. Employers are required to provide basic training and testing for all forklift-truck operators. Properly trained operators can reduce the risk of forklift-truck accidents in your workplace.

Top tips for keeping employees and visitors safe and satisfying the Regulators

  1. Assess the risks for the movement of traffic on site and record them.
  2. Ensure that staff (including agency workers) have received appropriate training (and that this has been confirmed in writing and competence checked).
  3. Document safe systems of work e.g., for the movement of traffic and for the loading/unloading of vehicles.
  4. Ensure that there is sufficient oversight and supervision of working practices.
  5. Ensure that premises are maintained in a safe condition and organised in such a way that pedestrians and vehicles can circulate in a safe manner.
  6. Have robust, documented systems in place for maintaining and inspecting vehicles.
  7. Keep your systems under review and consider any changes.
  8. Review guidance issued by the HSE on safe working with forklift trucks and workplace transport safety, including the Approved Code of Practice.

HSE Case Study

A cardboard manufacturer has recently been sentenced after a visiting lorry driver suffered life changing injuries when he was struck by a forklift truck.

Peterlee Magistrates’ Court heard that on 27 August 2019, the driver was assisting in the loading of pallets of cardboard tubes onto his vehicle at a delivery yard in Stanley, County Durham. In the course of loading the second pallet, the forklift truck being used to lift the pallets reversed and struck the driver, causing crush injuries to his right leg.

An investigation by the HSE into the incident found that Corespec Limited failed to organise the delivery yard at the premises in such a way that pedestrians and vehicles could work in a safe manner. This was because of a lack of suitable segregation between pedestrians and vehicles.

Corespec Limited, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 17(1) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 which stipulates that every workplace shall be organised in such a way that pedestrians and vehicles can circulate in a safe manner. The company was fined £117,585 and ordered to pay £5,404 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Ashfaq Ali said “This injury was easily preventable. Planning for transport safety and implementing safe working practices should avoid such incidents. Workplace transport is a significant hazard, and the risks must be recognised and managed. There are simple and effective measures employers can take to help keep everyone safe. Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required safety standards.”

Prioritising a culture of safety

There is always a lot to consider when ensuring safety in a workplace transport setting and employers should look to prioritise a culture of safety as part of undertaking suitable risk assessments, providing training and implementing safe systems of work as part of their overall health and safety arrangements.

In the event of a significant incident, it is so important that employers seek early legal advice which is so often vital in shaping the response of an organisation. In addition to any potentially serious human impact, companies need to be prepared and have appropriate systems in place otherwise the penalties could be severe.

Our specialist team of health and safety solicitors provide organisations with a comprehensive service to help achieve compliance with regulatory requirements and robust support in the event of a serious health and safety incident.