Mechanical aids and lifting equipment are designed to make handling of materials safer and more efficient by minimising risk and reducing manual labour.
However, machinery and equipment can often introduce new hazards and risks to a workplace if they are unsuitable for the work environment or the type of work being carried out. These hazards and risks that can arise in a range of workplaces and industries have resulted in sprains, strains and serious impact injuries to operators and others in the work zone.
Manufacturers, distributors and suppliers of equipment are sources of information and advice on the most efficient design, capacity and type of equipment to improve productivity and safety. Advice is available on how to operate equipment safely and securely and how to maintain in a safe working condition to avoid mechanical failures that may increase risk of use.
Ultimately the effectiveness of a solution utilizing mechanical aids and equipment depends on choosing the most suitable and fit-for-purpose equipment for the particular application, ensuring it is maintained in a fit-for-use condition and having workers who will be using the equipment receive the necessary instruction and supervision.
The range of well-designed and safe to use materials handling equipment for warehousing and storage applications continues to expand to include more advanced manual handling aids and lifting equipment. The list includes:
Forklifts are one of the most important and widely used pieces of equipment in workplaces for their speed and efficiency in moving heavy and bulky machines. They are also one of the major causes of injuries and even death in storage, handling and transport work.
Common incidents are collisions, rollovers, falling loads and collapsing structures. Workers and pedestrians have been struck by forklifts and operators have been crushed by forklifts tipping or loads falling and other workers falling from forklifts while they were being used as a temporary platform for working at height.
This is why the productivity forklifts provide in movement of materials must be matched by adequate operational and safety procedures. They must only be driven by trained operators who fully understand the capabilities and risks of using the equipment.
Maintaining a safe and productive environment in a storage and handling workplace where both forklifts and workers on foot may be working in proximity requires consideration of these factors and putting appropriate solutions in place for each one:
Checking off the following list of solutions related to the above risk categories may help ensure forklift operations are safe:
Workplace environment safety solutions, depending on the type of workplace, and level of traffic, include:
Type of forklift to select may require considering:
Operator skill and ability to do the work effectively and safely requires:
Condition of forklift for effective and safety operation needs to be maintained by:
Safe work procedures related to workplace, machine and operator to ensure the work is done with minimal risk includes:
The general elements of a risk assessment (see “What the law says”) when introducing a forklift to a workplace and operating it safely should be applied when selecting a model and identifying any risks that may be introduced by the new equipment eg increased risk of colliding with other workers in a busy workplace would require an improved traffic management plan.
Businesses should identify and manage any risk at their workplace from using a forklift in their workplace, on a regular basis, because of the potential risk. This should be triggered every time there is a change at the workplace or an incident, even if no-one was hurt (a “near miss”).
What the law says
Workplace health and safety laws common to all states and territories apply a primary duty of legal care on businesses. They must ensure, among other things, the safe use, handling and storage of plant … and ensure that the fixtures, fittings and plant are without risks or use.
“Plant” means any type of mechanical powered or unpowered equipment, machinery or vehicles used at work and that includes forklifts. Forklifts, or “industrial lift trucks” as they are known under workplace safety laws, are classified as high risk plant because of the risk. Operators must be trained by an approved workplace safety trainer and obtain a “forklift licence” issued by the local OHS regulator under supporting plant regulations.
These regulations also impose detailed requirements on businesses to control risk when using any type of plant and, in relation to industrial lift trucks alone, ensure that equipment has lifting attachments that are suitable for the load and there is minimal risk to the operators and others from the manner the equipment is operated and from the work procedures and environment where the equipment is used.
Advice on planning forklift safety can be found on the website of the local OHS regulators as well as Safe Work Australia (SWA). For example: