Case study

How to steer clear of fork lift truck incidents in your warehouse

Nov 18, 2022 | Pallet Racking

Without the use of a fork lift truck (FLT), most warehouse operations would be non-functional. This is an essential piece of equipment which enables the necessary movement of heavy and bulky loads without struggle or delay and whilst this facilitates a more effective and productive operation, it’s important to be mindful of the potential dangers of operating a FLT without safe practices and conduct.

Although revolutionary, the use of a FLT can raise the risk of accidental injury within the warehouse environment because even the most skilled operator is susceptible to human error and when you add pedestrians, equipment and structures to the mix, it’s easy to see why potential dangers exist. FLT involvement accounts for a fourth of all vehicle related accidents in the workplace according to The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and such accidents can be prevented through strong supervision and adequate training.

So what are the factors contributing to FLT workplace accidents?

Improper manoeuvring – The most treacherous manoeuvre when operating a FLT is reversing because operators are required to look in the direction of travel whilst being aware of the truck’s complete surroundings. Just a quick look forward in the wrong moment and it’s easy for the truck to collide with pedestrians or objects. To minimise physical strain and increase handling capability, some FLT models incorporate a rotating seat which enhances visual range and safety as the manoeuvre is being carried out. In addition to sound signals, the projection of contrasting colours coming from the rear of the truck whilst reversing can also be an option to help ensure sufficient warnings in a noisy environment. Operators should always be conscious of speed, particularly when reversing because a higher speed can hinder awareness and responsive actions.

Restricted visibility – Large bulky loads are supported by the frontal forks of the truck whilst in transportation which means that from the operator’s position, visibility beyond the load can be largely obstructed and any pedestrians or obstructions along the route may not be easily detected. A classical technique is to carry the load nearer to the ground where it will sit below the operator’s sight-line, however the load may still cause a degree of visual obstruction which is why transporting the load in reverse is often the safest option as the rear of the truck is clear of the view blockage. PPE inclusive of high visibility clothing worn by all pedestrians will help operators detect employees and visitors who are within the trucks vicinity.

Instability – A FLT can rollover sideways or topple over front ways, both of which are caused by gravity imbalance which is commonly conflicted by overloading, uneven floor surface, speeding, aggressive acceleration or breaking and lack of training.

Speed of movement – Driving, reversing and taking corners too quickly will certainly put the safety of your workforce and operation at risk. Whilst FLT speed is limited by the manufacturer, a well trained operator will maintain a speed appropriate to the surrounding environment at all times. Some facilities, particularly those with high traffic levels enforce maximum speed limits in an effort to maximise safety whist maintaining productivity.

Obstructions – Random pallets, boxes and debris laying on the floor of the truck’s pathway can cause the operator to swerve swiftly increasing the risk of collision into nearby equipment, structures or pedestrians. Maintaining high standards in warehouse cleanliness will minimise such risks.

Minimising the risk of fork lift truck incidents

prevent FLT inidents infographic

Prioritise staff training

Whilst FLT operator training will enable the skills needed to control and manage the vehicle safely, all warehouse operatives should undergo warehouse safety training. A workforce with developed FLT awareness will be of mind to navigate cautiously and make collaborative efforts to keep themselves and each other safe. For pedestrians and FLT operators to coexist, effective communication in the form of eye contact and hand signals between the two parties is essential. This indicates awareness of each others presence and enables the pedestrian to proceed safely as the FLT operator pauses until the pathway is clear again. Whilst pedestrians have right of way, it should never be assumed that the FLT operator has spotted the pedestrian and that the truck will stop, which is why pedestrians should pay attention to the moving truck at all times. Sometimes, accidental damage can go unnoticed and this enables it to worsen over time. To prevent this rack inspection training for operative will equip your operatives with the awareness and competencies needed to detect the damage and take the necessary actions that will protect all staff, equipment and inventory.

Segregated walkways

Sometimes it may be necessary for the FLT to share its pathway with pedestrians, and for this reason, measures should be in place to ensure pedestrian safety is prioritised. Whilst the use of warning signs alerting pedestrians of FLT activity may help, this measure alone is often not enough and solutions to separate pedestrians from the FLT wherever possible need to be implemented.

A pedestrian walkway is a vehicle-free pathway along which employees and visitors can travel on foot with minimal risk of coming into contact with a moving FLT. The walkways are created using brightly coloured floor strips to make the pedestrian-only routes visible and railings which create a physical barrier. All pedestrians including employees and visitors must be alert to the safe route through training and briefing before access to the area is enabled.

Walkway created using paint and a physical barrier

Protection ancillaries

A pedestrian in a warehouse may be at risk of direct collisions with a moving FLT but there is also risk posed by structures that have weakened as a result FLT collision. Although robust, repeated knocks and bumps into the steel components of a pallet racking structure or mezzanine platform can weaken the integrity of the structure, particularly as the trucks are also made up of heavy steel. If the weakened area was to give way under the weight load, a collapse is probable, and to any persons in the vicinity of a collapsing racking structure, the risk of catastrophic or even fatal injury is significant.

Protection ancillaries are purposefully designed to prevent the structure from impact by forming a protective barrier around the vulnerable areas of the installation. An accidental collision would involve the robust protective barrier and FLT rather than the structure and FLT. Because the main body of the fork lift truck is normally the culprit, the protection ancillaries are fitted to protect the lower part of the following components:

Racking uprights – The working aisle can be a busy area with plenty of FLT movement and because a single aisle can comprise of numerous uprights, the base of these tall and vertically positioned components are at risk of impact from the FLT operating close by. With the use of upright protectors you can shield these crucial components from impact should the FLT veer towards them and in turn, prevent the rack from severe and costly damage. The steel protectors are fixed to the floor and surround the lower part of the upright where the FLT would be most likely to hit should an incident occur.

Rack end frames – Located just outside of the working aisle, rack end frames are vulnerable to the passing FLT as it makes its way to and from the aisle opening. Rack end barriers are fixed to the floor just in front of the end frames where they can protect the components from accidental impact.

Tubular barriers on Wide aisle or adjustable pallet racking

Mezzanine floor columns – Extending from the ground floor and standing vertically, the mezzanine floor columns have the important role of supporting the primary beams and upholding the weight load of the platform. In a busy warehouse setting it would be easy for a FLT to bump into these columns and although robust the columns can become weakened by this, particularly if impact is repetitive. By placing robust, steel column guards around the lower part of the column, the FLT will bump the guard rather then the component.

At WSL, our in-house manufacturing capabilities are certified to UKCA and in addition, we hold Full SEMA Membership. This reflects our commitment to high quality and safety levels, giving you assurance that the design and fabrication of your bespoke upright protectors, rack end barriers and column guards offer maximum protection. All our protection ancillaries are manufactured using steel and are available in a range of bright colours to help increase visibility which will help alert the operator of the structures in good time.

Enforce safe working practices and behaviour

Clutter, neglected damage, debris and spillages combined with unsafe behaviour in the warehouse will make FLT navigation extremely hazardous. Misconduct or improper handling of the FLT should never be acceptable because just one serious incident can have real consequences, sometimes so severe that the warehouse is forced to close. The enforcement of safe working practices should be uncompromising with regularity in protocol training and retaining to ensure continuous knowledge and competence across the workforce.

Maintain the safety of working equipment

Whilst acting to ensure employees gain the knowledge and obtain the training required keep themselves and others safe, you must also commit to limiting unnecessary risks to employees when using equipment required in order for them to fulfill their duties.

To ensure the management of risks involved in equipment use, the structures, machines and vehicles used by employees must conform to Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER). Safety inspections carried out periodically will help you fulfill this crucial duty of care and legal obligation to your employees. An annual pallet racking inspection completed by a professional inspector will detect any underlying weaknesses or faults in the structure that may be at risk of eventual collapse.The most common cause of damage to a racking or mezzanine floor structure is FLT collision which also increases the risk of damage to the FLT. As a vehicle designed to lift heavy loads, the safety standards of your FLT must also meet Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) which are designed to increase the safety of your operators as they work.  Annual servicing and safety checks will help ensure the safety of your FLT vehicle remains consistent.

For effective advise on selecting the right safety equipment and ancillaries that will keep your warehouse safe from FLT incidents, call 0113 2045350 or email sales@wslmail.co.uk and speak to a member of our expert team today!

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