Stuart Taylor is Managing Director of Mentor FLT Training Limited, the UK’s leading provider of training and associated services for all types of materials handling equipment and workplace transport.
Due to the nature of forklifts and the serious consequences of any associated accidents, it is vital that they are only used by those who have been fully trained to do so safely. Sadly, numerous accidents happen every year involving untrained personnel as, all too often, people underestimate the risks, with life-changing and costly consequences.
Just last year, a UK company pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety rules after a driver who had not been trained to use a telehandler ran over a colleague, resulting in serious injuries and a GBP60,000 fine.
Managers need to ensure that only trained operators can access forklifts, as only they will have the ability and understanding to work safely. The good news is there are several control measures that can be implemented to do this and help reduce risk on site.
Remember to refer to your local regulations regarding lift truck operation and training. In the UK, the definitive guide to forklift training and safe use is Approved Code of Practice L117, but legislation will differ around the world, so it is essential to follow the laws and guidance where you are.
Issuing authorisation to operate
According to L117, before anyone can operate forklifts on your site, they need written authorisation to do so. This should only be given after all relevant training has been completed and should state the operator’s name, date of authorisation, types and/or categories of truck and any special considerations — for example, lifting height restrictions. Authorisation should also be specific to the task to ensure everything stays controlled and within the scope of what was covered during training. Without authorisation, no-one should be allowed access to forklift trucks on your site.
Use access controls
Once written authorisation is in place, only authorised individuals should be issued access to your lift trucks. Where physical keys are used, L117 recommends that they are kept in a secure location under the control of a responsible person, and once issued, keys should stay with the operator until the end of the work period.
However, electronic access controls are becoming increasingly popular, for example:
- Pin code access: operators must input a code before operating the truck;
- Integrated card reader: the operator swipes a valid badge or card over a sensor.
Such access systems also provide a useful way of tracking where and when trucks are used as part of a fleet management system for greater operator accountability and reviewing any incidents.
Controls like these significantly reduce the risk of unauthorised or untrained drivers operating a vehicle and potentially causing an accident that could significantly cost your operators, their colleagues and your business.
To ensure trained operators understand the procedure on your site, access control measures should be covered in specific job training. L117 states: “Specific job training should include, where appropriate: safe systems of work, such as custody arrangements to ensure keys are never left in unattended lift trucks, or where they are freely available, to prevent unauthorised operators using them.”
Make trucks safe before leaving unattended
To reduce risk further, trucks that are not in use should be safely parked and shut down – ideally in a secure or supervised area. Any keys should be removed and returned. L117 also recommends that on LPG trucks, if the truck is to be left for some time, the gas supply should be shut off.
It is here that a manager’s role is key. Those overseeing operations have a responsibility to be vigilant in their supervision, and to ensure untrained operators cannot access unattended lift trucks.
This also extends to visiting drivers. Managers should be sure to assess operating standards and qualifications before allowing visitors or contractors to use lift trucks on site, and make it clear that they can only operate with authorisation.
Equip managers with knowledge and confidence
To uphold safety on site, managers must be able to recognise the risks associated with forklift operation, including the importance of access controls. If those responsible are in any doubt, there are dedicated training courses available that provide managers and supervisors the skills to proactively and effectively oversee forklift use, including monitoring and providing authorisation to operate. Such training will aid managers in communicating a clear message to staff: forklift trucks are extremely dangerous if operated incorrectly, and unauthorised use is strictly forbidden.