WorkSafe executive director John Merritt warns that forklifts are among the most common and dangerous pieces of equipment in Victorian workplaces.
Freight distribution company Asixa was convicted and fined AUD250,000 last week after pleading guilty to two workplace health and safety charges laid as a result of a serious forklift-related injury which occurred three years ago.
The incident occurred when a man was using a forklift to unload glass from a truck at Asixa's warehouse. The man, who was hurt while driving the forklift, did not have a certificate of competency to operate the machine and he had not been given information, instruction or training on the forklift which was introduced to the workplace on the day he was hurt.
Two other workers helped unload the glass from a truck but the tines of the new forklift would not fit under the crate properly.
They managed to lean the crate against the backrest of the forklift tines, and the machine was reversed into the warehouse because the load obscured the operator's forward vision.
At some point, the forklift driver got off the machine to adjust the load, and it was then that the 700kg crate of glass fell on him. He remains in a permanent vegetative state.
WorkSafe inspectors prohibited the movement of glass packs without an appropriate lifting device and forklift operation without operators holding an appropriate certificate of competency.
Asixa made safety improvements after the event, including assessment and training of
forklift operators; new risk assessments and induction policies; training for unsecured or problem freight as well as first aid training for a number of employees.
However, the judge said that although safety improvements had since been made, they should have been made sooner.
WorkSafe's executive director John Merritt says the shocking and disastrous outcome for the injured man and his family is a warning to everyone that the potential for workplace deaths was not the only issue to be addressed.
"Apart from the deaths, every year there are amputations of hands, fingers, arms and legs, people end up in wheelchairs, brain damaged or living with the assistance of machines.
"Forklifts are among the most common and dangerous pieces of equipment in Victorian workplaces yet serious incidents still occur, frequently to people with inadequate training.
"Although 56 people have died as a result of forklift incidents in Victoria since 1985 - one-third involving people hit by falling loads - there are many more where they suffer serious and often permanent injury."
WorkSafe has a range of publications on safe forklift practices. These can be found online at www.worksafe.vic.gov.au in the publications section.