Collaboration raises the bar on forklift safety

Monday, 02 January, 2006

The dangers of forklifts in Victorian workplaces are being highlighted in new industry guidance material launched today by WorkSafe Victoria.

WorkSafe's executive director, John Merritt, said forklifts had killed 54 Victorians since 1985 and injured many more. The most recent death was in April at Laverton when a man was struck by the falling load from a forklift.

"A medium-sized forklift weighs about the same as the average dump truck. They can also cause the same amount of damage and injury. The surprising thing is that some workplaces still do not understand this simple message.

"If you had a dump truck in your workplace there would be strict controls on where and how fast they could go, what they carried and how loads were secured. The same must be the case for forklifts," Merritt said.

WorkSafe's 24-page booklet 'Forklift safety - reducing the risk, forklift instability' reminds employers, forklift operators and others in the workplace that if the machines are not used safely there is a high risk of serious injury or death.

"It won't be intended, but equally, it won't be an 'accident' as these incidents can be prevented. In places where forklifts are used, everyone needs to understand the potential risks and work to eliminate them," Merritt said.

The director of the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC), Professor Ian Johnston, said data obtained from a three-year project which investigated ways to improve forklift safety formed the basis of the new guidance material.

"Many of the limitations of forklifts are poorly understood. As the death and injury figures show, forklifts can be among the most dangerous pieces of equipment in the workplace.

"Put simply, forklifts can tip over or lose loads because of cornering too fast, striking low doors or beams and driving over inclines or uneven ground.

"Driving with raised forks, colliding with other vehicles, braking too quickly and towing disabled forklifts have also caused serious injuries and deaths."

Professor Johnston said the emergency stopping distance of a fully loaded forklift was often significantly underestimated when planning for pedestrian safety.

"Our research showed that a laden forklift cannot use its maximum braking as the load will slide or fall from the forks, or the forklift will tip over forwards," Professor Johnston said.

"Even at walking pace, a forklift needs at least three metres to stop."

"It's important that forklift operators have appropriate training and qualifications and that all staff are well supervised. Safety is a team game. If something goes wrong, everyone is the loser," Merritt said.

Topics covered in the guide include: the facts and risks about forklift stability, information on loading and load handling, traffic management, reducing risks and selecting a forklift.

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