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Engineering controls, such as physical barriers, are an effective way of isolating pedestrians from forklifts in operational areas of a warehouse

Traffic management and forklifts – By Keith Robinson

In this, the second of a three-part series of articles on site safety and traffic management, Keith Robinson turns his attention to forklifts and the challenges they create when it comes to keeping workers and site visitors safe.

According to WorkSafe NZ, there have been 11 deaths in New Zealand since 2013 that relate to forklifts – and 500 notifiable injuries. Of these injuries, over half (54%) relate to workers that were hit by a forklift, 27% were caused due to an interaction with the loads carried on a forklift, and 18% were as a result of a forklift tipping over. 

There is no way to calculate the number of non-notifiable injuries, near-misses or hits.

When we relate this to the hierarchy of controls, we have many mitigation options. The goal is always to implement strategies that relate to the higher levels of control. However, most organisations lack the imagination to move above a high-viz vest, steel-capped boots and a bit of training.

Eliminate

By moving frequently required products closer to the point of consumption, some forklift movements can be eliminated.

Substitute

Occasionally, forklifts can be substituted by other equipment such as conveyors.

Isolate

We can isolate people from forklifts by preventing non-essential people entering a warehouse, or reducing forklift travel distances by, for example, moving wrapping machines closer to the point of use. Requiring hoists to be driven a long distance to reach charging stations also adds to the risk of exposing machines to pedestrians.

If office staff must visit the warehouse for a reason (such as picking up paperwork), ask yourself how can the workflow be better organised to keep them away from hoist operation? For instance, can the warehouse admin function (or packing operations) be conducted within the pedestrian zones?

Engineering controls

Establish physical barriers between forklift areas and pedestrian zones. Forklifts are colour-blind so physical barriers are a lot more reliable than painted lines on the warehouse floor.

Administration

Painted walkways, signage, standard operating procedures (SOPs), training, high-viz workwear, forklift checks – these are the most common controls used in relation to forklift traffic management. They are also the least effective as they rely on humans to always do everything right, all the time!

PPE

Steel-capped shoes won’t save your foot if a forklift rolls over it. If this is your only protection in a warehouse against the risk of an accident with a forklift, it’s really an admission of failure on your part.

Implementing the controls

Having the appropriate controls in place is about 30% of the solution. To reach 100%, we need to ensure that the controls are followed, that the controls continue to work effectively, and that we evaluate continuously to ascertain if better solutions could be implemented.

Ensure controls are followed

Use checklists to ensure forklifts are operating where they should and how they should – look for locations, speed, use of horn, use of PPE, driver training. Walkways must be adhered to and speeds at the prescribed level, even when the boss isn’t on the site (the Checkmate technology can help here – see below). Training is necessary, but so is refresher training – and gauging the effectiveness of that training.

Ensure controls are working

Monitor incidents as well as near-misses and hits. Make random, documented observations – these are designed to critically evaluate the quality of current procedures and compliance to SOPs.

Continuous improvement

Work with all team members to ascertain better ways of doing things. Be proactive, not reactive (after someone has been hurt).

Technology can help

If the leadership team are not serious about ensuring that the workplace complies with the agreed policies and procedures, output and speed will soon be seen as the priority and the ‘normalising of non-compliance’ will occur. It will then take an incident to occur to enable a cultural change to bring things back under control.

Many organisations are relying on a forklift certificate as their only evidence of ‘current competence’ for drivers. If a worksite has any complications (e.g. is very busy, works shifts, uses different trucks such as counterbalance, reach, man-ups), it is appropriate to conduct a critical analysis as to whether the training would be sufficient. Generally, it isn’t.

Technology is working on coming to our rescue. Checkmate (www.checkmatenz.co.nz) is a technology that can help to ensure that forklift and racking checks are performed as and when planned. This can prevent plant failure. I-Gen Industries (www.igenindustries.com) designs software that can scan for static items (such as shelves and packing benches) or moving items (like other forklifts) and send out a loud signal alerting drivers and pedestrians to the close proximity of a hazard. This can prevent collisions. 

Then there is the issue of forklift safety in relation to truck drivers – but this will be reviewed in the last article in this series.

Keith Robinson is the principal of Dharma Advisory Services which runs a number of courses in supply chain management, including warehouse design and risk management  www.dharmaadvisory.com


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