Every year accidents involving pedestrians and workplace vehicles result in injury and tragically fatalities that could have been prevented with the right precautions. Recent data published by HSE shows that 135 workers were killed in work related accidents in the 2022/2023 reporting period and 15% of those fatalities were caused by being struck by moving vehicles HSE Work-related fatal injuries in Great Britain, 2023.
In the bustling environments of warehouses, factories and construction sites, forklift trucks serve as indispensable workhorses, effortlessly lifting and transporting heavy loads. While these machines are invaluable to industry, they also present a range of potential hazards, particularly for pedestrians who share their operational space, including collisions, overturning of vehicles and falling loads, to name just a few.
This article aims to shed light on the crucial safety measures necessary for pedestrians and forklift trucks to co-exist safely in the work environment. By understanding risks, adopting proper procedures and promoting a culture of awareness the likelihood of accidents can be severely reduced.
Workplace Transport Risk Assessment
In order to ensure a safe and secure work environment, it is imperative to conduct a thorough workplace transport risk assessment. This assessment aims to systematically identify, evaluate and address potential hazards associated with the movement of vehicles, mobile equipment and pedestrians throughout the workplace.
Workplace activities involving vehicles should be monitored over a reasonable period, to build a comprehensive picture of vehicle and pedestrian movements. It can also be advantageous to have a plan of the site to more easily visualise where vehicles are operating, the routes they take and what the potential hazards may be.
When identifying potential hazards consideration should be given to the features of the workplace, including the layout and condition of traffic routes, the vehicles themselves and the actions of drivers and others who may be near to the vehicles. Once the level of risk has been determined for each hazard, control measures can be implemented to ensure that the risk is lowered as far as reasonably practicable.
In the following sections, we will explore some of the crucial control measures that should be considered.
Organising and regulating the flow of vehicles within a workplace is crucial for minimising the risk of vehicle collisions, especially with pedestrians. Clear and well-defined vehicle routes should be established and designed so that the safety of pedestrians is not threatened. Roadways and footways should be separated wherever possible.
Speed limits for forklift trucks should be introduced and enforced, ensuring the limits are clearly displayed and operators made aware of them. One-way systems can also be implemented to provide clear and organised traffic flow and simplifying navigation within the workplace. One-way systems allow forklift operators and pedestrians to have a clear understanding of the direction they should be moving and allows anticipation of hazards as employees are aware of what direction the hazards will be coming from. By establishing a comprehensive traffic management plan and clear site safety rules that are trained out to all employees, the likelihood of accidents between pedestrians and forklift trucks can be reduced.
Safe Zones and Pedestrian Walkways Where Forklifts Operate
Safe zones and pedestrian walkways are major components of a comprehensive pedestrian safety scheme in areas where forklifts operate. Safe zones are designated areas within a workplace where pedestrians can move freely without the immediate risk of encountering forklift traffic. Typically, these areas are separated from traffic routes and are clearly marked to indicate their status as a safe area for pedestrians.
Pedestrian walkways are clearly marked pathways specifically designated for foot traffic around the workplace. They are separated from traffic routes and are often distinguished by floor markings or physical barriers such as guard rails or fencing. Road crossing points for pedestrians should be clearly marked with signage, zebra crossings and traffic lights should also be considered in high traffic areas.
Separating pedestrians from forklift trucks using safe zones and pedestrian walkways will reduce the risk of collisions and make for easier and safer workplace navigation for both parties.
Visibility is a critical aspect of pedestrian safety around forklift trucks. This refers to the ability of both the forklift operators and the pedestrians to see and be seen within the workplace.
Forklift operators have limited visibility, particularly around the rear and sides of the vehicle and around corners. Mirrors can be installed on to the forklift which can greatly improve the operators’ field of view and give operators greater awareness of the environment around them while manoeuvring. Additionally, larger convex blind spot mirrors can be erected in strategic locations of the workplace to give greater visibility for operators manoeuvring trucks around corners.
There are various types of lights available that can be fitted retrospectively to forklift trucks for the purpose of alerting pedestrians and other operators to the presence of a truck in their vicinity. Common types include:
- Amber warning or beacon lights, usually installed onto the top of the truck, can flash and rotate creating visible light flashes to make the trucks more visible to those in the area.
- Forklift strobe lights, installed onto the top of the truck, work similarly to amber warning lights and draw attention to the forklift truck whilst it is in operation. Strobe lights are of a higher light intensity than amber warning lights.
- Red zone lights project bright light onto the ground around the forklift truck to create an exclusion or danger zone. The light on the floor creates a clear boundary alerting employees that the area is not safe. Typically installed onto each side of the forklift.
- Blue spotlights project a blue light on the floor, a short distance in front of the forklift truck. This allows pedestrians to easily see if a forklift is nearby, even if they cannot see the forklift directly. This type of light is particularly useful when forklifts are operating in areas with blind spots.
- Red Arc lights project an arc shaped beam of light at the ground, usually to the rear of the vehicle, to warn employees of the rear end swing of the forklift.
It is important to not only consider the visibility of the forklift trucks but also the visibility of pedestrians to the truck operators.
High-visibility clothing, often referred to as hi-vis, is specially designed apparel made with brightly coloured and fluorescent materials combined with reflective strips. It is intended to make individuals more visible in low light levels or high traffic environments. Pedestrians must wear hi-vis clothing such as vests, jackets and trousers, in areas where forklifts operate.
Well-lit work areas, traffic routes and footways allow pedestrians to see clearly and be seen by others, including forklift operators, allowing both parties to anticipate any potential hazards and take appropriate precautions.
Forklift Collision Avoidance Systems
Collision avoidance systems can help to prevent vehicle collisions in the workplace. These come in the form of wearable devices for pedestrians, providing them with warning when near a vehicle, and UWB tracking installed on trucks so that they can be automatically slowed and stopped when an obstacle or hazard enters range, such as a pedestrian.
Safe Systems of Work for Forklift Operations
When utilising forklift trucks for operations, there is a tendency to think that having a person on foot assisting the operator with tasks such as loading, unloading and securing goods, can enhance efficiency. However, despite the temptation to rely on the vigilance of both pedestrians and operators to prevent accidents, this practice increases the likelihood of accidents occurring, particularly when employees may be distracted or fatigued. Not only are pedestrians at risk of direct collision with forklift trucks during operation, but there is also a risk of unstable loads falling from the forks, entrapment between forks and overturning vehicles.
In order to help combat this, tailored Safe Systems of Work can be developed for the various forklift operations, considering the unique hazards and risks associated with each task, identified from the risk assessment.
Safe Systems of Work are formal procedures for specific tasks which specify in a clear and standardised manner how to carry out the task safely from start to finish. They implement any controls measures arising from the risk assessment process so that identified hazards can be eliminated, where possible, and the work can be undertaken safely.
The Safe Systems of Work for any forklift operations should detail any specific measures required to keep all employees safe during their operation, for example:
- Operators to ensure that the area is clear of pedestrians prior to the start of the task. Depending on the level of risk this may go as far as requiring operators to set up additional physical barriers and signage to prevent pedestrian access while any loading or unloading operations take place.
- Pedestrians to remain 2m away from the forklift while in operation.
- Operators to switch off the engine and remove keys if a pedestrian enters the 2m zone around the truck.
- Any work required to be carried out on foot, for example pallet wrapping, should be undertaken separately from the forklift activity.
Once Safe Systems have been developed, it is crucial to communicate and train the SSOW to all relevant employees, including any pedestrians that may be in the vicinity while operations are taking place. SSOW also require regular review to ensure they remain adequate and effective.
Training for Forklift Operators
Training for forklift operators and pedestrians is crucial for maintaining a safe workplace. Operator training should always include Basic Training which covers the skills required to operate the truck safely and efficiently; Specific Job Training which provides an understanding of operating principles, controls of the lift truck and how it will be used in the workplace, and Familiarisation Training to apply what has been learnt under normal working conditions on the job. All employees should receive training in any Safe Systems of Work applicable to them.
Maintenance and Inspection for Forklift Trucks
Regular planned maintenance and inspection of forklift trucks are essential to ensure they operate safety and are critical aspects of ensuring pedestrian safety in the workplace. A planned routine maintenance system should be established for the reporting of defects, ensuring that any remedial work required is carried out.
Before operating a forklift, operators should perform a daily pre-use check to identify any visible issues or defects, including checks of the tyres, brakes, steering, forks, chains, hydraulics, alarms and lights.
A more thorough monthly inspection should be carried out in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations which includes oil and filter changes and mechanical adjustments, in addition to inspection of all safety related components.
Under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, forklifts must have a thorough examination at least every 12 months, by a competent person. Depending on the truck, the applications, attachments and intensity of work, a more regular examination may be required. The thorough examination serves as a full safety check and comprehensively covers all driving and lifting mechanisms of the truck.
The early detection of faults and defects on forklift trucks is vital. By adhering to the maintenance and inspection requirements for forklifts, employers can help to ensure that their trucks remain, safe, in working order and in compliance with industry standards and regulations which contributes to a safer working environment for both operators and pedestrians.
In conclusion, prioritising pedestrian safety around forklift trucks is paramount in any workplace where these vehicles are in operation. By implementing strict safety procedures, creating designated pedestrian walkways and ensuring clear visibility, the likelihood of accidents can be significantly reduced. Regular maintenance and inspections of forklifts, along with comprehensive training for both operators and pedestrians are integral to maintaining a safe working environment.