Is forklift safety a fantasy of OHS professionals?

Recently a colleague brought a YouTube video on forklift safety to the attention of SafetyAtWorkBlog.  The video illustrates the risks associated with jumping from a tilting forklift.  By comparing this to a mouse trap, the Washington Department of Labor & Industry (DLI) is illustrating the importance of the safety cage on forklifts and the role of seatbelts.  The video is from around 2005 and remains fundamentally sound in its advice.

Seatbelts are a continuously contentious safety advice on forklifts, not because they do not work, but because very few forklift operators use them.  Yet the seatbelt restraint is integral to the driver’s safety in a tipping forklift as the video below illustrates.

Few drivers use seatbelt because they are not in the forklift very long before they need to get off to undertake a different task.  In most workplaces, forklift drivers are on an off the vehicle frequently, every couple of minutes and it is “just not practical” to keep fastening and unfastening a seat belt.

From a practical driver/warehousing perspective, this attitude is understandable.  But the OHS professional perspective would say that such actions are unsafe acts and compromise the safety of the driver in the event of a tipover.  Safety devices are provided but are not used.

This balancing is a crucial element in workplace safety management and viewing the actions of any forklift driver for only a couple of minutes can provide one with a pretty good indication of the safety culture of the workplace.

If a single driver uses the seatbelt appropriately, there is, at least, a good personal safety approach.  If multiple drivers use the seatbelts appropriately, there is the basis for a good safety culture.  If the supervisors, and others, enforce the wearing of a seatbelt on a forklift, there is a good safety culture.

The use of the seatbelt should be integrated into the production/operational parameters of work tasks.  Workers should not be made uncomfortable for taking time to look after their own safety but there is usually considerable peer and operational pressure to take the shortcut of driving without the belt being fastened.

The wearing of seatbelts on a forklift should never have been a contentious safety issue and the fact that it has persisted is a clear indication that safety values are not embedded in societal or workplace cultures.  A major risk comes when OHS inspectors and safety professionals equivocate on the issue.  They must always be on the side of safety.  Seat belts need to be worn at all times, at least until a better restraint or forklift design is developed. or until “someone builds a better mousetrap”.

Note: DLI has established a YouTube channel on which the “Stay in The Cage” video will shortly be made available.   Thanks go to DLI for their assistance in verifying the authenticity of this video.

Kevin Jones

6 thoughts on “Is forklift safety a fantasy of OHS professionals?”

  1. This emphasizes the need for ongoing driver and operator training, by far the most common accidents associated with FLTs and HGVs are falls from vehicles due to operator error. We here in the UK deliver ongoing periodic formal driver safety training.

  2. A very important point, the thing about the practicality of whipping the seat belt on and off. A recent safety review had me watching a client\’s forklift driver doing some work. Not surprisingly the seat belt was clipped in when he started, but the bloke was doing some minor shifting of a stillage and after that first clip in the seat belt was ignored, even with the Safety Bloke watching on.

    It bites us all to be telling a punter that the forklift drivers must always clip in whenever the bum is on the seat. We know, and they know it just isn\’t gunna happen. Roger, in OH&S World it\’s always a balancing act between compliance, injury prevention objectivity and practicality, but hey, that\’s what we are paid to do. Would be good if regulators understood that and it was reflected in guidance stuff.

    All that said, I think we are being let down by designers. I\’m sure the punters understand the merit of seat belt wearing, but the damn things are such a pain to lock in. I don\’t understand why simple pull down bar restraints haven\’t become standard. Those type of restraints have been used for years in amusement structures and it would seem that the ROP for a forklift provides ample anchoring and fixing points for a simple pull over or swing down padded restraint bar. It\’s not going to mean a driver is gunna be more inclined to use it when the driver is on a job where getting in and out quickly is essential, but I suspect it would be used a lot more than a seat belt for travelling from point to point and high load retrieval work.

    Col Finnie
    fini:OHS

    1. Col

      The bar restraint should be considered as an option. I think redesign is going to be the solution to forklift driver safety.

      I may log that in as one of my questions I will be asking forklift exhibitors at an upcoming OHS trade show in Melbourne.

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