One of the the most hazardous pieces of equipment in modern workplaces is the forklift. Sadly it is also one of the most useful. A recent prosecution in Western Australia provides an example of many of the serious risks in using forklifts:
- untrained or undertrained drivers
- unsafe decisions by employers
- the safety role of seatbelts
- labour hire management and staff supervision
- driving with forks elevated
- training certification.
Other related issues are the employment of
- transient labour, and
- young workers.
According to a WorkSafe WA media release, the basic facts of the incident are
It was not part of their labouring job to operate forklifts, and neither had any experience or qualifications or High Risk Work licences. However, after having been employed at Beds Plus for two to three weeks, they were given a short lesson by a supervisor and instructed to operate the forklift.
In early March, one of the men unloaded a sea container and brought a pallet inside the warehouse using a forklift. He placed the pallet on the top level of shelving with the forks and mast fully extended.
He did not lower the forks and mast before driving towards the warehouse’s roller door, which was raised between five and six metres. The mast struck the roller door and began to tip over, and the labourer attempted to jump from the falling forklift.
As the forklift fell, the man’s right leg was trapped between the rollover protection structure on the forklift and the concrete floor. A second forklift was used to lift the forklift from the man’s leg, which was later amputated below the knee.”
Interestingly Flexi Staff has a webpage on its site detailing its commitment to safety. Whether this page existed prior to the prosecution is unclear. That page states that:
“Flexi Staff Pty Ltd values all of their clients and the Occupational Safety and Health Department aims to assist clients to provide a safe system or work and working environment. This is achieved by conducting worksite inspections, regular worksite visits and assisting clients to develop policies, procedures and safe work practices, where required.”
That page also includes many safety alerts but nothing concerning forklifts.
In the WorkSafe WA media release, the Acting WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said:
“Although a Flexi Staff Manager visited the Beds Plus workplace on a weekly basis, almost no effort was made to ensure workers were performing only the duties in their job descriptions, to communicate about changes of duties or to undertake hazard and risk assessments.”
This comparison of the promises of an employer with the reality of those promises may make the $A40,000 fine against Flexi Staff seem a little light on.
And there is nothing unique about companies in Western Australia as only today, 17 May 2011, the Victorian Ambulance Service reported:
“A man is in a serious condition after being crushed by a forklift near Springvale…”
The paramedic is quoted as saying:
‘The man told us he’d been crushed between a forklift and a tray truck… The 47-year-old suffered multiple fractured ribs and suspected internal bleeding in his abdominal area.”
WorkSafe Victoria is investigating.