Forklift trucks can reduce manual handling risks, but they can also introduce others
Follow our 14 best practice tips to improve forklift ergonomics and safety – because while they safeguard people from the effects of manual handling, they can also introduce new problems for both operators and the workplace environment.
Despite improvements in safety, workplace accidents and injuries involving forklifts are still common.
Approximately five people in the UK are injured every working day by accidents involving forklift trucks – that’s 1300 people a year (British Safety Council, 2017).
Over 20% of worker fatalities in 2018/19 were the result of individuals being struck by a moving vehicle (HSE, 2019).
Pedestrians account for 57% of UK injuries and fatalities resulting from forklift accidents (British Safety Council, 2017).
Risk factors and common injuries
Forklift operators are exposed to several risk factors including prolonged sitting, repetitive movement and vehicle vibrations. Musculoskeletal disorders can affect bone, muscles, tendons, nerves and other soft tissues, and often result in long-term pain or discomfort.
How common are musculoskeletal disorders?
In 2017/18, work-related musculoskeletal disorders made up 35% of all work-related ill health in Great Britain (HSE, 2018a).
In transportation and storage, as well as the warehousing sub-sector, 1.8% of employees suffer from work-related musculoskeletal disorders; this is significantly higher than the rate for employees across all industries (HSE, 2018b).
Given the above stats, there’s clearly an opportunity to optimise employee conduct and workplace environments regarding health and safety and the use of forklifts.
It’s the responsibility of employers to identify and take steps to reduce risks to employees in the workplace. In addition to conducting risk assessments, training is essential to increase employee awareness of issues around forklift ergonomics and safety.
14 best practice tips for better forklift ergonomics and safety
We have produced 14 best practice tips covering 5 fundamental themes, for both forklift operators and those around them:
Reduce the need for the operator to twist, by:
Providing a rotating seat
Eliminating visual blind spots using mirrors, cameras and sensors
Minimising the need to reverse.
Ensure that forklifts are clearly visible to other people in the workplace. They should be brightly coloured with headlights, flashing beacons and reflectors.
If the operator’s vision is reduced, for example when carrying large loads, use audible warnings to alert others to the forklift’s presence.
Train forklift operators how to position themselves in an ergonomic posture that allows them to reach all controls, and provides continuous lower back and upper leg support. Ensure that this can be achieved whilst wearing a seatbelt, when available.
Look for further provisions to support operator posture, such as seat and control adjustability, armrests or a headrest.
Prevent harsh acceleration and braking as it can cause whiplash. Enforce this through operator training, speed limiters and speed restrictions throughout the workplace.
Repair any imperfections to floor surfaces and ramps, as these may cause jolting. This could result in operator discomfort and distraction.
Strain & Injury
Use suspension systems to dampen seating and reduce vibrations. This will reduce the fatigue of muscles which can result in poor posture and musculoskeletal injury.
Allow for breaks every hour, and encourage operator stretching before, during, and after each shift. This will relieve tension in their neck, shoulders, back and forearms, which should help to reduce their risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders.
Reduce physical repetition by providing task rotation for the operators. Repeated movements can result in repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. System Concepts uses the ART (assessment of repetitive tasks) tool (HSE, 2010) to identify and reduce risks from repetitive upper body movements in operators.
Ensure that operators are educated in the importance of maintaining three points of contact when entering and exiting the forklift truck. This will increase stability and reduce the chance of slips and falls.
Ensure operators have access to medical advice if injury warning signs such as discomfort, pain, reduced movement and fatigue become apparent.
Clearly mark and segregate forklift and pedestrian routes on the ground and ensure that signed crossings are in low traffic areas, away from blind spots and operating zones.
Ensure all operators complete and maintain their safety certification and encourage employee reporting of any unsafe practice. Keep up to date with the latest guidance from the HSE.
Do you need specialist help with improving forklift ergonomics and safety?
At System Concepts our expert consultants and skilled ergonomists specialise in carrying out workplace assessments, manual handling evaluations and other ergonomic assessments to improve wellbeing, productivity and efficiency. We also deliver a wide variety of ergonomic training including workstation (DSE) assessor, manual handling and risk assessment, and regularly develop and deliver bespoke courses for our clients.
If you think that your workplace or employees could benefit from our expertise, please get in touch to discuss our health and safety or ergonomics services. https://www.system-concepts.com/health-safety-ergonomics/access-audit-disability-management/
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