In March 2019, a worker’s legs were severely crushed when he was struck by a reversing forklift in the loading bay of a timber factory. He had entered the loading bay on foot while the forklift was transporting materials. Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Forklifts are one of the most hazardous workplace vehicles and are frequently found in warehouses. Incidents involving forklifts are usually serious and often fatal. Whenever a forklift is used in a workplace, a traffic management plan must be implemented to ensure the safety of drivers and pedestrians.
A traffic management plan is a set of rules for managing the movement of traffic in your workplace. It should be developed by the PCBU in consultation with workers and others in the workplace. Everyone affected by the plan must understand it and follow it.
A traffic management plan should be specific to the current layout of the workplace and be designed around separating pedestrians and mobile plant such as forklifts. A traffic management plan should consider:
- reorganising the layout of the workplace to minimise areas shared by pedestrians and forklifts
- using physical barriers such as safety barriers, containment fences, bollards, or railed walkways where possible
- developing ‘no go’ zones for forklifts (pedestrian-only areas including clearly marked pedestrian crossings)
- developing ‘no go’ zones for pedestrians (forklift only areas)
- the physical environment: lighting, housekeeping and road surfaces
- movement in the workplace, traffic direction, destination, and volume
- high-visibility or reflective clothing for pedestrians and employees operating forklifts, and high-visibility markings for forklifts (although this is no substitute for physically separating pedestrians and forklifts)
- speed limits, signage and speed-limiting devices
- proximity devices that trigger signals, boom gates and warning signs and where signs will give advanced warning to pedestrians and operators
- blind spots caused by stationary equipment and vehicles
- a combination of audio (e.g. reversing alarms and horns) and visual (e.g. flashing lights) warning devices (make sure these are working when the forklift is operating)
- signs to indicate who must give way
- implementing and enforcing procedures that describe how pedestrians and forklifts must interact in different situations.
PCBUs must not allow a worker to operate a forklift unless they hold a current high-risk work licence for forklift trucks or are an authorised trainee.
The forklift operator should:
- not be distracted while operating a forklift, (for example if stopping to have a discussion with a pedestrian, do so only in a designated area)
- use the forklift truck only for the purpose for which it was designed
- hold a high-risk work licence to operate a forklift truck or be an authorised trainee
- wear a seatbelt where one is provided, the only exception is if a risk assessment advises otherwise (for example when operating a forklift truck on a wharf)
- maintain a clear view in the direction of travel at all times
- maintain a safe distance from other vehicles, only park or leave the forklift in a suitable area
- observe speed limits and ensure that a safe stop can be made at any time. Avoid rapid acceleration, deceleration and quick turns
- reduce speed when making a turn
- be conscious of people working nearby (for example, tail end swing). Do not allow people to walk beside an operating forklift.
- operate the forklift as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Since July 2013, on average each year 281 workers’ compensation claims are accepted that specifically relate to crush injuries involving forklifts. Forty per cent of these claims involve serious injuries with five or more days off work.
In the same period, we have been notified of 178 incidents involving people sustaining a crush injury or at risk of a serious crush injury by a forklift, and we have issued 114 statutory notices, across all industries, relating to the risk management of such incidents.
Prosecutions and compliance
In December 2016, a company was fined $35,000 after a worker was crushed by a pallet being moved by a forklift. The worker was kneeling to remove a product from another pallet when he was struck, resulting in broken ribs. The company was prosecuted for failing to monitor adequate traffic management procedures for mobile plant and pedestrians.
In August 2013, a large truck manufacturing business was fined $35,000 after a forklift reversed into a worker resulting in multiple fractures to his lower left leg. The magistrate also imposed a recognisance of $50,000 for one year.