Forklifts come with risks no matter what the time of the year. However, when the winter brings cold, wet and icy weather, the risks can significantly increase. Kelly Friel is the Digital Product Manager from PPE and tool retailer, Zoro. Here, she explains how you can improve your forklift truck safety during the colder months.
If you work in construction or warehousing, forklifts can be a lifeline to your daily duties. But, while they can be incredibly useful in shaving down labour time and removing the need for workers to move heavy materials, they can pose a lot of health and safety issues. According to latest statistics reported to the HSE, some of the main causes of worker fatality include being struck by a moving vehicle (20%), trapped by something collapsing or overturning (15%), and contact with moving machinery (11%) — all of which are possibilities when working with, or around, powerful machinery like forklifts (Workplace Fatal Injuries in Great Britain, 2020).
And, with winter on the horizon, the conditions on your construction site or yard could soon become treacherous. Not only does this directly affect forklift truck drivers, but also the workers around them. Here, I’ll be sharing my top tips for improving your site’s forklift truck safety during the colder months.
Prioritise operator training
Knowing how to properly operate a forklift, and how to deal with any problems that arise, will be key to safety on the site for everybody. With slippery surfaces, reduced lighting and strong winds to contend with during winter, your forklift truck drivers may need some additional training, particularly if you’re planning to add extra safety measures around the site, such as a new route for machinery. Similarly, ensuring they know exactly what checks to carry out at the beginning of each shift, and are aware that they’ll need to give the forklift some time to warm up before operation, will be imperative to safe and optimum usage.
As well as this, you also might want to impose some restrictions on forklift usage. For example, while it might not be productive to limit the hours the forklift can be used, limiting the speed at which it can travel after a certain time and in particular conditions can improve the safety on site for everyone. You could even implement some speedbumps to ensure drivers stick to these limits and are warned for when coming up to particularly dangerous zones.
If you’re unsure on the additional training you’ll need to give, finding a consultancy that offers guidance and health and safety training, like Walker Health and Safety Services, will ensure you’re identifying and managing all potential risks for your workers and site visitors.
Prepare your forklifts for the winter
Before you let your workers carry on their duties, it’s imperative that you have done the necessary checks and changes to your forklift to ensure it’s fit for purpose during the winter. This could include investing in some durable forklift covers that will shield it from wind, rain, ice and other elements, which could impact its usual functioning. These covers can vary from metal cabs to plastic canopies, and the type you choose will depend on where your forklift is stored and, consequentially, how much extra protection and shelter it’ll need.
For construction sites, you’ll want to consider changing the tyres to ones that are suitable for challenging weather conditions. These tyres have greater traction, so won’t be as phased by wet and icy flooring around your site, reducing the chances of your forklifts skidding and causing damage or injury. For machinery that regularly goes between indoor and outdoors, you might even want to consider buying some pneumatic tyres that handle slippery floors better. These are typically best for forklifts that are lifting heavyweight materials, such as bricks, so you may need to add some tyre chains and studs to offer extra traction.
It’s important to remind workers that during these wetter months, it’s key for them to clean the forklift down after every shift. This will help to remove any build ups of dirt and debris. And, by drying the forklift’s body before storing it, they’ll also be able to spot and get rid of any rust. Each forklift will have specific care guidelines, so make sure your workers are following the daily and weekly checks outlined in the operator’s manual to keep your forklifts in great condition.
Improve worker PPE for cold conditions
As an employer, it’s a legal requirement for you to adhere to the advice given in the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (1992). So, you no doubt already supply your workers with a sufficient amount of protective clothing when they’re on site. However, with new health and safety risks arising in the colder months, it may be necessary to take a look at what PPE is missing to protect your staff from these problems, including cold stress.
For example, it is not uncommon for cold weather to wreak havoc on your workers’ body temperatures, meaning they can have trouble regulating it when spending time outside. For this reason, it’ll be important to ensure your workers are wearing lots of thin layers rather than thicker ones, so they can choose when to take off or add layers, and can do so comfortably. The clothes your workers wear will need to stand up to the elements, so investing in some weather- and windproof materials, such as Gortex and nylon, will help them to keep warm when out on the job. Similarly, providing thick, insulated gloves and leg warmers will be key.
As the evenings draw in earlier, and we have reduced hours of daylight, it’ll be incredibly important to ensure the high-visibility PPE you offer are more than sufficient. High visibility clothing is split into three categories, with class 1 offering the most basic level of protection and class 3 offering the most. For your construction site in winter, you’ll want to invest in class 3 for everybody, even if you’ve increased extra lighting around the site. This is so forklift truck drivers can be seen and so can other workers around the site, to reduce chances of injury or fatality.
Analyse and adjust site safety
You’ll need to look beyond the safety of your forklift and ensure that your site is also safe. For example, you may need to invest in some extra lighting for the darker hours your workers will be working in. These could be floodlights or tower lights depending on the size of your site and how much additional lighting you’ll need.
If you’ve set up separate routes for pedestrians and your forklifts to travel around, you’ll need to sufficiently highlight which path is for who. So, additional signage will be key.
When the floor is particularly wet and slippery, remembering to grit it regularly, including at the beginning of each working day and a few times during the day, to reduce the amount of accidents for workers and forklift operators.
Contact Walker Health and Safety Services if you require further information.
Guest Blogger – Kelly Friel from Zoro.