Managing the Risk of Awkward Loads

Forklifts are used primarily for moving heavy objects relatively easily to different locations. This helps to increase productivity and prevent hazardous manual handling injuries caused to workers lifting beyond their capacity or using incorrect lifting techniques.

Before forklifts were invented, factories and warehouses used a system of ropes, cables and pulleys to move heavy objects which could be unstable and very dangerous, exposing workers to the risk of injury.

Moving and lifting material with ease

Moving and lifting material with ease

The introduction of forklift to the workplace coupled with trained operators meant heavy objects could be pick up and moved to the desired location more efficiently.  Forklifts are one of the smallest drivable pieces of machinery that can fit in relatively small areas such as warehouse and factory isles.  They are also easily manoeuvrable and turn in various directions. Depending on the size and type of forklift, many can handle carrying loads of approximately 16,000 kilograms. Smaller forklifts may only have a capacity around 1400 or 2300 kilograms.

Consider weight, shape, size and composition for safety

It is important to use a forklift that is designed to lift or suspend the load to be lifted. The lifting attachments must be suitable for the load and within the safe working limits of the forklift.

When loads are suspended or lifted ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the load is:

  • not lifted over a worker unless the forklifts specifically designed for that purpose
  • lifted in a way where you are in control during the activity, and
  • not lifted at the same time by more than one forklift unless the method of lifting ensures that the load placed on each item of plant does not go beyond the design capacity of the forklift.

It’s important to understand that the weight, shape, size and composition of a load should specify how a load can be lifted safely.

Every forklift should have a manufacturer’s data plate and load chart attached in clear view. The data plate should clearly show the: make, model number and serial number; mast tilt, forward and rear; maximum lift height; tyre pressures and gross vehicle mass and steer axle load unloaded with mast vertical – or drive axle loads.

The load chart should show the rated load capacity at specified load centre distance and at maximum lift height with mast vertical. It is critical to limit the load to the rated load capacity of the forklift or attachment as shown on the load chart. If the rated load capacity is changed as a result of changes to the forklift or its attachments, the load chart should be revised before use. Each attachment should have its own load chart to help the operator.

Risk Management is essential in preventing accidents

Risk Management is essential in preventing accidents

Operators must calculate whether loads of varying shapes and masses can be safely lifted by the forklift to ensure they do not exceed the capacity of the machine. Loads should be firmly placed against the carriage or back-rest with the mast tilted back enough to stop the load slipping, falling or rolling off the fork arms. Loads that have the ability to slip, fall or roll off the fork arms or pallet should be restrained with straps or similar.

Loads must always be carried as near to the ground as reasonably practicable. When handling a suspended load the operator must follow the correct procedure by: securing the load across both fork arms for balance; using an attachment designed to be used on the forklift; not going over the de-rated capacity of the forklift or the rated capacity of the attachment; only lift the load vertically with no dragging or off-vertical lifts; move slowly and cautiously when the load is raised, and travel with the load as low as reasonably practicable.

Why follow safe work procedures

Why follow safe work procedures

When the correct safe work procedures are not followed whilst handling loads there is a risk of accidents occurring.  For example, in January 2017 an incident occurred at a Penrith metal tubing manufacturer when no formal safety procedures were identified.

A worker at Trans Vent Spiral Tubing Pty Ltd, was seriously injured while loading a steel coil into a machine. The worker had picked up a metal coil with the forklift to load into a machine, when he left the forklift to inspect the coil and its angle to the machinery.  The 350kg coil fell on his leg, crushing it, and causing his tibia and fibula to break.

Trans Vent Spiral Tubing was charged with two breaches of the WHS Act 2011.  The investigation by SafeWork NSW, discovered that the worker was operating a forklift without a license and Trans Vent Spiral Tubing did not have a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) in place with regards to uncontrolled and unsecured loads.

Trans Vent Spiral Tubing Pty Ltd was fined a total of $90,000 in the District Court of NSW for the two charges under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Prevention is better than cure

Prevention is better than cure

Valerie Griswold, Executive Director of Investigations and Enforcement for SafeWork stated that; “These coils are very heavy and become a serious danger when they’re in the air,” and that the risk could have been eliminated with adequate safe work planning.  She went on to say “One way to avoid having an unsecured load is to use a jib or sling and ensure only workers with a valid high-risk licence can operate a forklift.”

In workplaces where forklifts are in operation, not only is the movement of the forklifts creating high-risk with serious consequences, but what material is being moved.  For example, it’s the weight, shape, size and composition of a load that would pose a higher level of risk.  In such case it’s even more important to not only have safe work procedures in place, and an operator licenced to drive the vehicle; but ensure that that the operators are competent and trained in handling the type of material and are familiar with the type of forklift.