The Human Factor of Forklift Safety

Human factors also impact forklift safety.

While the workplace risks have implications on safety, a worker’s personal conditions, impact on their ability to work safely.

The use of alcohol and/or other drugs may be one of the contributing factors. Alcohol and other drugs usage have become prevalent and a safety issue that affects a worker’s ability to exercise judgment, coordination, motor control, concentration and alertness at the workplace. This impairment, thus leading to increased risk of injury or incidents to themselves or others.

Workers must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and not endanger that of others at the workplace. Workers should present themselves fit to work and remain, while at work, capable of performing their work tasks safely.

For the Person Conducting a Business or an Undertaking, PCBU, alcohol and other drugs can cause a range of problems.  In some cases, there use may lead to loss of life, injury and damage to plant or equipment. The PCBU’s have a general ‘duty of care’ obligation to ensure that, as far as practicable, workers are not exposed to hazards and risks that could arise from workers being impaired by alcohol and/or other drugs and, where they may arise, address them through a systematic risk management process.

It is imperative that workplaces adopt a strict zero-tolerance policy towards drugs and alcohol, involving the operation of forklifts to protect themselves and their workers from the consequences.

The Human Factor of Forklift Safety

The impact of alcohol and other drugs

In 2017 the Alcohol and Drug Foundation reported that the use of alcohol and other drugs can impact on workplaces in a number of ways, affecting relationships, safety and productivity.

  • “Drug and alcohol use costs Australian workplaces an estimated $6 billion per year in lost productivity.
  • Recent research has estimated that 2.5 million working days are lost annually due to drinking and drug use – at a cost of more than $680 million.
  • 1 in 10 workers say they have been affected by a colleague’s use of alcohol in the workplace. This can be due to a reduced ability to do their own job, involvement in an accident or near miss, or having to work extra hours to cover for a co-worker.”

Legal Consequences of Omitting Safety

The Legal implications

There are serious consequences when operating a forklift under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. Due to impairment there are possibilities of crashing into the bollards and barriers causing property damage and/or hitting pedestrians and causing injury.

In terms of the property damage alone this is notifiable to the regulator which would require, ‘stop work’ and the Inspectorate to carry out an on-site investigation. With any accident alcohol and drug testing is required for the operator of the machine in line with the Australian Standard AS/NZS 4308 (Urine) and AS 4760 (Oral Fluid)

When pedestrian and workers are involved in the accident, this is very serious and would require emergency services and higher penalties and legal consequences.

Preventative Strategies

The PCBU has a legal obligation to address alcohol and other drug issues in the workplace through the duty-of-care provisions in the WHS Act. These provisions require the PCBU to take reasonable or practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of all workers, contractors and others.

A strict zero-tolerance policy towards alcohol or drugs must be followed to the letter so that forklift operators know they are not to operate any equipment under the influence.

The Human Factor of Forklift Safety

It’s paramount that Workers are instructed on the right process to be followed when they suspect that a co-worker is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

It is important to manage the situation properly, as mismanaging can lead to accidents, grievances and even lawsuits.

It’s essential to provide:

  • training and refresher courses so the workplace policies and procedures can be reinforced and the workers kept mindful of the dangers and possible consequences or repercussions if these are not adhered to.
  • a sense of awareness amongst the workers through communication, when they can look out for each other and yell out to prevent collision incidents.

The PCBU and supervisor should be proactive in carrying out regular toolbox talks, inspections and observation of work in progress

Best Practice

Forklift operators should never operate a forklift while under the influence of alcohol or prescribed or illicit drugs as these may cause their vision, judgement and balance to be impaired.

The Human Factor of Forklift Safety

Forklifts are heavy machinery that can weigh thousands of kilos and have massive power and force. They require operators to always be in full control of their senses. The slightest mistake can cause severe property damage, injury or even death to the operator or pedestrians.

Most jurisdictions have laws against driving a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Those laws apply regardless of whether the vehicle is an automobile, truck or forklift.

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