Fatal forklift incidents
In July 2019, a person was fatally crushed by a portable generator being unloaded from a truck by a forklift.
In a separate incident in May 2019, a worker was fatally crushed between a reversing forklift and a truck at a transport yard.
Investigations into both are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Forklifts are a practical material handling solution. As they must be manoeuvrable, they are designed to be compact, but when carrying loads they can become unstable. Forklift operators and pedestrians are at risk of serious crush injuries caused by falling loads and the forklift itself.
PCBUs must ensure the provision and maintenance of safe plant. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who operate and manage the business or undertaking. Higher order risk controls include designing plant to be without risks to health and safety. An example would be the introduction of intelligent systems that made it impossible to start the forklift unless the seatbelt is fastened.
Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process. Risk management involves four steps:
- Identify hazards – find out what could cause harm.
- Assess risks– understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening.
- Control risks – implement the most effective control measure that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances.
- Review control measures to ensure they are working as planned.
Once the risks have been assessed the next step is to control risks associated with the plant. These control measures are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest and are known as the hierarchy of control. PCBUs must work through this hierarchy to choose the control that most effectively eliminates or, where that is not reasonably practicable, minimises risks. The hierarchy of control measures are as follows:
- Elimination - removing the hazard or hazardous work practices associated with forklifts is the most effective way to control risks. If this control measure is not possible the next steps can be considered.
- Substitution – substitute the forklift with alternative plant that is safer. For example, consider replacing a forklift with different material handling equipment such as a conveyor system.
- Isolation – isolate pedestrians from forklifts by using safety barriers, containment fences, boom gates and even overhead walkways. Develop dedicated waiting areas onsite. Where possible, workers should not access loading/receiving areas when forklifts are operating. Creating dedicated waiting areas for truck drivers and exclusion zones to help prevent interactions between forklifts and pedestrians while unloading occurs.
- Engineering controls – modify forklifts. This can include a combination of audio (alarms and horns) and visual (flashing lights) warning devices. Proximity devices can trigger signals, boom gates and warning signs to warn pedestrians and operators. Speed limiting devices can also be fitted.
- Administrative controls – for example designing and implementing a traffic management plan, training workers and installing warning signs. Employers and supervisors should understand how loads and loading are being controlled, how to read load capacity data plates, as well as the capacity of the forklift and why not to exceed it. All forklift operators must hold a high-risk work licence or be an authorised trainee. Operators should be prevented from using a forklift in the vicinity of pedestrians and must ensure loads being lifted do not exceed the rated capacity of the forklift.
- Personal protective equipment – high-visibility or reflective clothing for pedestrians and employees operating forklifts, and high-visibility markings on forklifts
The control measures that you put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.
Since July 2013, there have been 178 notified forklift incidents involving crush injuries or the risk of serious crush injuries. We have issued 114 statutory notices for the risk management of an incident involving a forklift crush injury.
On average each year 281 workers' compensation claims are accepted for crush injuries involving forklifts. Forty per cent of these involve serious injuries requiring five or more days off work.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2014, a company was fined $35,000 and given a court ordered undertaking with a recognisance of $50,000 not to offend against the WHS Act for twelve months after a worker was injured when his foot was caught between two shipping containers.
In 2019, a company was fined $90,000 after a worker sustained serious leg injuries when she was run over by a forklift. The investigation identified forklift operators were directed to switch off the reverse warning beepers at certain times as a noise abatement measure because of complaints made by neighbours. An inadequate traffic management plan for mobile powered plant and pedestrians was also in place. It had some pedestrian walkway markings but not in the immediate vicinity and those that existed were degraded and barely visible.
- Managing risks of plant in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Separating forklifts and workers - fact sheet (PDF, 0.4 MB)
- Forklift safety - reducing the risks (PDF, 0.27 MB)
Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident
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