Giving workplace safety a lift

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Vehicle keys that were not properly kept led to “unauthorised or improper use of vehicles such as forklifts at workplaces”. This was a common workplace traffic management safety lapse uncovered during Ministry of Manpower (MOM) inspections at worksites earlier this year .

It was also found to be one of the safety shortfalls that contributed to a forklift-related incident in a case study provided by MOM. It claimed the life of a pest-control worker who was carrying out vector control operations at the worksite.

According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), vehicle-related accidents such as these were the leading cause of workplace fatalities for the last three years. In the first half of 2017, there were 379 injuries and seven fatalities caused by vehicle-related incidents. Last year, 22 workers were hit and killed by moving vehicles, a 47-per-cent increase from 2014.

“Reducing the number of workplace accidents will take a concerted effort by both employers and employees,” said Mr Teoh Woon Hun of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

THE HAZARDS OF OPERATING FORKLIFTS 

If rules had been followed in the forklift incident, the operator involved would not have been allowed to use the truck because he was not trained and qualified to do so.     

On the day of the incident, he was using a forklift truck to move a 580kg spreader beam into a sheltered workshop on the instructions of his supervisor. The supervisor did not know that the operator was not qualified to do the job.

The beam, which measured 8.4m by 1m, slid off the lifting forks and struck the pest-control worker on the head when the forklift hit a small hump on the ground. The worker suffered multiple injuries and died that same day at Khoo Teck Puat hospital.


The blue spreader beam slid off the forklift’s lifting forks and struck the pest-control worker on the head when the truck hit a small hump on the ground. Photo: Ministry of Manpower

An investigation into the incident by MOM revealed that the spreader beam was not secured to the fork arms at the front of the forklift truck, which were raised to about 3.5m when the beam was being moved. The operator was also too engrossed in watching the load in front of him to notice that the pest-control worker was in the vicinity.

The operator was subsequently fined S$8,000, and sentenced to 20 days’ imprisonment.

Action was also taken against his employer for safety and operational lapses that contributed to the incident. The company was found not in compliance with MOM’s workplace safety and health guidelines on the safe operation of forklift trucks. These stipulated that:

  • Safe work procedures have to be created for forklift operations at the worksite.
  • A traffic management plan has to be developed, with pedestrian and forklift traffic clearly segregated and regulated. This includes having signage or safety barriers to keep workers and visitors away from forklift operating zones. No one should be allowed to stand or walk under the load or forklift.
  • Operators should ensure that the load is properly secured to both forks before moving it. Doing so helps prevent loads from tipping or falling and endangering lives. As far as possible, the load should also be evenly distributed.
  • Loads should be kept as close to the ground as possible (if it can be done so safely) when the forklift is on the move. A raised bulky load may block the view of the forklift operator. Odd-shaped loads may also hit pedestrians.  
  • A steering lock mechanism should be placed on the forklift steering wheel to prevent unauthorised use.
  • A supervisor should maintain a forklift log book as part of a forklift key control system. This prevents the key from being left in the forklift’s ignition when the vehicle is not in use. The log book can also be used for verifying that only authorised operators are allowed to use the forklift. To achieve that, the supervisor should review and sign the log book for compliance verification.


Prevent the unauthorised use of the forklift by ensuring that the key is not left in the ignition. Photo: Ministry of Manpower

NARROW THE SAFETY GAP

To help address forklift-related safety problems, Mr Teoh has some practical tips to offer employers: “They should not delay in identifying the highest-risk activities through proper risk assessments, and then implementing measures to control them. The use of clear signage and operator retraining, for instance, are good places to start. They increase safety awareness and are easy to implement.”

He added: “Further actions, such as improving the workplace environment and employees’ cargo handling skills and knowledge, could follow later.” These measures refer to:

  • Ensure that the forklifts are maintained regularly and in good working condition.
    The manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines should be followed. Worn tyres, for instance, should be replaced immediately because they can affect a forklift’s traction and stability. 


Worn tyres can affect a forklift’s traction and stability. Photo: Ministry of Manpower

  • Set a reasonable speed limit in worksites. 
    Ensure that forklift operators adhere to these limits even when they are dealing with packed work schedules. The use of speed limiters and speed warning devices, for example, may help increase safety because speeding is one of the leading causes of workplace forklift collisions with pedestrians, property or other moving equipment. High-speed turns may also result in forklifts flipping over.
  • Ensure the forklift is not over-loaded.
    An overloaded forklift may tip over because its rear tyres are raised off the ground. Do not attempt to counter-balance heavy loads by having another person in the forklift.
  • Do not use the forklift to transport people.
    The employer should ensure that the forklift is not used to lift people, whether on the fork arms of the truck or on a pallet. Persons lifted in such a manner risk serious injury or death when incidents such as falls or collisions with overhead structures occur. 
  • Do not operate forklifts on ramps.
  • Forklift operator should fasten his seat belt.
    The operator should also ensure that he checks before reversing the forklift. 

SHOOT AND NOTIFY

Want to let MOM know of a dangerous situation at your workplace? Snap photos of it and upload them onto the SNAP@MOM mobile app. All contributions will be kept confidential.

This is the third of a four-part series on worksite vehicular safety.

Created by Mediacorp Brand Studio Productions

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