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Seatbelt safety for forklift drivers gaining momentum

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MANUFACTURERS, in Victoria especially, should be aware of an increasingly vigilant campaign by safety agencies around Australia to enforce forklift drivers to wear their seatbelts.

WorkSafe Victoria recently launched a state-wide campaign aimed at increasing seatbelt awareness among forklift drivers.

During the campaign, which continues until June 2006, WorkSafe inspectors will visit 500 large and small workplaces to spread the seatbelt message.

In Australia almost 3,000 forklift related injuries have been reported in the past five years. Since 1985, 54 people have died in Victorian forklift-related accidents.

WorkSafe Victoria’s seatbelt campaign is being welcomed by industry and safety experts across Australia.

Ken Wood, Director of Safety Awareness Forklift Equipment (SAFE), a company that provides training in safety for forklift operators, says the campaign should be embraced throughout the country.

“It will certainly help to raise awareness,” he said. “But, unfortunately, the human element always comes into play. The human element is determined by how strong the company’s safety culture is.”

But according to Wood, the difficulty for most manufacturers is that employees have multi-functions. “They are not just dedicated forklift operators. They may be on and off the forklift all day, engaging in a variety of work.

“Forklift operators are at risk if the safety culture is weak and seatbelts are not enforced by the company. This tends to occur in the small to medium sized organisations,” Wood told Manufacturers Monthly.

Most forklifts are now manufactured with seatbelts as standard. However, safety experts find it hard to instil the importance of seatbelt wearing. Arguments against seatbelt wearing include that they slow down workers and reduce productivity.

WorkCover NSW spokesperson John Kirby believes the wearing of seatbelts is one measure of improving forklift safety.

“Employers are required by the OH&S Regulation to identify the hazards to the driver and other people working around the forklift they encounter, assess the risk and harm to the health and safety of these people arising from these hazards, and eliminate or control the risks while people are working,” he said.

Richard Satterley, general manager - sales and marketing with Linde Materials Handling, says seatbelt interlocking systems are a great way to reduce accidents.

“A lot of companies are promoting seatbelt wearing,” he said. “Although seatbelt interlocking systems would be the best way to go. It means the forklift won’t operate unless you put a seatbelt on. It’s a standard option on every forklift Linde manufactures and it’s becoming more widespread.”

According to Safferley, most forklift accidents occur when the forklift is going around a corner and the forklift tips over.

“Some operators will try to jump clear if it’s going to tip. Another risky move is when operators take a corner or drive with a full load on the fork, while the fork is up in the air – an illegal practice.

“Whenever operators pick up a load they’re meant to lower the fork down as far as they can and then drive,” he said.

Both Wood and Satterley have known operators to disengage the seatbelt interlocking device because it is seen as a “hassle”.

“All safety features are available on new forklifts,” said Satterly.

“Seatbelts are standard, so are reversing beepers and flashing lights. However, trying to insist the company use seatbelts, and not disconnect safety devices, is too hard for companies to monitor.”

Old forklifts without seatbelts may be responsible for more accidents, although there are no statistics to back up this claim.

“Old forklifts tend to be used in small and medium businesses and there is a strong trend in Australia to use second-hand forklifts,” said Wood.

Satterley believes seatbelts should be compulsory in all forklifts.

According to Kirby, companies with forklifts without seatbelts should analyse the risk management requirements set out in the OH&S Regulation 2001 in consultation with employees.

SAFE 08 8232 1630.

WorkCover NSW 02 4321 5000.

WorkSafe Victoria 03 9641 1555.

Linde Materials Handling 1300 135 463.

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