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Unfamiliar fork-lift controls a danger

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WorkSafe has warned the owners and operators of forklifts to be aware of potential safety risks when hiring or buying equipment with control pedals different to those used before.

Victoria's workplace health and safety regulator is aware of two incidents- one fatal- involving rollovers after forklifts with different layout of pedals to that commonly used by their workforce were hired.

Employers have obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety (Plant) Regulations 1995 to assess and control risk and also provide training and information on the safe use of plant to employees.

Plant hire businesses also have obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety (Plant) Regulations 1995 to provide information on the safe use of plant to the user.

A variety of pedal layouts on fork-lifts are available in Australia.

Some forklifts have more than one brake pedal whilst others have an accelerator pedal that allows forward or reverse mode to be selected by foot position on the pedal.

On some models one pedal is used for forward motion and another for reversing.

Where a fork-lift is being added to an existing fleet, any mixing of control types could lead to operator confusion and inappropriate operator actions.

Short-term hirers of forklifts should consider the experience of operators with the particular pedal layout on that piece of plant.

Induction is needed when introducing new plant to a workplace, but instruction and reliance on labelling of controls can be counteracted by responses learnt through experience on other fork-lifts.

The first incident of fork-lift danger occurred in July 2005 when a fork-lift rolled-over after the mast struck an overhead beam at a Victorian mine. The forklift was hired with foot controls that were unusual to the driver.

When making a quick decision, the driver chose the wrong pedal causing the fork-lift to move backwards rather than stopping as intended.

The operator sustained muscle strains to his arm, stomach and side. A Department of Primary Industries investigation highlighted the hazard associated with fork-lifts that have control pedals different to those usually used.

The second instance occurred in August 1997 when a fork-lift was being trialled prior to purchase by a warehouse in Western Australia.

The driver unintentionally accelerated in reverse rather than stopping and moving forward. The forklift reversed off a loading dock and down a drop of more than a metre. The driver died.

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