Your guide to safer, more efficient forklift loading

1st May 2019

According to BITA analysis of recent RIDDOR reports, 1 in 6 work-based injuries involving forklift trucks is connected to the loading & unloading of trailers. Clearly these are high-risk activities, but they can easily be made safer, not to mention more efficient, if best practice is followed. What’s more, you’ll save on costly accidents, damage and delays too.

We’ve put together a best practice guide to forklift loading to help reduce the risk of accidents on your site. But first, we need to take a closer look at who’s involved and clearly establish their roles in the process.

Segregating forklift trucks and delivery drivers
The loading/unloading process usually involves a delivery vehicle driver and a forklift operator. The delivery driver is responsible for the safety and security of their load and should therefore provide the forklift operator with instructions on where to place loads based on the vehicle’s gross weight. However, they must not become physically involved in the loading/unloading process in any capacity, as this would put them in a dangerous position.

During this process, the forklift operator is responsible for the stability and security of the load on their forks and for the safety of any pedestrians around their truck, including the delivery driver. They must ensure a safe distance is kept around the forklift whilst it is in operation.

One of the biggest hazards in loading/unloading operations is the presence of pedestrians, often delivery drivers, entering the forklift operating area to steady a load, pull back a curtain or simply unaware that they are too close to the moving truck, should it suddenly turn, reverse, raise/lower a load or worse, tip over.

Due to their responsibility for their vehicle and load, delivery drivers often want to become involved in forklift loading or unloading operations. This is why segregation is essential to minimise risk by separating those on foot from moving MHE. It’s vital that all parties are made aware of their roles and their individual responsibilities for their vehicles and remain in their designated areas.

So, your forklift operators will be leading the loading/unloading process, but how do they ensure safety is maintained throughout? Here is our guide to safe loading and unloading operations.

Working with delivery drivers

  • Make any pedestrians, including delivery drivers, aware that it’s not safe for them to be in the vicinity whilst the forklift truck is in operation. Separate designated waiting areas for delivery drivers can facilitate this.
  • If delivery drivers or other pedestrians do approach the truck, operators can use the Show Your Hand method to communicate to them that they must stop. If they fail to keep a safe distance, the forklift operator then turns off the ignition to reduce the risk of an accident.
  • If you have loading bays, follow the site’s Safe System of Work for reducing the risk of lorry drive-away during loading/unloading. This may be a key control system, where visiting drivers deposit keys until they are cleared to leave, a traffic light system or wheel blocks/chocks used to keep lorries in place.

Essential operator checks before loading/unloading

  • Make sure that the delivery vehicle is parked correctly, and the driver is aware that loading or unloading is about to start.
  • Ensure that the delivery vehicle’s engine is switched off, the key is removed, and the brakes are applied. If necessary, chock the wheels.
  • The vehicle bed must be clear of any debris so that loads can be laid easily and there are no obstacles.
  • When loading or unloading from the ground, operators should check that there is adequate access for the forklift truck on both sides of the vehicle. Ensure that the ground surface is firm and even, with no potholes or manhole covers that could affect the stability of the forklift.
  • When loading or unloading from a bay, double check that the brakes are applied on the vehicle, which may move due to large live forces being applied by the forklift when it drives onto the vehicle bed.
  • Some uncoupled semi-trailers may need a jack or prop placed under the front end to prevent them from tipping over during loading or unloading.
  • Ask the delivery driver to confirm their vehicle’s capacity, or check the dock leveller for this information, to ensure that the vehicle bed and bridge plate are strong enough to take the weight of the forklift plus the load. The forklift operator should know the combined weight of both to avoid exceeding any limits.

Basic rules for safe loading and unloading

  • Forklift operators should normally start loading at the front of the vehicle and work backwards on alternate sides. The process is the opposite for unloading. Working in this way reduces the risk of the delivery vehicle capsizing.
  • Make sure pallets and loads sit close together to prevent slipping and sliding during transit and to maximise the amount the vehicle can carry.
  • Never push a load from one side of the vehicle to the other. It may cause the delivery vehicle to lean to one side making it impossible to re-insert the forks into a pallet or another load. In extreme cases the vehicle may tip over.
  • Operators must load in delivery order: first on is last off — this ensures that gaps don’t appear as deliveries are made and limits the need to rearrange loads at each drop-off point.
  • However, operators may need to disregard this last rule to achieve the correct axle weight. In other words, if the first few deliveries are all very heavy items and last few are all very light, forklift operators won’t be able to load in delivery order as they will need to ensure the weight is evenly distributed over the axles.
  • When using a pedestrian-controlled truck, an operator should normally load or unload vehicles in pedestrian mode because this gives them greater control — which can be useful when operating in a tight space.
  • Operators should load vehicles as safely as possible but wherever these are not internal vehicles, the vehicle driver will be responsible for securing the loads for safe transportation.

Though this guidance may seem like common sense for an experienced operator, don’t underestimate the risks resulting from complacency. Loading and unloading are key operations for forklift operators, often repeated multiple times a shift, but familiarity can breed a lack of care, thought and attention to the risks involved and this can soon lead to a serious accident.

By spreading the message and making sure that best practice is followed at all times, you’ll create a safe, efficient workplace for any colleagues, visiting drivers or customers that step foot on your site.

For any further information on safely managing forklift operations, please get in touch.


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