Lifting standards

12 April 2022

There are various initiatives that are aimed to highlight work place safety, such as the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April 2022, and the Forklift Safety Day held on the second Tuesday in June. But safety should of course be a priority every single working day, says Martin McVicar.

Ensuring the safest possible working environment doesn’t just mean adhering to statutory guidelines; creating and promoting a safety strategy across the workforce encourages a culture of vigilance which ensures that risks are kept to a minimum. This is particularly vital in the materials handling sector, where the combination of powered vehicles such as forklifts working in the vicinity of other employees on foot can lead to any number of potentially dangerous situations. 

Accidents involving forklift trucks and pedestrians are still a major issue in spite of the UK having some of the most stringent safety legislation in the world. Human error is a major cause of accidents, and carrying out repetitive tasks on a daily basis can also make drivers or operators of equipment somewhat complacent to the hazards, so management and the company as a whole needs to be constantly reinforcing the safety message. 

Choose the right equipment

Don’t compromise on equipment that is not 100% suitable for the task in hand. Depending on what you need to lift and move, there will probably be a specialist solution that can make your life easier and your operations a lot safer. So make sure that your materials handling consultant does their homework and has an open mind to identify which type of truck will work best for you. If you handle a lot of long products for example, you will not want to rely on the limited manouevrability of a counterbalance truck to juggle loads through narrow doorways or access tight spaces. Using a couple of forklifts at either end of a load is also a definite no-no from a health and safety point of view, and travelling with elevated loads around obstacles is also considered to be hazardous practice. The indirect costs of not using the right trucks can be considerable in terms of downtime after collisions, product damage or repairs for damaged racking, and administrative costs for accident investigations. Disruptive work flow, delayed deliveries and unhappy customers are further consequences. And this is without counting the much more grave human cost of any injuries that may be inflicted. What’s required are handling solutions tailored to specific challenges. 

For long loads, consider multidirectional models which have been designed with a very low centre of gravity and integrated platform which provide a stable base for resting loads on during transportation, eliminating the need for elevated loads. The quick change of the wheel direction enables sideways travel in confined spaces and this in turn means a much better use of all available space which is one of a company’s most valuable assets. The ability of Combilift’s multidirectional models to work as 3 machines in one – sideloader, counterbalance and narrow aisle truck also has additional benefits such as lower costs compared to operating multiple types of vehicles due to reduced outlay on maintenance, insurance, training and so on. 

Segregating forklifts and humans 

Close encounters between forklifts and pedestrians are to be avoided wherever possible, as statistics prove that these are a major cause of accidents and injury to pedestrians, with an average of 5 people being hospitalised every day. Measures such as physical segregation using barriers and scanner or radio technology which enables automatic intervention if safety distances are breached are ways of substantially reducing the risk of collisions between heavy pieces of equipment and vulnerable humans. Painted walkways can help too, as long as they are strictly adhered to by everyone – visitors included.

Safety was of course a priority when we were designing our new manufacturing facility which was opened 4 year ago. For our 46,000 m² production area we took a lot of data from the BSI (British Standards Institution) PAS 13 guidelines for safety barrier practices and worked with A-Safe for the optimum layout of our walkways. The introduction of barriers has worked very well, enabling us to segregate our 650+ employees plus any visitors from mobile vehicles in the busy plant. 

Safer on foot

There will be certain scenarios however, where it may be difficult to totally screen off vehicles from and the workforce or even the general public. DIY outlets for example want to be able to replenish goods in aisles during opening hours, and manufacturing facilities may need to feed production lines. This is where pedestrian operated equipment can play a vital role. Operating speeds are inherently lower than those reached by ride-on trucks, and the operator’s awareness of the immediate surroundings is improved as they are physically closer to the load, the machine and people in the vicinity - and they are looking in the direction of travel at all times. A further advantage is the short time needed to train operators compared to ride-on forklifts. During busy times when extra seasonal staff are employed, the quick and straightforward training on pedestrian trucks is also a benefit – from an operational as well as a safety point of view. 

New technologies incorporated into pedestrian trucks mean that they are much more versatile than they once were, can work indoors and out and can handle not just palettised goods but also sizeable loads such as sheet materials. A key safety feature in all the models in Combilift’s pedestrian range is the unique patented multi-position tiller arm. This can be turned to the left or right of the truck, allowing the operator to remain at the side when working in narrow aisles rather than the rear, reducing the risk of them being crushed or trapped between the truck and racking. 

Avoid overloading 

Overloaded vehicles can tip and fall, resulting not only in damage to vehicles and stock, but at worst can cause serious or fatal injuries to personnel. There are several factors that can influence a forklift truck to become overloaded. The load centre - the distance from the face of fork to the centre of gravity of the load - plays a crucial part. Drivers who are insufficiently aware of their forklift’s load capacity and the associated risks of exceeding it not only compromise their own safety, but also that of everyone working around them. But as we cannot expect forklift operators to have to constantly do the maths, we need to make life easier – and safer – for them. The optional Combilift Safe-Lift is an anti-overload device, which incorporates a strain sensor on the mast and a lift cut-out valve positioned on the mast hydraulic lift hose. There is an audible alarm which warns the operator of an overload situation and an indicator unit is fitted to the dashboard in the cab. The operator can instantly see from the green, amber and red “traffic light” signalling when there is a risk of overloading or when the forks are not fully engaged for example and take appropriate action.

Designed with safety in mind 

Since Combilift launched its first C4000 multidirectional forklift over 20 years ago, a cornerstone of our company’s design philosophy has been to supply innovative handling solutions that reduce risk and prevent accidents. Each of our around 30 products has been specifically developed with safety at the forefront. Our thousands of customers around the world have also come to the conclusion that putting safety first doesn’t just protect the workforce but leads to other wide ranging benefits such as improved productivity and more cost-effective operation. 

Martin McVicar is CEO at Combilift. For more information, visit