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Is your maintenance regime putting you on a collision course?

06 September 2016

Overlooking your forklift truck’s maintenance can place lives and businesses at risk, so it is vital employers stay on the right side of the law. FLTA chief executive Peter Harvey MBE explains.

It’s official. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety, fork lift trucks are the most dangerous form of workplace transport. And there is no doubt that, while cutting back on lift truck maintenance may save a little time and money in the short term, economies like this can come at a high cost to both a business and its workforce.

Overlooking or scrimping on this keystone of truck ownership will reduce the working life, efficiency and productivity of your truck, while significantly increasing the risk of expensive, unscheduled downtime and repairs.

More importantly, however, it seriously endangers those working with or alongside fork lifts, hospitalising more than 800 workers each year with life-changing injuries.

Smaller firms operating older counterbalance trucks are even more at risk, making this advice more relevant. Counterbalance trucks account for 87% of all forklift truck accidents.

Real life court cases

A Stalybridge vehicle salvage firm was fined for multiple safety failings on a forklift truck after a car weighing more than half a ton fell from its forks – crushing the 22 year old mechanic working beneath it.

The young man suffered severe injuries, including broken bones in his back and ribs, a fractured pelvis and a partially collapsed lung. For the first three months following the accident, he wore a spinal brace and still struggles with everyday tasks, including lifting, bending and carrying.

The subsequent HSE investigation found the firm failed to carry out an annual service on the fork lift, listing numerous faults, including:

  • Lifting chains in dangerous condition (with rust, stiff links and missing parts)
  • Badly damaged tyre
  • Low level of hydraulic oil in tank
  • Non-working handbrake and horn
  • No seatbelt.

But there doesn’t have to be an accident for a firm to be fined thousands of pounds by the authorities for failing to ensure fork lift trucks are in good working order. A Wakefield company was fined £2000 and ordered to pay £4138 in costs after it was revealed the firm’s maintenance regime was simply to repair its trucks when they broke down.

An HSE investigation found the truck had not been well-maintained. Two sets of bearings holding the forks in-line had collapsed and when forks were lowered, they could jam and fall when dislodged… endangering those working nearby.

This kind of 'reactive' maintenance, waiting for a fault to occur, does not ensure equipment is in good working order at all times, and is therefore considered illegal. Indeed, under the new sentencing guidelines that came into effect in February both these companies would have faced much greater fines (potentially running into many tens of thousands of pounds for small businesses and millions for large ones).

What the law says

For safety reasons, proper maintenance of a forklift truck is a legal requirement. Regulation 5 (1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER 98) states: “Every employer shall ensure that work equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.”

Primarily, this ensures that equipment is safe to use, but the state of maintenance also has implications for productivity.

There are two main aspects to maintenance: scheduled servicing and daily or pre-shift checks.

Preventative maintenance

Rather than waiting for faults to occur, follow a programme of planned preventative maintenance. If your forklift trucks are on hire, you must allow your hire company regular access for this purpose and must not make any changes yourself without their written permission.

Preventative maintenance should be scheduled in accordance with the recommendations of your equipment’s manufacturer. Guidance on this can be provided by the fork lift truck dealer supplying the equipment.

The time interval between services will vary according to the application’s intensity and working environment. For maintenance purposes, forklift trucks are regarded as ‘plant’. Accordingly, time intervals are recorded in hours. Your forklift truck dealer will translate this into months to help you identify the dates for planned maintenance.

Remember: it is the legal responsibility of those overseeing operations to ensure that a truck’s maintenance programme is in place. If you are in any doubt, contact the company providing your fork lift truck for further guidance.

Pre-shift checks

A sound system of daily or pre-shift checks is your first line of defence. Your operators should go through these at the start of each shift or working day to ensure that potential defects are identified before they become a problem.

This important procedure should be a formal one – recorded in writing each time – and performed in accordance to instructions from the truck manufacturer. Typically, it will take between five and 10 minutes.

For guidance on which items should be covered by your pre-shift checks, refer to guidance from your truck’s manufacturer or fork lift truck dealer.

A Daily Checks booklet, which simplifies recording of pre-shift checks, is available from the FLTA web shop alongside paddles which visually indicate trucks with faults.

Importantly, when faults are identified, the truck should not be used until:

  • Any resulting queries or concerns have been reported to a manager or supervisor
  • Advice has been obtained on warning lights showing
  • Any fault affecting safe operations being rectified

Remember: if you oversee operations, it is your duty ensure that daily/pre-shift checks are carried out properly and enforced. It is essential that you know what those checks entail. (If in any doubt, always seek advice from your supplier.)

Thorough Examination: It’s the law
A related issue, as it involves checking the truck’s condition, is Thorough Examination. For more information on this, visit www.thoroughexamination.org

It is important to remember that Thorough Examination is not normally part of routine maintenance, so its requirements must be satisfied separately.

Essentially, you must arrange for this to be carried out at the legally required intervals (at least one every 12 months) and obtain a Report of Thorough Examination. You should also clearly display the next examination date on the truck.

Maintaining a fork lift truck is a lot more complex than servicing a car, so to do it properly, ensure it is carried out by someone with the necessary training and experience.

The truck’s manufacturer will recommend intervals for inspections and services, which will vary according to the nature and intensity of your application. Your service provider can advise on what is needed and when. If the trucks are on hire, you must allow the hire company to have access for maintenance as necessary.

Resources at your fingertips

The Best Practice Advice section of the FLTA website includes a number of free fork lift truck safety resources – including a library of downloadable fact sheets that answer the most frequently asked questions concerning fork lift truck operations.

Be a safe user

The Fork Lift Truck Association’s Safe User Group has been developed to give firms that operate fork lift trucks the practical, effective advice you need to keep your colleagues safe and ensure you are updated with changes to legislation and best practice.

With self-certification and exclusive safety resources, your commitment to safety is clear: making your workforce aware of their responsibilities and giving confidence that you take safety seriously.

Joining the Safe User Group is quick and easy. Take a minute to look at the benefits of membership, or sign up online via the FLTA website and ensure your workforce benefits in the months and years ahead.