Practice Makes Perfect

Mentor trainer watching a fork truck operator

The HSE's new Approved Code of Practice for forklift training updates a document that has revolutionised warehouse safety since 1988. Richard Shore of Mentor Training – also celebrating its 25 years – explains its impact.

Since the first publication of the HSE's Rider-Operated Lift Trucks: Operator Training – Approved Code of Practice and Guidance L117, UK forklift usage has almost doubled. Meanwhile, accidents have fallen dramatically.

Back in 1988, when Mentor Training was founded and the ACoP was introduced, there were around 350,000 fork lift truck operators in the UK. Lift trucks accounted for a sizeable share of around 100 workplace transport deaths per year.

Today, that number of operators has risen to nearer 625,000 – with a further 1.5 million workers in logistics-related roles nearby. However, last year there were just seven fatal lift truck accidents.

Clearly, that's seven too many. But still a world away from the 1980s – despite there being almost twice as many trucks being used.

What has made that lifesaving difference?

Better training

The 16,000 forklifts sold in 1988 represented a rapidly growing market, swelled by the growing interest in reach and pallet trucks. New models and methods were being pioneered, especially in order picking, confusing many managers over safe systems and training.

For the first time, the Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) gave employers a framework for training that army of new operators to use their equipment in safety.

New responsibilities

Ten years later, a further set of laws added new clarity to employers' duty to protect their workers.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1998, LOLER 1998 and PUWER 1998 introduced risk assessments, and made it even more important for managers to understand warehouse practices, equipment to be properly checked and employees to reduce dangers to themselves and colleagues.

This need for greater safety awareness, up to management level, gave fresh reasons for companies to provide adequate training, enhancing all-round safety and efficiency in the industry. The Corporate Manslaughter act of 2007 has since served to focus the mind still further.

Safer trucks?

Certain technical refinements to forklift truck design – such as better driving positions and overhead guard design, clear view masts and the widespread adoption of seat belts – have played their part in reducing the accident toll. Equally, some other changes may yet prove to be gimmicks.

What is clear is that, although some speciality machines, like articulated trucks, have become mainstream in the past 25 years, the fundamental design of a forklift truck, and the essential principles of safe use, are broadly the same today as they were in 1988.

Virtually all lift truck accidents involve a strong element of human error, just as operators have always been the greatest influence on running costs.

Training those operators well remains the most powerful lever available to lower a company's accident risk, reduce stock damage and improve efficiency overall.

What now?

Since Mentor started training operators, we've noticed a shift in attitudes as managers have come to understand the ACoP as a benchmark for what a good training programme should include. That has doubtless made a significant contribution to reducing the misery and cost of lift truck accidents.

The current system works well, and most companies understand the importance of training to safety, compliance and the law. The challenge now is to explain how it improves productivity too: not just a cost of compliance, but an investment that gives real bottom-line returns.

Mentor is the UK's leading provider of lift truck operator training. See www.mentortraining.co.uk, call 01246 555222 or email info@mentortraining.co.uk.