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How to improve your forklift truck safety in winter

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Forklift trucks can be a key piece of equipment for many industries, such as construction, as well as being useful for dealing with large volumes of stock inside of warehouses. But, with around 1,300 UK workers being  hospitalised each year due to accidents and injuries caused by forklifts (British Safety Council), it’s clear that they have the potential to your employees.

As an employer, you have a duty of care to look after your staff when their job role could impact their health and safety in some way. So, with winter on the horizon, you should be preparing and implementing additional measures to keep your workers and equipment safe from slippery and windy conditions. Here, we will be sharing our top four tips to help you improve your forklift truck safety this winter.

Equip workers with extended PPE
As it’s a legal requirement for all employers to provide their workers with personal protective equipment (PPE), it’s a given that you’ll already have some clothing and equipment in place to keep your staff safe. However, with winter bringing new challenges including lower temperatures and risks of snow, ice, and rain, it’s key that you establish any winter-related issues your employees may encounter on the job.

The most obvious issue you will have to address is the clothing that your workers are provided with — more specifically, the number of layers they have and the warmth they provide. You should be providing your staff with both thick and thin layers that they can combine according to the temperature, as well as gloves and hat liners to keep their hands and ears warm. These should be made of insulative materials such as thermal, fleece or Gortex to lock in body heat, as well as being weather- and waterproof.

Additionally, you will need to think about the reduced visibility that winter brings and how you can ensure your workers are clearly seen on site. PPE specialists Zoro have a range of high visibility workwear from trousers, to vests, T-shirts and bodywarmers which incorporate reflective material so your staff can be seen at all times.

Prepare your forklifts for winter weather
With wind, rain, and snow all picking up in winter, it’s important that you consider protecting both the forklift and its operator with a cover. These can range from a typical plastic cover to a metal cab or sturdier canopy type but, in general, it’s advised to steer clear of thin vinyl varieties which can easily get damaged by treacherous conditions.

It’ll also be crucial to look at the type of tyres your forklift has and whether these are suitable for any current or upcoming bad weather. We advise that you look at the traction on the tyres you have and consider substituting them for pneumatic ones that will provide more grip. However, do note that these are usually only used for vehicles that carry heavy loads. If these aren’t appropriate for your forklift, you can get the same effect with tyre chains and valves. We would suggest checking the manufacturer’s handbook for your forklift to see if your tyres can be changed to winter ones first.

Ensure your site is winter-ready
It’s crucial that you take a look around your site before winter sets in and create a safety plan. This can include things such as identifying areas that will be a slip hazard and will need extra gritting, or spots which will need additional lighting. We recommend installing floodlights to ensure your staff can all be seen, making it easier for the forklift operator to follow the safest route across the site. If your forklift spends time going from outdoor to indoor locations — such as warehouses — it’ll be important to lay down some water-absorbing mats at entranceways to prevent the floors becoming slippery. The best mats are made from nitrile and have two layers, the lower of which is used to collect water.

Additionally, the reduced visibility and shorter daylight hours may make it difficult for your staff to assess dangerous situations properly, so it’s important to have reflective signage so they can avoid any risks of injury. This will also be helpful for forklift truck drivers in indicating when there are steeper parts of land or if there are any sharp corners coming up.

Re-train your staff
While all of the above are worthwhile measures to think about to protect both your workers and equipment during winter, it’s also important to note that when you implement new processes your staff will need to be trained in them. This could be something as simple as running them through how to wear a new piece of PPE or something a little more complicated like changing a forklift’s tyres.

You can choose to either do these things yourself or to outsource a professional to come and do the training for you. For more details on training your staff, we recommend you visit the HSE’s brief guide to health and safety training — it covers everything from why you need training to how to check it has worked.

Preparing your site for winter can seem daunting when there’s so much to think about, but hopefully our four tips will help you to get started. For further details and legislation, we advise you check the HSE website.

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