Do forklift operators have to wear seatbelts?

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There is a common misconception amongst forklift operators around seatbelts – are they required or not? Many operators believe that if their use isn’t specified during a risk assessment, they don’t need to be used. This is however, not the case at all.

Seatbelts should be regarded with the HSE’s very clear rule in mind: “Where restraining systems are fitted they should be used.”

Some lift truck operators prefer not to wear seatbelts, and it is your responsibility and obligation as a manager or supervisor to ensure the employees safety. The main goal of your lift truck health & safety policy should always be reducing the risk of accidents and harm.

Any exception to the seatbelt rule will need to have extremely good justification behind it based on a thorough, realistic risk assessment. It would usually require a combination of factors to be in place that dramatically reduce the risk of a lift truck tip over.


Minimise the consequences with safe seatbelt use

An operator ignoring their seatbelt won’t cause an accident, but it can seriously minimise the consequences if an accident was to happen. As forklifts have a lower speed than cars, many forklift operators question whether they are necessary, but with the open nature of a forklift cab, the risk here is very different to that of a car, as full or partial ejection in the event of the truck becoming unstable and turning over is a significant risk. Without a seatbelt, it’s common for the operator to fall out of or be thrown from a lift truck’s cab during tip over. There is also an element of the operators getting trapped while trying to escape the vehicle, and a seatbelt goes a long way to prevent this happening.


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The cost of seatbelt avoidance in lift trucks

In 2016, a major UK steel firm was heavily fined following the death of a forklift driver who was found to not be wearing a seatbelt. The driver was fatally crushed after reversing his forklift at speed and clipping a step, whereon he was thrown from the vehicle and crushed under its weight when it overturned.

Though the seatbelt did not cause the accident, the tragic consequences were a result of its absence, and this absence suggests complacency towards safety and a lack of guidance from management.

Although he had received training instructing him to wear a belt, the rule had never been enforced by the company.

Fatalities or serious injuries stemming from situations like the above are still far too common in the workplace, and it is up to the companies to drive a change in staff attitudes towards seatbelts on forklift trucks. Operators carrying out similar tasks in the same environment day to day can soon become complacent over safety and this is when managers need the confidence to step in and challenge bad practice.


Conclusion

Wearing a seatbelt won’t prevent an accident from happening, but managers and operators need reminding that it could dramatically minimise the consequences for them should an accident happen.

Refresher forklift training is a great way to remind your employees of safe practices, and remember to make seatbelts an important part of your company policy today. Not only could it could save your colleagues from a serious injury, but once in your policy, it becomes a legal requirement.

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