Forklift trucks are key to keeping stock moving efficiently across your builders merchant/garden centre  – but they’re also a significant source of safety issues. According to the Forklift Truck Association, an average of 43 people are involved in forklift-related incidents each week, with overturned vehicles the primary cause of death to operators.

Whether accidents happen as a result of cornering at high speed, hitting uneven ground or colliding with another vehicle, the safest place for drivers is secured in the cabin. Serious injuries occur when operators are thrown from their seat, crushed while jumping from a tipping forklift or struck by falling stock while escaping the vehicle – so it’s essential to make seatbelt use second nature across your team.

Your legal obligations 

As an employer, you have a responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety. This includes providing comprehensive training on safe working practices (including compulsory seatbelt use) and ensuring all vehicles are fit for purpose.

The HSE’s ‘Rider-operated Lift Trucks: Operator Training and Safe Use, Approved Code of Practice (L117)’ highlights the critical importance of keeping your fleet up to code. The guidance states: ‘In 2002 the fitting of an operator restraining system, such as a seatbelt, became a legal requirement for lift trucks. For older trucks, a restraining system should be retro-fitted if there is a risk of the vehicle overturning and where the operator may be trapped between the truck and the ground.’

The guidance continues: ‘Where restraining systems are fitted, they should be used and the risks of not wearing a seatbelt must be covered in lift truck training.’

Creating a ‘safety first’ culture

The high number of forklift-related accidents has caused courts to crack down on driver restraints – and prosecute management who fail to enforce the wearing of seatbelts. To protect both your business and your team, it pays to make a commitment to seatbelt safety.

Instruct new drivers on seatbelt use from day one, ensuring restraints are worn at all times, even for short distances. For more experienced operators, regularly revisit training and reinforce key compliance messages through a steady series of toolbox talks and by sharing examples of incidents or indictments in the media.

Shifting mindsets may take time, so support your employees through the change, delivering clear, consistent reminders before you consider disciplinary action. Practical measures can smooth the transition, helping site managers instantly gauge the pick-up of new processes. For example, specialist beacons that light up when the seatbelt is clicked can be added to the forklift’s roof, while brightly coloured belts demonstrate from a distance if drivers are safe and secure. Similarly, trucks can be modified to prevent operation unless the seatbelt is engaged.

To safeguard your staff and site, seatbelt use should be standard for every forklift driver. By fulfilling your legal obligations, championing positive work practices and providing necessary training at all levels, you can actively reduce risk and ensure workers buckle up every time they climb aboard.

Southalls health and safety consultancy services can guide you through every kind of compliance challenge, from day-to-day H&S support to implementing company-wide culture change. Talk to us about making your business safer, stronger and consistently compliant.