Shot of a young woman driving a forklift

What are the Hidden Costs of Workplace Accidents?

More than 400,000 small and medium-sized businesses in Australia have supply chain and logistics functions. In these industries, it’s natural to have a lot of movements and hence, a higher probability for accidents compared to typical corporate offices.

As of 29 November, there have been 115 Australians killed at work in 2018 (source: Safe Work Australia) and 37 of that (around one-third of 115 fatalities) happened in the transport, postal and warehousing industry. It tops the list in worker fatalities when it comes to industry type. The other fatalities happened in the following industries:

  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing (32)
  • Construction (20)
  • Manufacturing (9)
  • Mining (5)

These industries (including the transport, postal and warehousing mentioned above) have the highest number of worker fatalities. Notice that these industries require facilitating a lot of movements, working at heights and operating machinery. For instance, in 2016, there are 76 worker fatalities due to vehicle collision. The other following incidents relate to falls from a height (25 fatalities), being hit by moving objects (17), being hit by falling objects (17) and being trapped by moving machinery (8 fatalities).

The common trend here is that movement causes accidents. But if there’s no movement, there will be no business activity. The key here then is to facilitate (or even accelerate movement) while still ensuring safety in the workplace.

The upfront and hidden costs of workplace accidents

In 2012-13, work-related injuries cost the Australian economy $28 billion. During that same period, around $6.6 billion resulted from a fall, trips or slips of people in the workplace. Being hit by objects and hitting objects with part of the body accounted for $4.5 billion and $2.8 billion respectively. In other words, work-related injuries are costly (and more importantly result in loss of lives or physical capabilities).

As a result, engineers and workplace managers formulate comprehensive rules, measures and guidelines to make the workplace safe (for equipment operators, pedestrians and bystanders). This way they can eliminate or minimise workplace accidents especially in dynamic sites such as in warehouses. In these areas, the following collisions and accidents can happen:

  • Forklift vs forklift
  • Forklift vs object (a shelf, rack or package)
  • Forklift vs person
  • Person vs object
  • Person vs person (e.g. during manual handling of boxes and pedestrians didn’t see each other)

Busy and dynamic warehouses are rich environments for those scenarios. It’s a great sign that business is doing well. However, each accident can be very costly not just because of the injuries and repair-related costs, but also because of downtimes and lost productivity. After all, each accident often results in a temporary halt of operations. Managers and some of the staff members need to immediately attend to the injury, evacuate the area if needed and investigate the cause. The effect should also be contained especially if there are chemical spills or if the shelves and racks became unstable (the danger of falling objects).

The downtimes can result in serious delays in the loading and transport of goods and equipment. It’s also possible that those downtimes should be offset by doing overtime work. And yes, overtime work causes body and mental stress (which could then make the workers more prone to mistakes and accidents).

Preventing workplace accidents

How can then we eliminate or minimise accidents in the workplace? First, we have to analyse the root causes and create solid measures around those causes.

For example, one root cause for workplace accidents is that pedestrians and active forklifts might be occupying the same area. Sooner or later, a forklift will hit a pedestrian because the environment is set up for an accident in the first place. So to prevent that scenario, pedestrians and active forklifts should not share the same area (barriers and gates should be present to prevent pedestrians from coming into the forklift lanes and setting Pedestrians Prohibited zones).

Another root cause is a poorly designed or maintained workplace. For instance, poor lighting and visibility may cause slips, trips and vehicle collisions. Also, the lack of alert and warning systems when another forklift is approaching can also result in collisions anytime soon. The aisles, corners and intersections might be hard to manoeuvre and there’s not enough time or space for the forklift driver to avoid impact (to a wall, rack or another forklift).

The proactive approach then is to improve visibility and install alert systems (that get triggered when a forklift or pedestrian is approaching). That improved visibility and the presence of alert systems can provide enough reaction time for drivers and pedestrians to adjust and move away. Indeed, focusing on the environment can help prevent accidents and risks.

Another accident root cause is in the industrial lift truck itself. For example, if the drivers are operating second-hand forklifts, it’s very likely that these vehicles have outdated or missing safety features. It’s also possible that manoeuvring is more difficult when operating these second-hand vehicles. Another possibility is that when the drivers operate the old forklifts, they experience a high level of noise and vibration which would distract them from their work (and later on result in mistakes and accidents).

To minimise the number of those incidents and make the workplace safer for everyone, it’s valuable to complete a pre-start safety check which can include the following:

  • Reading the load rating plates (for ensuring that the forklift and attachments are appropriate for the task)
  • Inspecting lift and tilt systems (including attachments, clamps, hydraulic lines for oil leaks, chains, cables and limiters)
  • Inspecting tyres for wear, damage and inflation
  • Making sure guarding is in place and functional
  • Inspecting the fork arms and attachments for deformation, damage or wear
  • Checking the liquid levels (water, hydraulic oil, brake fluid)
  • Inspecting the gas cylinders where necessary
  • Testing the seat belts and making sure they work reliably

This pre-start safety check can be very valuable in preventing collisions and allowing proper manoeuvring. In addition, this can also help in keeping the industrial lift truck stable (prevent tipping over). The stability will be lost if the operator caused the forklift to collide with another vehicle. Other scenarios for instability also happen when the forklift’s centre of gravity falls outside the triangle of stability (the shifting of weight is too rapid or unstable). This can be commonly caused by the following:

  • The forklift turns too fast
  • Speeds up too quickly (forward or reverse)
  • Brakes too quickly (or improper braking when driving up or down a slope)
  • Forklift goes across slopes or uneven ground
  • Turns too fast

To prevent those occurrences, adequate personnel training and only allowing authorised drivers to operate the vehicles are valuable measures. Also, it’s very helpful to identify all the possible interactions among vehicles and pedestrians. This way, both the managers and staff can implement measures on how to make those interactions safer for everyone.

Proactive measures including inspection and maintenance

It’s advisable to service and maintain industrial lift trucks once every 12 months (or more often depending on usage and manufacturer’s instructions). This servicing and maintenance should be performed by relevant competent professionals to ensure safe operation of the vehicles. For instance, repairing or replacing a gas fitting on LPG powered industrial lift truck should be performed by a licensed gas fitter. Also, the servicing and maintenance should be done promptly (e.g. set up manual or electronic reminder systems) to ensure not just safe operation, but also to maximise the vehicle’s lifetime.

There are other proactive measures for ensuring workplace safety and minimising the costs associated with workplace accidents (but it’s best to prevent them altogether). For example, here at ShockWatch, we’ve worked with small businesses and multinational corporations to make their warehouses safe. We’ve been able to accomplish this by installing modern Fleet Management and Accident Prevention solutions in their warehouse facilities.

Contact us today if you want to minimise accidents and downtimes in your warehouse (especially when it comes to preventing forklift-related accidents). Our technical staff will always be ready to listen to your specific requirements.