The hidden risk of forklifts

As a small business, you might think that you’ve got all your bases covered. But there are hidden risks that not only threaten your livelihood, but also the lives of your employees. In particular, the unsafe operation of forklifts could quite literally cost you your business. As a standard piece of equipment in a huge range of workplaces – from warehouses and shopfronts to galleries and construction sites – it’s easy to become complacent about forklifts or ignore the risk to staff members.

Bosses at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market recently revoked trader Meng Bu’s license due to forklift safety breaches. The 73-year-old Cambodian refugee has spent the past 34 years running a box-hire operation. Despite spending $2000 trying to comply with regulations, Mr Bu failed to meet the minimum safety requirements. Three other forklift operators were also issued warnings. They likely thought they were doing all they could to keep people safe, but fell short. And your business can’t afford to make the same mistake.

The spotlight shining on forklift safety

With SafeWork NSW cracking down on dangerous workplaces as part of a blitz on forklift safety, it’s clear there’s a growing concern that forklifts are endangering staff and customers. Operators are expected to be qualified under the latest standards or face breaches and potential shutdown.

While most small business operators carry a range of insurance to cover incidents, they’re ill-equipped when it comes to having the necessary qualifications and licenses. There’s also a tendency to turn a blind eye to who’s hopping on the forklift and how they are being operated, until an accident occurs. But it’s simply not good enough to wait until it’s too late.

Insurance is not the same as policies and procedures

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t protect your business. However, while most operators are well-insured, they’re often caught out by the associated costs. Direct costs, like workers’ compensation premiums or payments to injured or incapacitated workers, are well-understood. But these only cover a fraction of the total cost of work-related injuries. Consider the loss of productivity, loss of current and future earnings, lost potential output and the cost of providing social welfare programs for injured or incapacitated workers.

Small business owners are regularly stretched just servicing their core business and often struggle to implement policies and procedures to prevent incidents. So, if you don’t have the resources, find support in state government regulatory authorities, who make small business advisors available to develop forklift safety compliance programs for your business. There are also plenty of resources available that can help you to start building a ‘safety first’ approach in the business – but it has to be driven from the top down.

Can you afford the risk?

While safety compliance might go to the bottom of your To Do list because it all seems too hard, consider this: Queen Victoria Market operator Meng Bu was arguably put out of business by a forklift. Is it worth exposing your business to the hidden risks of a forklift?

Christine Di Stasio, Group General Manager – OHSE & Risk, PMP

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