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Telehandlers: know the risks

How much of a potential hazard are these jacks of all trades?

The strategic forum plant safety group, which includes members of the HSE, has expressed growing concerns about the risks associated with improper use of telehandlers on site.

Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) chief executive Colin Wood, who chairs the group, points out that as the machines are becoming more sophisticated over time, they are being used to perform a wider variety of tasks and accident levels are increasing.

“They’re a utility vehicle and tend to do a bit of everything. I’m not aware of any best practice that exists for telehandlers and they can be hazardous when manoeuvred around site. A lot of accidents happen when the machines are manoeuvred, especially when they’re reversing and people aren’t looking where they’re going,” he says.

For the 12 months up to March 2009, three people were killed by telehandlers. One operator overturned the machine while reversing and another was crushed when inadvertently pushing up against the controls.

In January this year, a 51-year-old in Northumberland, was struck by a reversing telehandler and killed. BAM construct was also fined £15,000 this month due to a fatality which occurred back in 2007, during which a worker on Corby Shopping centre was also reversed over.

Mr Wood insists that three deaths in one year is too great a number. But is it realistic to expect these powerful machines to come with lower accident rates?

Mr Wood believes that this would certainly be the case if there was more guidance available for operators – something which the strategic forum plant safety group is set to start working upon around October time - along with increasing awareness of existing guides on driving heavy machinery.

Tim Faithful, director of member services at the Construction Equipment Association (CEA) says: “Most accidents by far are caused by a lack of due attention to the machine during operation. With telehandlers for example, you get tipping issues due to people operating them on sloping ground with heavy loads held above.”

While those driving the machines may be culpable to a large extent, it would be unfair to ignore the design faults which have pushed telehandlers onto the health and safety agenda on more than one occasion. The HSE has called a meeting this month to discuss driver visibility with regards to telehandlers, as poor design, part raised booms or particularly bulky loads can lead to blind spots. Talks on the subject have being going on for around three years and more stringent assessment criteria seems to be on the cards.

Mr Faithful thinks that, to some extent, the answer may lie elsewhere. “You can’t design every fault out. Sites need some sort of onsite perimeter control – someone preventing access to the work area.”

An expensive option. Perhaps a little guidance would go a long way.

Readers' comments (2)

  • to reduce the number of deaths caused by tele-handlers (and other plant) pedestrians and plant MUST be kept apart from one another.lots of sites operate a pedestrian walkway system which is meant to achieve the above.unfortunately as soon as the walkway/plant only area starts to interfere with the "normal" running of the site,ie; tradesmen,labourers,AGENTS having to take the the long way round rather than just walk straight across as we used to "in the good old days", the walkway soon starts to be ignored and in some cases dismantled,until that is,the agent gets wind of an inspection coming coming up,in which case the walkway is soon reinstated,albeit temporarily..
    dont forget,if the plant operator is working in what is supposed to be a "pedestrian free zone" then he will not be as safety conscious in his all round observation as he would be if he was working in a "mixed" environment.
    if there are no pedestrians in the way,then they wont be run over----FACT..

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  • There are many guidelines for operators, these should all be covered in the training course. If they are not then stop the course and get your money back. Ed (20 years experience in operating Lifting Equipment- 7 years experience training lifting equipment operators. No disrespect intended BUT a TElehandler is NOT a jack of all trades - IT IS AN ITEM OF LIFTING EQUIPMENT - ONLY! NOthing else at all - ever. Any other use is strictly forbidden and you should learn all of this in any decent training course. This article should be sufficient to highlight the importance of proper training and the reason why managers should check with the appropriate governing body that the operators "licence" is GENUINE

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