Health & Safety

Managing to manage

Management’s role in safe materials handling

While it seems obvious that appropriate and timely lift truck driver training is essential for operational safety, supervisors and middle management have a crucial role to play in maintaining that safe environment. Gay Sutton speaks to Stuart Taylor, Managing Director of Mentor Forklift Training, to get to the heart of the matter.

Mentor has provided a list of the some of the most common causes of accidents and incidents associated with forklift trucks, and a checklist of steps that managers and supervisors can take to prevent them.


Would your managers recognise an unsafe practice?

Common causes of accidents and incidents


  •   Undertake regular monitoring
  •   Provide refresher training for operators as appropriate

Lack of operator understanding

  • Ensure the three stages of operator training are carried out

Lack of segregation

  • Implement appropriate measures, ideally physical segregation
  • If this is not possible, area segregation


  • Provide safety awareness training for non-operators
  • Monitor their behaviour


  • Implement realistic KPIs
  • Undertake regular supervision
  • Ensure all operators have received relevant training

Machine breakdowns

  • Ensure planned preventative maintenance is undertaken
  • Ensure simple, managed pre-use checking procedures are carried out

Monitor these regularly

  • Respond appropriately to reported faults

Poor housekeeping

  • Ensure a housekeeping schedule is in place
  • Monitor the working environment regularly

Working environment

  • Ensure operators undergo familiarisation training
  • Ensure proper planning and management controls are in place

Incorrect charging/refuelling procedures

  • Ensure operators are trained
  • Ensure safe systems of work and policies are in place
  • Communicate these to staff and monitor behaviour

Lack of manager/supervisor understanding

  • Provide specialist training for managers
  • Ensure they have the relevant skills and knowledge
  • Ensure they have the confidence to recognise and rectify unsafe practices

Battery maintenance presents serious risks and requires careful precautions.

Let’s drill down more deeply into the underlying principles behind these.>>>


This is one of the biggest issues in all areas of business and can be particularly hazardous in the lift truck operating environment due to the often repetitive nature of tasks. Unsafe behaviour that goes unchecked or does not result in an issue can easily become the norm.

“Complacency is a behavioural trait of all people and environments,” Stuart explained, “and once we have understood and accepted that, we can work to address it. And this requires continuous effort, not just a one-off campaign.”


Stuart Taylor of Mentor Forklift Training.

Monitoring and good management

The onus is on managers and supervisors to provide adequate supervision. In the lift truck environment this means:

  • Carrying out effective observations and knowing what to look for
  • Being able to communicate effectively with operators and line managers
  • Recognising unsafe practice and behaviour
  • Maintaining and promoting health and safety standards

To do this effectively, managers and supervisors don’t need an operator’s certificate themselves, but they must be able to recognise what constitutes safe and unsafe practice. “But one of the challenges is that it is not necessarily common sense. For instance, turning with a raised load is an absolute no-no, as it affects the stability of the truck. But unless you understand how forklifts operate, you might think that’s absolutely normal.”

There are specialist courses available that will teach basic regulations and key principles to managers, including stability, safe and unsafe operating practice, and the consequences of
an accident.

Managers should communicate regularly with the staff, reinforcing the company’s processes and policies, which should be based on robust risk assessments, and ensuring everybody knows what they should be doing. “Talk to your staff. Small things really make a difference. Have toolbox talks. Have beginning-of-shift talks. If there’s been an incident, pull people together and reiterate again the importance. Remember, your safety measures are only as effective as those who enforce them.”

Having the confidence to supervise and manage begins with having the knowledge.
But it also requires the support of top management, who have to recognise it takes time to supervise, time to address issues, and time to communicate with staff. Empower your staff to take responsibility for safety and help reduce instances of bad practice.

Operator training

It’s important that supervisors ensure all three elements of operator training are completed. “New starters are the highest risk by far,” Stuart pointed out. “They are as likely to get injured in the first six months of a new job as they are during the entire rest of their working lives.”

Basic training is usually carried out away from the operation and includes theoretical and practical training in a safe environment.

Specific job training and familiarisation training are best delivered on site by a trusted and competent member of staff who has the skills and knowledge to instil the right attitudes and understanding. This training focuses on the specific requirements of their job and on learning how to work safely in their everyday environment. For example: the procedures and regulations applicable to the site; how its traffic management systems work; site-specific hazards such as ramps, overhead obstructions or dock levellers; and information about load types, different weights and stacking methods, and so on.

Refresher training is generally quoted as being required every three to five years, but in practice the frequency should be defined by an assessment of the business’ operation and the operators. Occasional users, for example, may need to be refreshed more often, because they’re not regularly putting their training into practice.

Charging and refuelling procedures are part of basic operator training. Managers should ensure they are included in specific job training and then embedded during supervision. This area is key, as battery maintenance and refuelling can present serious risks if the relevant precautions aren’t taken, including shocks, burns or even explosions.

“Around 60 per cent of injuries from forklift accidents are not to drivers but to those around them on foot.”


Pre-use inspections must be monitored and enforced.


“Around 60 per cent of injuries from forklift accidents are not to drivers but to those around them on foot,” Stuart emphasised. “Pedestrians are the highest risk group, so awareness amongst them, and operators alike, is key.”

In an ideal world there would always be physical segregation between forklift trucks and pedestrians, but that’s not possible in every environment. So, Stuart suggests that companies assess the workplace and involve their staff in developing safety policies that include at least a walkway system for pedestrians.

It then takes a relatively small amount of investment and time to make staff and visitors aware of the risks, segregation policies and procedures on site, and then monitor them to ensure they are adhered to.

“You can mitigate the risk by putting the right control measures in place. It’s not complicated. It’s applying it and being committed to it.”

Be canny with targets

“The danger with KPIs is that they can easily become a tick box exercise,” Stuart warned. “So, choose them carefully.”

There are far more incidents of damage than of injury. That damage could be to your forklift, your racking or your stock, and don’t underestimate the cost of disrupting your operation. All of these costs are measurable and come directly off your business’ bottom line. So, don’t just measure how many near misses you’ve had. Tie it into something more tangible and use that as the basis for making improvements.


Specialist safety courses for managers are available.

Forklift focus

Companies have a responsibility to maintain equipment appropriately, and most do this very effectively through planned preventative maintenance. But regular pre-use inspections at the beginning of the day or shift can help identify new faults and prevent an incident occurring.

“Pre-use inspections are part of basic training and carrying them out is the responsibility of the operator,” Stuart noted. “Managers and supervisors are responsible for ensuring this is followed through and that the results are recorded. Carrying out spot checks on them regularly will ensure staff aren’t ticking all the boxes without even looking at the truck.”

Another reason why management training is vital is to understand the severity of faults (and their potential consequences) and make sure procedures are in place for unsafe trucks to be taken out of operation, then repaired and serviced within a given time.


Managers should ensure operators receive full training.


Managers and supervisors have a key role to play in site safety. “Most credible H&S organisations recognise that nearly every accident could have been avoided through better supervision and management,” Stuart concluded.

Good organisations recognise the risk of complacency and empower their supervisors and managers to address it by backing them and providing them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to stop unsafe practice in its tracks.