Transport safety in the workplace
Almost every business uses transport, whether it's to make or receive deliveries or just to move goods around their premises. Whatever forms of transport your business uses, you must assess and manage the risks. Even carrying goods by hand has risks - back problems are one of the most common causes of injuries and days off.
This guide outlines the main transport safety areas you need to consider, from manual handling to uncoupling the trailer of a heavy goods vehicle. It also tells you where to get more detailed information and advice.
Safety when vehicles are used in the workplace
Any type of transport vehicle can cause potential risks in the workplace. Most businesses make and receive deliveries using vehicles ranging from heavy goods vehicles to small vans or even bicycles.
Inside your premises you might move stock around using hand trucks or forklifts. Even when no transport vehicles are used, lifting and moving by hand has risks.
Workplace transport isn't only a risk in warehouses and factories. For example, retailers frequently move items, whether receiving deliveries or restocking their shelves. Even in an office you're likely to occasionally move supplies or equipment.
As an employer, you should remember that under health and safety law you are responsible for the health and safety of everyone affected by your business. This includes everyone from employees to visitors or members of the public.
Loading, unloading and tipping safety
Loading and unloading items can be one of the most risky parts of transport. This applies whether you are loading or unloading deliveries or moving goods within your premises.
It's essential to include loading and unloading as part of your health and safety risk assessment.
There are a number of things you should take into consideration when carrying out this part of your risk assessment, such as:
- Ensuring that the area where loading and unloading takes place is safe. It should be clear of other traffic and pedestrians.
- Sourcing safety equipment. For example, you might need guard rails or plates to prevent anything getting caught in machinery such as a vehicle tail lift.
- Ensuring that the vehicle is stable and safe with any brakes properly applied.
- Loading the vehicle safely. For example, you may need to spread the load evenly and avoid overloading.
- Avoiding using vehicles that require the load to be sheeted and unsheeted. If you must use them, minimise the risks.
- Unloading by tipping carries extra risks - for example if the load is tipped onto someone or if the vehicle overturns.
Lifting and manual handling safety
Workplace transport doesn't only involve vehicles. You almost certainly move things by hand as well. You may also use lifting equipment.
Both lifting and manual handling must be included in your health and safety risk assessment.
Manual handling is a major cause of injuries in UK businesses - many workers suffer back problems or other injuries. Where possible you should avoid the need for manual handling, eg by providing appropriate equipment.
If manual handling is unavoidable, you should assess and minimise the risks. Training employees in correct handling techniques can help reduce injuries and the number of days taken off as a consequence.
To help minimise the risk of lifting equipment causing injury you should ensure it is:
- strong, stable and suitable for the job
positioned to minimise the risk of it or its load falling on anyone
marked with safety information
regularly inspected and maintained
Anyone using the equipment should be properly trained and any failure of lifting equipment should also be reported.
To help identify high-risk workplace manual handling activities, read about the manual handling assessment chart (MAC) tool.
Parking and reversing safety
Reversing and parking vehicles - whether used for deliveries or within your premises - carries risks. Careless parking is a common cause of accidents. Nearly a quarter of all workplace deaths involve reversing.
Reversing and parking must be included in your health and safety risk assessment.
As far as possible you should manage vehicle movements to avoid the need for reversing or inappropriate parking.
Where reversing is unavoidable, you should minimise the risks. For example, risks are lower if reversing takes place only where there are no blind spots, and where there are no pedestrians or other traffic. You should remember that:
- drivers need training in safe practices
- you may need to use signalling equipment or signallers
- vehicles should be fitted with appropriate mirrors
- you may need other safety equipment, such as barriers, reversing alarms or reverse parking sensors
Manage vehicle movements to ensure safety in the workplace
Proper planning significantly reduces the risk from vehicle movements. This applies to traffic routes within buildings and yards as much as to roads.
Assessing and controlling these risks is an essential part of your health and safety risk assessment.
- Reassess your work practices to reduce vehicle movements within your premises by re-siting operations or installing equipment such as conveyors.
- Plan safe traffic routes, avoiding any danger areas. Risks can be reduced with speed limits and one-way systems.
- Ensure that loads are safely secured.
- Make sure route surfaces are constructed of suitable material and properly drained. Avoid steep slopes.
- Provide separate routes for pedestrians where possible, and barriers or guard rails if appropriate.
- Ensure routes are clearly marked using painted lines and other devices.
- Use signposting to explain routes and warn of potential dangers.
- Provide adequate and suitable parking and loading bays. For example these should be on level ground to reduce risks.
- Provide adequate lighting throughout, particularly in areas such as junctions and routes used by pedestrians.
It is important to ensure that drivers follow appropriate safety policies and procedures. The driver of a vehicle should always be clearly responsible for its safety.
Make sure you consider the risks to visitors and the risks caused by visiting drivers.
Avoid falls from vehicles
Falls from vehicles are a common cause of injuries. To help protect your employees you should look at the dangers they face as part of your regular risk assessments. This may include falls from delivery vehicles or from vehicles used within your premises.
The safest course of action is to eliminate the need to climb onto vehicles in the first place - by providing a loading platform, for instance.
Where climbing onto a vehicle is unavoidable, you can reduce the risks by using suitable access equipment such as walkways with guard rails. Restrict access to people who must be there.
You should ensure that drivers, other employees and visitors understand safety practices. These include only carrying passengers on suitable vehicles and forbidding jumping onto a moving vehicle.
Vehicle exhaust dangers in the workplace
Exhaust emissions are at best unhealthy and at worst they can be fatal.
Both petrol and diesel engines produce carbon monoxide, soot and other contaminants. Prolonged exposure to vehicle exhaust fumes and smoke can lead to breathing difficulties and increase the risk of cancer in the long term.
As part of your health and safety responsibilities, you are legally required to manage the risks from harmful substances such as exhaust fumes.
How to control exhaust emissions in the workplace
It's your responsibility to prevent or at least control exposure to exhaust emissions. Actions you can take include:
- properly tuning and maintaining engines
- fitting control systems such as catalytic converters
- enforcing procedures such as ensuring that engines are switched off when not needed
- fitting extraction fans in areas where fumes can build up
You should also watch out for warning signs. Blue or black smoke produced by poorly maintained or faulty engines is particularly harmful. The build-up of soot on walls can also show that diesel fumes are excessive.
In confined or completely enclosed spaces, you must use electric-propulsion or possibly liquefied petroleum gas fuel to avoid a build-up of fumes, eg in forklift trucks.
You should also include emissions in your health, safety and environmental risk assessment.
You should also be aware of the level of noise caused by your vehicles when moving around at night as well as the risk of emitting excessive dust, grit and fumes.
Reducing your vehicle use and choosing more environmentally friendly alternatives can reduce your environmental impact and benefit your business financially.
Avoid vehicle overturns
Overturning is involved in almost one in five fatal vehicle accidents. The risks apply both to delivery vehicles and to vehicles used within the workplace. Forklift trucks for example are particularly prone to overturning.
It's essential to address this risk as part of your health and safety risk assessment.
Part of prevention is to ensure that you use the right vehicles, with the right safety equipment. There is a legal requirement for most vehicles to be fitted with a roll over protection system and restraints if there is a danger of them overturning.
But it's equally important to ensure that drivers are properly trained and follow safe procedures. Many accidents are caused because vehicles are driven in unsafe ways or in unsuitable conditions. For example, an overloaded vehicle driven too fast round a corner is more likely to overturn. Drivers who fail to wear seatbelts can also suffer far worse injuries than those who do.
For more information, read the Health & Safety Executive guide on avoiding vehicle overturns.
Finally, it is very important to ensure that all routes and passageways are kept clear of obstruction and debris.
Coupling and uncoupling trailers safely
Coupling and uncoupling trailers from large vehicles can be a dangerous operation. If the trailer or tractor unit moves, it can easily crush someone.
It's essential to follow safe practice, ensuring that the right brakes have been properly engaged. Even experienced drivers don't always get this right.
You should also ensure that the risks from any loading or unloading are minimised.
Remember that under health and safety law you have a responsibility for the health and safety of all employees both on and off your premises, and for all employees and others who come to your premises - such as contractors or drivers making deliveries to your premises. You need to ensure that drivers follow safe procedures wherever they are.