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Forklift worker fatally injured by chain

Worksafe Queensland recently reported a forklift operator died after he was struck by a chain at a building material supply workplace in February 2023. Early investigations indicate a forklift was unloading steel weld mesh from a shipping container using a connection point located in the forklift’s counterbalance to drag the material out of the container. It appears part of the towing equipment failed and the chain recoiled towards the forklift, striking the operator.

Workers are at risk when they are unpacking heavy, awkward and unsecured items from shipping containers. The items packed in containers vary significantly and can be small, large, heavy, light or bulky.

Hazards associated with unpacking shipping containers include but are not limited to:

  • containers placed on sloping or uneven ground
  • inadequate lighting to allow safe unpacking of the contents
  • loose items due to inadequate securing to prevent movement during transport
  • items not packed for easy unpacking, not on pallets or slip sheets
  • loose items falling from a height
  • items coming loose during transport forcing the doors open or falling on workers when the door is first opened
  • unsafe unpacking systems, such as using unsuitable straps, chains or restraints or using them incorrectly
  • using incorrect equipment to unload the items—in this case using a forklift not designed to tow or drag items out of the container
  • overloading plant, and not taking the rated capacities of attachments into consideration.

In another forklift-related incident, in Victoria, a commercial kitchen cabinet importer and installer has been fined $50,000 after a loaded pallet fell from a forklift, hitting a worker and causing serious injuries.

Trendgosa Pty Ltd, was sentenced in the Heidelberg Magistrates’ Court last month after pleading guilty to a charge of failing to provide or maintain systems of work that were, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health and was ordered to pay $2,698 in costs.

In December 2021 a forklift driver was unloading a shipping container at the company’s Heidelberg West warehouse. As the forklift exited the container carrying a loaded pallet, the load fell from the forklift’s tynes and struck a worker standing outside.

The injured worker suffered fractures to his skull, temple, shoulder blade, collar bone and ribs, and punctured lungs.

A WorkSafe investigation found the forklift driver did not have a current High Risk Work Licence for forklift operation and that the company did not have a traffic management plan to protect pedestrians when unloading shipping containers.

The court heard it was reasonably practicable for the company to have a traffic management plan and set up a three-meter exclusion zone, such as by using bollards and barricade tape, to prevent anyone entering the area while the forklift was operating.

It was also reasonably practicable to ensure that the forklift was stopped and that any loads were positioned to prevent them coming into contact with anyone, prior to the forklift operator permitting anyone to enter the exclusion zone.

WorkSafe Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said this was a serious breach and that too many employers still failed to control the well-known risks associated with forklifts.

“Working with forklifts is inherently hazardous and employers must be proactive to protect workers and others from the risk of being struck by a load or a moving forklift,” Dr Beer said.

“That means using a traffic management plan, including measures to separate pedestrians from moving vehicles and loads, such as barriers, exclusion zones and warning signs.”

Since January 2022, fines totalling $775,000 were imposed by the courts against companies and directors in 13 WorkSafe prosecutions involving forklifts. In the same period, WorkSafe has accepted 192 claims from workers seriously injured in forklift incidents and since February 2019, eight people have died as a result of forklift incidents.

The HRIA reminds members that resources are available on the HRIA website designed to keep workers up to speed with their responsibility around load and loading and other related activities.

HRIA Resources


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