They “are not dodgem cars”
Licensing is mandated where there is a history of serious injury or damage, permanent impairment and fatalities as a result of the plant, equipment or product or task. Forklift are known for causing serious injuries and fatalities; hence the stringent regulations and licensing requirements for operators and workplaces with the age limit of 18 years and over.
Forklift are dangerous and that’s why licensing is mandated with age limits.
In January 2022, the Australian Guardian reported that the prime minister, Scott Morrison had a proposal before cabinet to allow children to drive forklifts. The reason he wanted to further reduce regulation in the transport and other sectors was to ease a staffing crisis that has crippled supply chains and stripped supermarket shelves of staples including pork and some fresh vegetables.
Given the injury rates and severity of injuries including fatalities, this proposal by Scott Morrison appeared to have caught the states by surprise, with the Queensland, Victorian and New South Wales governments saying they have no plans to lower the current age of 18.
Forklift drivers in Queensland, NSW and Victoria require a special “high risk work” license, which involves doing a short course and sitting a test, and is only available to people who are 18 and over.
Industrial Manslaughter Laws 2017
Under the Palaszczuk government, Queensland has taken a hard line on safety at work. In 2017 it became the second state or territory, after the ACT, to introduce industrial manslaughter laws. The first industrial manslaughter conviction under the new law, in 2020, involved a man crushed between a forklift operated by an unlicensed driver and a stationary truck.
SafeWork NSW Safety Inspectors Visits
It appears that Scott Morrison may not have been aware that in September 2021, SafeWork NSW had serious concerns and had alerted businesses using forklifts that they would be visited following the releases of astonishing figures noting daily incidents involving a forklift occurring six days a week,
SafeWork NSW Executive Director of Compliance and Resolution, Tony Williams, said incidents involving forklifts were one of the biggest issues SafeWork NSW faced in the manufacturing space and inspectors would be out in force and could fine operators that were putting people at risk.
“Over the last two years, SafeWork NSW has recorded an astonishing 598 incidents involving forklifts. Tragically five of these incidents resulted in workplace fatalities,” Mr Williams said.
“While not all incidents involve an injury or death, many of these incidents include collisions between forklifts or other vehicles, rollovers, and objects falling off forklifts when loading or unloading.
“The main factor we see in people being killed or seriously injured by a forklift is primarily inadequate separation between pedestrians and forklifts, which leads to pedestrians being hit by a forklift or its load.
Mr Williams said “Almost 75 percent of all incidents happen in just five industries – transport, manufacturing, construction, retail and wholesale. We have issued 494 notices to operators in the same time the 598 incidents happened – almost 20 percent of workplaces don’t have simple seatbelt compliance in place.
“The use of forklifts continues to grow and they were great tools for all sorts of businesses, but if we were not doing it safely then people would be forced to stop using them,”Forklift Compliance Project
SafeWork’s 2021 Manufacturing Sector Plan, Forklift Compliance Project commences in September 2021 and would see Inspectors provide education to the industry along with conducting compliance checks against high-risk industries.
Mr Williams went on to say, “While always checking on compliance, Inspectors would be out educating users on forklift safety and is warning businesses and drivers that if they were doing the wrong thing, they would be held accountable; “But we would also engage, educate and build strong working relationships with identified high-risk industries, small businesses and locations to embed a culture of forklift safety.
SafeWork had already sent over 850 awareness letters to businesses encouraging them to get their workplaces in order in preparation of SafeWork inspectors turning up.
“SafeWork would be targeting those in high-risk industries, but any workplace in NSW that uses a forklift should expect a visit from a SafeWork inspector who would be looking at a range of issues including, licensing, traffic management, seatbelts, and forklift safety.
“They are not dodgem cars”.
On hearing the proposal by Scott Morrison, Tim Lyons, who conducted the review that resulted in the industrial manslaughter laws, said that “letting kids whizz around on forklifts is insane”.
“They are not dodgem cars,” he said in a Twitter post. “The kids are very likely to kill or injure themselves or someone else.”
Godfrey Moase, an executive director at the United Workers Union, said he had seen “a couple of fatalities” involving forklifts during his time as a union official.
“It’s as dangerous or can be as dangerous as a motor vehicle,” he said. “You’re driving … a piece of heavy equipment that can cause severe trauma injuries to people on impact.” He said the age should not be reduced.
“It’s a piece of heavy machinery that needs to be treated with due care and respect,” he said.
The ACT government issued a statement noting: “Sensible and safe measures to alleviate workforce shortages have been supported but allowing 16-year old’s to drive a forklift was unanimously rejected by all states and territories.”
“What we learn from history is that people don’t learn from history.” ~ Warren Buffett