From Imran Khan to £700,000 fines – how the law has transformed the way we work at height & why cutting corners makes injuries inevitable.

Cages, or to give them their official name, non-integrated platforms, were often used with forklifts to allow workers to stand on the forklift and perform simple tasks. But after a spate of accidents and injury compensation claims, it was clear that they posed a considerable safety hazard, and the HSE released guidance prohibiting the use of forklift cages where more suitable equipment is available.

Now, purpose-built Mobile Elevating Working Platforms (MEWPs) make the cage a relic of the past. Businesses have warmed to the idea that forklift trucks are intended for lifting materials, not people, whilst MEWPs are obviously designed specifically for aerial access.

MEWP Safety

Access equipment, while considered far safer than cages due to their fully integrated controls, can still be dangerous. That became clear to a crowd in 2013, when Imran Khan, the former cricketer and one of Pakistan’s most popular politicians, was taken to hospital after falling around 15ft from a platform lift as it carried him on to a stage for an election rally.

Khan had to have stitches but escaped serious injury. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case in these types of accidents. In March 2017, a home appliance manufacturer was fined £700,000 after a self-employed contractor fell from a MEWP and later died from his injuries.

Two years prior, the contractor had been working at a height of nearly five metres installing fire detection equipment. At the same time, maintenance workers started an overhead conveyor unaware that the contractor was working nearby. The movement caused the MEWP to tip over and the 66-year-old man fell to the factory floor. He later died from his injuries.

A HSE investigation found there was no effective control or supervision in place to prevent the conflicting work tasks from being undertaken at the same time. It is simple miscommunication like this that can result in the tragic incident of a worker’s death, along with a crippling fine.

But you don’t need to have an accident to be fined. The HSE can investigate a business where it suspects workers are at risk of harm, without there having already been such an incident.

Prevention is Primary

An Essex construction company found this out to their cost, being fined for putting workers at risk after neglecting to check and maintain a potentially dangerous piece of lifting equipment. Basildon Magistrates’ Court heard that a forklift truck in heavy use went more than 12 months without any kind of thorough examination, despite it being a legal requirement to do so at least once a year.

The truck, used to move heavy steel fabrications, was kept in continuous use and showing obvious signs of disrepair. An investigation by the HSE found that when the truck was eventually examined, only six items out of 24 that formed the basis of the report were marked “satisfactory”. The remaining 18 items were classed as “repair needed”. Amazingly, defects included worn out tyres, flashing beacons and lamps not working and a loose counter-weight. Charges were made of breaches of the Lifting Operations & Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 and Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The result was a fine of £3,000 plus £3,238 in costs.

HSE inspector, Keith Waller, explained: “All machinery must be maintained regularly to ensure it is safe to work with and be near. It is not enough to rely on reactive maintenance and only fix things when they go wrong; companies should be looking for signs of wear and tear before any deterioration leads to an incident. HSE will not hesitate to prosecute when companies neglect their equipment and put workers and others at risk.”

Even without an accident then, forklift users should ensure their equipment is well maintained. That’s even more important for access platforms, where inspections should be carried out at least twice a year.

If you’re unsure about the safety of your forklift of aerial access equipment, please get in touch. We offer free no-obligation advice regarding LOLER and PUWER safety regulations to any business operating lifting or access equipment.