Accident prevention – workplace transport
Mark Liddle, Health & Safety Laboratory, UK
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Workplace transport
- 3 Common accidents
- 4 Influential factors
- 5 Risk assessment
- 6 References
- 7 Links for further reading:
Workplace transport is important to most businesses, whether it be a retail outlet, a farm or a large manufacturing plant, they all rely on workplace transport to move products, materials or people from one place to another. Workplace transport is the second biggest cause of fatal accidents in the workplace and accounts for about a third of all workplace fatalities. This article will elaborate on the most common types of accidents and how to prevent them.
The term ‘workplace transport’ means the use of any vehicle in a work setting, such as forklift trucks, compact dumpers, tractors or mobile cranes. It can also include cars, vans and large goods vehicles when these are operating off the public highway. It specifically excludes transport on the public highway, air, rail or water transport. However, loading or unloading on the public highway and use of vehicles where the highway is classed as a temporary workplace, during road works etc. is regarded as 'workplace transport'.
Workplace transport activities may include moving goods or people within the workplace; loading, unloading and securing loads; sheeting; coupling; and vehicle maintenance work. Such activities are carried out in most business sectors and by a diverse range of occupations, e.g. farmers, warehouse staff, construction workers, etc.
There are numerous hazards associated with workplace transport, some of which are specific to the actual type of vehicle being used, whereas others are associated with the particular activity being undertaken. This article describes the hazards associated with the most common types of vehicles and workplace transport activities as well as detailing the precautions that can be taken to minimise the risk of an accident.
Workplace transport is the second biggest cause of fatal accidents in the workplace and accounts for about a third of all workplace fatalities. Although differences in reporting systems make EU-wide comparisons difficult, UK data for example shows being struck by a moving vehicle as one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities in the high-risk agriculture sector. The most common causes of injury are: moving vehicles hitting or running over people, people falling off workplace vehicles, workplace vehicles overturning and objects falling off workplace vehicles .
People being hit or run over by vehicles
People being hit or run over by vehicles in the workplace is an all too common occurrence, which can have very serious consequences. In many cases the victim of such incidents had no need to be in the vicinity of moving vehicles and good traffic management could have prevented the accident. It is important to segregate pedestrians and vehicles wherever possible by clearly defining walkways and vehicle routes. These should ideally incorporate physical barriers to keep pedestrians and vehicles apart. Where pedestrians need to be in close proximity to vehicles it is important to ensure that there is good lighting and that pedestrians wear high visibility clothing to make them easier for the driver to see. Reversing is a particularly hazardous manoeuvre, which should be avoided if possible by introducing one way systems and drive through load bays. Alternatively vehicles can be fitted with rearward facing cameras or ultrasonic reversing sensors to alert drivers to obstacles in their path  .
Falls from vehicles
Falls from vehicles is the main cause of major injury and much can be done to minimise the risks. Some vehicle cabs and load areas can be a significant distance from the ground and access can be precarious due to inadequate steps and handrails, or a complete lack thereof. Furthermore, drivers and staff involved in loading/unloading may need to climb onto the load, which could be uneven, slippery, and over 5 metres from the ground. Vehicle surfaces can become slippery if contaminated by substances such as, diesel, water and oil, and the ropes, straps and lashing points that are used to secure loads, can present a trip hazard. People can also lose their bearings when working on vehicle beds and misjudge where the edge of the vehicle is, resulting in them stepping back off the vehicle and into ‘thin air’. To minimise the risk of falls, a safe means to board and alight the vehicle should be provided, i.e. suitable steps and handrails providing safe access to the parts of the vehicle that are regularly worked on. Slip resistant surfaces should also be used and where possible, working at height should be avoided by employing automated sheeting devices and loading platforms.
Workplace vehicle overturns can occur if the vehicle’s centre of gravity is compromised by a shift in weight. This is typically caused by either an erratic manoeuvre, or if the ground is uneven or sloped. These effects can be exacerbated by an unevenly distributed or poorly secured load and high velocity. Ideally the vehicles centre of gravity should be as close to the ground as possible and loads should be evenly distributed and secured to prevent a sudden shift in weight. Where practicable vehicles should be operated on smooth level surfaces and appropriate roll over protection should be provided. Careful consideration should be given to tipping and lifting operations as these can raise a vehicle’s centre of gravity and make it more unstable .
Objects falling off workplace vehicle
Objects falling off workplace vehicle can include parts of the load that have become dislodged during transit, parts of the vehicle that are poorly fitted or damaged, or extraneous items, such as forgotten tools that have left behind after maintenance work. These accidents can be avoided by segregating vehicles and pedestrians and providing a roofed cab for the driver. Drivers and staff involved in loading and unloading should be trained how to safely deal with loads that may have shifted during transit and should be provided appropriate personal protective equipment, such as hard hats .
Workplace transport is used in a wide variety of environments and the actual workplace characteristics can be influential factors. If the ground is uneven and not level it can destabilise vehicles, and if it is wet or otherwise contaminated, it may cause vehicles to skid. Poor lighting and workplace lay out can impair visibility, and confined or congested traffic routes can increase the likelihood of a collision., , 
Some workplace vehicles are designed to carry out operations that are themselves hazardous. Many of these operations are beyond the scope of this article but some of the common operations, i.e. lifting, tipping and excavating account for a significant proportion of workplace transport accidents. Mobile cranes, forklift trucks, tipper trucks and excavators are equipped with extending booms, which have their own inherent hazards:
- they can compromise the stability of the vehicle resulting in overturns;
- they can come into contact with hazards such as overhead or underground power cables;
- they can present trapping points;
- they are powered by highly pressurised hydraulic and pneumatic systems or high tension cables, which if damaged or poorly maintained can present further hazards. 
Some loads, such as liquids or livestock, can be difficult to secure and are likely to move during transit, effecting the stability of the vehicle. Furthermore, some loads, such as toxic, flammable, corrosive or explosive chemicals may have their own inherent hazards. It is important that drivers and staff who handle these loads are aware of the hazards they present and the precautions that need to be taken to minimise the risks. (See also Cargo Containers).
OSH management issues
During collections and deliveries workplace vehicles and their drivers can operate in more than one workplace. In such instances, vehicles and loading/unloading areas can be shared workplaces in which employees and vehicles from more than one organisation may operate. Visiting drivers, who may not be fully aware of the hazards associated with a particular workplace or with the working practices that are used, can be more at risk of being involved in an accident. These circumstances therefore necessitate effective communication but can lead to confusion as to who takes overall responsibility for safety. Further confusion can arise when ‘owner-drivers’ are employed. As the name suggests, an ‘owner-driver’ owns the vehicle they drive and may work on either a freelance or contract basis.
In addition to the potential confusion, drivers and organisations that undertake collections and deliveries can find it difficult to influence working practices and conditions at sites where they work, if these sites are under the control of external organisations.
The transport sector has a relatively high proportion of migrant workers and the nature of the business requires some drivers to work internationally. This can lead to communication problems, which in turn can lead to confusion and in some cases, accidents.
The use of workplace transport may not be the primary function of some operators and hence it may only be used on a part time or sporadic basis. Operators may be inexperienced, having only received minimal training.
It would be impossible for this article or any other guidance to address all of the hazards that may be present in every workplace, or that are associated with every vehicle and operation. It is therefore imperative that a risk assessment is carried out for each specific activity and appropriate control measures taken to minimise the risk of an accident.
- Are vehicles safe and suitable for their use? Are they properly maintained? Do they need to be replaced with new, safer vehicles?
- Are routes and roadways safe and suitable for the type and number of vehicles using them? Are they properly maintained? Have you considered nearby obstructions, curbs or edges?
- Are there pressures on operators that might encourage them to work less safely? For example, do they have to rush to complete their work on schedule? Is there a risk of drivers becoming overtired? Are they working safely, eg. when getting into or out of vehicles, during loading and unloading, and are they observing routes and speed limits? Look for ‘short cuts’ that drivers may be tempted to use in both routes and safety procedures.
- Are other workers, customers, or members of the public kept clear of workplace vehicles wherever possible?
Facilities and equipment:
- Make sure visibility is good, lights are adequate and working, and that markings and signs are clear. Avoid blind corners and where this is not possible, install mirrors, traffic lights or warning signals to minimise the risk of collisions., 
- Keep the workplace tidy and ensure potholes are filled and that spills are cleaned up quickly to avoid slips and trips, and the potential to destabilise loads and vehicles.
- Provide a safe way to get into and out of the cab and any other parts of the vehicle that need regular access. Vehicle access features, such as ladders, steps and walkways, should have the same basic safety features as site based systems.
- Vehicles should have seats and seat belts (or other restraints where necessary) that are safe and comfortable. Where appropriate, vehicles should have protection for drivers if they overturn, or against being hit by falling objects, including roll protection and restraints where necessary. Dangerous vehicle parts, such as power takeoff, chain drives, and hot exhaust pipes, should have guards.
- The use of work equipment such as workplace vehicles must comply to the legal provisions laid down in the directive 2009/104/EC on the use of work equipment. This directive obliges employers to take measures to ensure the safety of the work equipment made available to workers. Annex II of the directive contains specific measures concerning the use of mobile equipment and equipment for lifting loads.
- Drivers should be able to see clearly around their vehicle, so they can spot hazards and avoid them when moving. Closed circuit TV (CCTV) systems and special mirrors can help them see around and behind their vehicles.
- Fitting vehicle lights, reversing lights, a horn and possibly other warning devices such as rotating beacons or reversing alarms, can help people near the vehicle know it is moving. On vehicles such as forklifts, blue spot technology can be used. This warning light projects a bright blue light in the path of a moving forklift and alerts pedestrians and other vehicles of the approaching traffic. Conspicuous painting and marking helps a vehicle stand out, whilst high visibility clothing worn by pedestrians can help the driver spot pedestrians in the vicinity of his/her vehicle.
- Vehicles should be suitable for the loads being carried, and there must be well-placed anchor points that are strong enough to allow the load to be properly secured.
- When purchasing vehicles, it's important to check if they meet the essential safety and health requirements (CE-marking) .
- Vehicles should be maintained according the manufacturer’s recommendations so that they remain mechanically sound. Certain equipment, such as forklift trucks, tail lifts and lifting slings must be thoroughly examined by a competent person and a report kept.
- Make sure that lifting equipment is suitable for the task being undertaken, is marked with its safe working load, is properly maintained and inspected and receives a periodic thorough examination.
- Keep vehicles and pedestrians separate whenever possible. Think about what kind of vehicles move around your site, including less common vehicles (such as emergency services) and how much room they need to move safely. Then do what is practicable to keep vehicles in their areas, and pedestrians clear of them. Complete segregation is the ideal, although often not practicable, but the further apart that vehicles and pedestrians are, the better.
- Reversing vehicles are a major source of accidents. The best way of preventing reversing accidents is to make reversing unnecessary. A one way system with drive through loading/unloading areas can do this. If the site layout makes this impossible, other measures can be taken to make reversing safe.
- Traffic routes and regulations should be clearly signed. Wherever possible, the style of signage should be consistent with that used on the national highway so that it is recognisable and easy to understand. , 
The design of the workplace should allow the segregation of pedestrians and vehicles by separating walkways from vehicle routes and the use of physical barriers. In addition, and in some areas, proximity detection systems, motion sensors and intelligent gates can be used to keep the traffic flows apart.
Ideally workplaces should be well lit and traffic routes should be well laid out and clearly defined, free from blind corners and obstacles, and with stable and level surfaces. There should be adequate space to allow drivers to manoeuvre and park their vehicles safely, and wherever practicable, pedestrians should be prohibited from areas where vehicles are operating. The design of the workplace should facilitate the control measures described above and fulfill the minimum structural and welfare requirements set out in Directive 89/654/EEC – workplace requirements. Where appropriate, a reception area should be provided for visiting drivers and due consideration should be given to the provision of a briefing/training room. Working at height should be avoided wherever practicable by providing loading bays/gantries and mechanical sheeting devices. Where working at height cannot be avoided, provide lashing points for fall arrest equipment. Loading bays should have at least one (ideally two) exits to help prevent pedestrians becoming trapped behind a reversing vehicle. 
Safe systems of work:
A safe system of work is needed when hazards cannot be physically eliminated by separating people from them (e.g. by using guarding or mechanical sheeting devices) and some element of risk remains. It is important to ensure that operations are properly planned by a competent person, appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe manner.
Training and supervision:
- Ensure staff are competent to carry out the work assigned to them and that they are fully aware of the associated hazards and comply with safe systems of work.
- Ensure only qualified drivers can use vehicles and that they carry out a check before starting (pre-start check of lights, steering, brakes, hydraulic controls, safety equipment, etc.).
- Make sure drivers and site staff know what to do if a load appears to have shifted in transit and that they are aware of any special precautions they need to take when dealing with hazardous loads.
- Make sure visiting drivers and other contractors are aware of the site rules and layout, as well as any hazards and relevant working practices.
- Ensure drivers take regular breaks and do not operate their vehicles whilst unfit to do so.
- HSE. Agriculture sector. Available at: 
- Harley R. and Cheyne A., 'Review of key human factors involved in workplace transport accidents', Research report 398, 2005. Available at 
- European Commission, Causes and circumstances of accidents at work in the EU, 2008. Available at: 
- Eurostat – 'Health and safety at work in Europe (1999-2007) – A statistical Portrait', Statistical books, 2010. Available at: 
- HSE – Health and Safety Executive (no publishing date). Vehicles at work. Retrieved 20 January 2015, from: 
- HSA - Health and Safety Authority, 'Workplace Transport Safety - Safe Workplace', Information sheet, 2008. Available at: 
- HSA - Health and Safety Authority, 'Workplace Transport Safety – Falls from Vehicles'. Information sheet, 2010. Available at: 
- EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 'Preventing vehicle accidents in construction', E-fact 2, 2004. Available at: 
- HSA - Health and Safety Authority (2015). Workplace transport. Retrieved 20 January 2015, from:
- EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 'Preventing Vehicle Transport Accidents at the Workplace', Factsheet 16, 2001. Available at 
- EU-OSHA European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (no publishing date), Hazards and risks to road transport drivers. Retrieved 20 January 2015, from: 
- HSA- Safety and Health Authority, 'Safety management', Information sheet, 2008. Available at: 
- OiRA Online interactive Risk Assessment Tool (2015). Road transport (Transport routier). Retrieved 20 January 2015, from: 
- HSE – Health and Safety Executive (no publishing date). Vehicles at work: Controlling the risks in the workplace. Retrieved 20 January 2015 from: 
- Directive 2009/104/EC of 16 September 2009 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the use of work equipment by workers at work (second individual Directive within the meaning of Article 16(1) of Directive 89/391/EEC) Available at: 
- FEM, A brief guide for identification of non-compliant industrial trucks. Available at:
- EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Napo in… Safe moves Video, 2011. Available at: 
- Directive 89/654/EEC – Council Directive 89/654/EEC of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the workplace (first individual directive within the meaning of Article 16 (1) of Directive 89/391/EEC), OJ L 393. Available at: 
Links for further reading:
BG-ETEM - Berufsgenossenschaft für Energie, Textil, Elektro und Medienerzeugnisse (2012). Innerbetrieblicher Transport. Available at: 
GDA Portal - Gemeinsame Deutsche Arbeitsschutzstrategie (2012). Sicher fahren und transportieren. Available at: 
HSE – Health and Safety Executive (no publishing date). Vehicles at work. Available at: 
FEM - European manufacturers of materials handling, lifting and storage equipment