2 min read

Why are safety management systems so important?

By Joanna Weekes

A safety management system is a planned process or procedure for carrying out a certain activity in the workplace.

The reason you should implement safety management systems is to ensure that when a task is carried out in your workplace, every precaution has been taken to reduce the likelihood of there being an incident that leaves someone injured or worse.

Forklifts and pedestrians using the same doorway – Result: Injury

In the case of Ian Markos v Kerafi Pty Ltd t/as Rapid Refrigerated Transport [2010], a delivery driver on the company’s site was seriously injured when he tripped on the tine of a forklift and fell to the ground, striking his head and other parts of his body.

Following the incident, the delivery driver continued working for the rest of the day. However, from that evening onwards he suffered significant incapacitating symptoms. It wasn’t long before he lost his driver’s licence on medical grounds and ultimately his employment due to headaches, mild confusion, short-term memory loss and pains in his neck, right shoulder and elbows.

The injury occurred in the curtained doorway of a large cold-room. South Australian Magistrate Stephen Lieschke heard that this doorway was commonly shared by forklifts, employees and non-employees.

“There was a risk of injury every time a person entered or left the cold room on foot and every time a person drove a forklift through the doorway,” Magistrate Lieschke said.

“The risk of personal injury was not the result of an unusual or occasional set of circumstances but instead it existed on a daily basis.”

The company was charged with and pleaded guilty to failing to maintain a safe workplace for a non-employee and was fined $24,000 as Magistrate Lieschke found the risk, which arose every time the doorway was used, was responsible for the worker’s injury.

The company maintained that employees had been advised to approach the doorway from the side and to “peek” around the corner before entering the doorway and that it had an undocumented system of work that required forklift drivers to sound the horn and stop before they proceeded through the doorway. However, Magistrate Lieschke found that these were minor differences and the risk of injury in using a common doorway that had poor visibility and poor hazard controls was readily foreseeable.

In fining the company, Magistrate Lieschke took into account the company’s early guilty plea, cooperation and expression of contrition as mitigating factors. However, he limited the reduction in penalty to 20% because the company did no more than make some enquiry as to the delivery driver’s health when it should have offered and provided personal support or assistance to the delivery driver.

Following the incident, what did the company do to address the risk?

The company implemented the following positive changes to address the risk:

  • issued an instruction to ban pedestrians using the doorway, which it reserved exclusively for use by forklifts;
  • commissioned a comprehensive risk assessment resulting in a thorough analysis and assessment of hazards and risks presented by the company’s workplace and included appropriate risk control measures;
  • attached improved signage to the building near the doorway to explain procedures and to instruct visitors where to report;
  • placed safety chains and bollards around the outside of the door to prevent accidental collision from the side;
  • installed new signs instructing forklift drivers to stop and sound the horn before moving through the doorway;
  • incorporated these instructions in a new written safe operating procedure for forklift operators;
  • replaced the curtain of old vertical plastic strips and introduced a regime of regular cleaning;
  • pedestrian walkways were clearly marked in the yard and in the store;
  • improved exterior lighting; and
  • developed and implemented visitor site rules and induction.

This case reinforces the importance of a traffic management system that provides clear and safe walkways for pedestrians, which staff and visitors are regularly inducted and trained in.

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