Logistics & Materials Handling Blog

Should Mobile Phone use be prohibited whilst operating a Forklift?

by Paul Hinz
Filed under: Safety

We all know it’s illegal to use a mobile phone whilst driving a car but what about when operating a forklift? Should it be illegal? This week we discuss the dangers of mobile use whilst driving a forklift in the warehouse.

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When using a mobile phone while driving a car, two hazard factors apply. The first is reduced tactile dexterity as many actions whilst driving require or are safer using both hands. The second hazard factor is driver distraction. Attention can become so focused on a phone conversation that the real surroundings of a driver become skewed; therefore reactions to real-time situations can be severely delayed.
It can be argued that reduced tactile dexterity and driver distraction are even greater hazards in the forklift and warehouse environment. A forklift handles very differently to a car and it is also used in a more confined setting. This setting is often in very close proximity to pedestrians, other forklifts and expensive goods and property. The safe operation of a forklift requires constant forklift operator attention and there is little room for error on the part of the forklift operator.

When a supervisor at a warehouse in Melbourne caught a worker with a mobile phone in his hand while at the wheel of a forklift, it prompted months of negotiations and a series of Industrial Relations Commission hearings, culminating in a ban on mobile phone use at that warehouse. The company allows three people on the warehouse floor who are authorised to carry mobiles, with their numbers handed out for workers’ families to call in emergencies. All other mobile phones must be stored away in employee lockers prior to entering the warehouse. The company agreed mobile phones were clearly a distraction when operating equipment at pace and in confined spaces, and thought it allowed for the chances of someone’s mind wandering or not observing and potentially putting pedestrians and others at risk.

Although on occasion forklift operators may require the use of mobile phones for work purposes. In some environments forklift operators are required to communicate with fellow employees on a working platform. However, hands-free kits or other safer communication systems could be considered for use in warehouses to provide superior safety for all. Personal calls on the other hand should always be prohibited.

It is the responsibility of management to assess the risks involved if forklift operators are permitted to use mobile phones whilst operating a forklift. A Risk Assessment should be carried out by management to evaluate when and if calls have to be made and if they can be avoided at all. Managers should also create and enforce policy on strict mobile phone use where possible.

Mobile phones are not to be used in forklift battery charging areas or forklift fuelling areas due to the associated risks. Should they be banned from warehouses altogether?