Following an incident at one of its distribution centres, supermarket chain Woolworths has introduced a new national standard for training forklift operators.
The new standard defines a uniform approach to licensing and training team members who will perform work classified as high risk, such as the use of forklifts, with the primary objective being to control safety risks and legislative responsibility.
On 28 June 2008, an incident at the Wodonga Distribution Centre, which is owned by Woolworths subsidiary Woolstar and employs around 530 people, highlighted the need to be constantly vigilant when it comes to keeping employees safe.
A reach truck forklift operator, whilst placing product into an overhead rack,  inadvertently dislodged another pallet causing olive oil to fall and land on the top of the reach truck soaking the driver in the oil.
“Thankfully, the forklift operator did not suffer any physical injuries at the time of the incident and was offered first aid, a shower and a fresh change of clothes,” said Woolworths general manager of logistics, Geoff Thomas.
“The incident scene was preserved and photos taken, while Work Safe was notified and an investigation launched.
“A number of safety shortcomings, which on their own may have slipped under the radar, came together and resulted in an incident that could have led to a very serious injury,” said Thomas.

The subsequent investigation found the following:

  • The forklift operator had been through an initial one day training session, but wasn’t under ‘line-of-sight’ supervision when operating the machinery. There was limited understanding on the site of the requirements for direct supervision regardless of the number of hours worked on a forklift during training.
  • System logins were being shared between the trainer and the trainee forklift operator, allowing trainee forklift operators to access machinery whilst not under direct supervision.
  • There was a lack of engineered access control to limit access to registered plant.
  • The forklift training process allowed drivers with over 20 training hours logged to operate forklifts without line-of-sight supervision.

“Woolworths has not only introduced new national standards for trainee forklift operators, but also overhauled the internal forklift training process with a consistent approach between shifts, rostered training and a strict adherence to independent access codes being issued to trainees prior to them commencing training, “ said Thomas.
Further measures include the introduction of in-mast cameras and a Forklift Licencing Guidance Note for use by the industry, which outlines principles for licencing, duty of  care and workplace training, and is publicly available on the company’s website at

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