Accident rates driven down

17 March 2017

Significant improvements to fork lift truck safety at its Trafford Park factory earned Unilever UK the title ‘Safe Site 2017’ at the Fork Lift Truck Association Awards for Excellence

The honour recognises efforts made throughout the company to promote fork lift safety – reducing risk on site. A decade ago it was a very different story. The busy factory averaged 200 incidents – across the entire site – each year. A refurbishment saw that number drop significantly to 60, but there is remained – until 2010.

Deciding that something clearly needed to be done, the site’s management team developed a road map for future safety. While the safety focus – up to this point – had largely been on legal compliance and ensuring safe workplace conditions, the team recognised that – if they were to push figures down further – a different and more extensive approach was necessary. 

Unilever laid out its plan: 'Vision of Zero'. Merely reducing accidents was never going to be good enough. The company didn’t just want fewer accidents, it wanted no accidents whatsoever. To do this, it recognised that there needed to be a fundamental change in the site’s health and safety culture – across all levels at the factory – with leadership more involved in devising strategy, driving initiatives and monitoring behaviour.

After an in-depth review, it identified workplace transport as a leading cause of accidents on the site. A sub-committee was established to focus specifically on fork lift safety.  

Drawing on guidance from the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA), the team analysed the situation and devised a three-stream approach to solve the problem. Safety actions were split into Safe Site, Safe People, and Safe Vehicles. 

A five year deadline was created to reach the Vision of Zero goal. Key milestones were set and the team’s efforts saw them exceeding targets within just 18 months. To give a sense of scale, there were six serious accidents in 2010, while, in 2016 there were just five ‘first-aid cases’ and no fork lift truck accidents. 

The team’s impressive work has actually seen them register no fork lift truck accidents on the site at any point in the past three years – major or minor – and this especially impressed the FLTA Board. 

In the end, however, it was the full scope of their project that swung it in Unilever’s favour — from their enthusiasm for the Association’s Safetember campaign, running safety-related competitions, to bright, affordable ideas such as displaying key safety messages on shutter doors across the site.

To take the title, Unilever held off competition from Advanced Supply Chain, Airbase Interiors, Communisis, G’s Fresh Beetroot, Hall and Woodhouse, Maen Karne Aggregates & Concrete Products, Mitsubishi Electric Air Conditioning Systems Europe, NHS National Services Scotland, Portrack Handling, and Rowlinson Knitwear.

Congratulating Unilever on the win, FLTA Chief Executive Peter Harvey said: “The Safe Site category recognises the outstanding work companies have done in analysing and improving upon the safety of their fork lift truck operations. 

“The work and the results achieved by Unilever has been truly remarkable and serve as an inspiration to us all.”