New Zealanders are dying needlessly because rules around forklift use are "woefully inadequate", an industry expert says.
His comments come as a young child and a teenager have been killed by forklifts in the past two weeks - the latest in a long line of deaths and serious injuries caused by the machines.
One worker at an East Coast sawmill who nearly lost his life in a forklift accident this year told the Herald change is urgently needed and training needs drastic improvement.
Back in March he had walked in front of the silent electrical forklift, not realising it was moving. The driver was carrying a 5m-wide load of timber and didn't see him.
"I turned and thought someone was playing a joke, giving me a nudge with the forklift," the worker said.
He was thrown to the ground, rolled under the load and dragged 13.5m across the concrete floor. Every rib broke and both his hips were smashed. Both lungs were punctured. His right kidney almost tore loose. Seven teeth were knocked out.
The forklift driver eventually heard him screaming and lifted the boards off him. A former emergency responder who was contracting on site managed to keep him alive until the ambulance arrived.
He was taken to the ICU but few people thought he would make it through the night.
He survived, but he hasn't recovered. When he was discharged from hospital he was put on suicide watch and six months later he's still dealing with pain, bones that healed incorrectly, and mental trauma.
The man is one of at least 483 notifiable injuries involving a forklift in the last seven years. In the same period WorkSafe registered 11 forklift deaths.
• Ōtāhuhu workplace death: Teen crushed by forklift identified
• Ōtāhuhu workplace death: Incident involving forklift results in tragedy
• Child aged 4 dies after being hit by forklift in Canterbury
• Boy killed by forklift accident was firefighter's son
Forklifts are especially prone to tipping, thanks to a high centre of gravity, made worse when the forks are lifted. Drivers can be thrown out, bystanders hit, and objects can fall on them. They often operate in busy areas with loads impeding vision.
On August 11 last year, a 63-year-old died after being crushed by steel framing that was transported by forklift, while in 2017 a 51-year-old died after being struck by a forklift in Canterbury.
Several people were killed by being crushed against other objects. One was killed by falling pallets, and one was run over by a telehandler.
The 10th death was on September 23, when 16-year-old Shaldin Joyce died after the forklift he was driving flipped at a work site in Ōtāhuhu, according to WorkSafe.
Then on Monday4-year-old Jackson White died after being struck by a forklift on the family's work site in Canterbury, bringing the tragic tally to 11.
The sawmill worker said he almost cried when he heard of the latest deaths.
He was surprised to hear a teenager had been driving. "At that age it's just an absolute tragedy," he said. But he admitted a part of him thought the boy was fortunate not to have to live with his injuries.
"I thought you lucky bugger you don't have to go through what I've gone through... If you manage to survive you're going to have pretty bad injuries - there's no light injuries that come off having an interaction with a forklift."
The news a four-year-old had died left him lost for words.
Industry expert Andrew Stone believed the true rate of forklift deaths could be much higher, based on his own research and industry reports.
The accident rate was "tragically, unacceptably, needlessly high", said Stone, who runs the Forklift Association - a training and safety advice provider for businesses using forklifts.
Notifiable incidents - where someone ended up in hospital or could have been severely hurt - were also likely far higher than those that are reported to WorkSafe, he said.
Most forklift accidents were due to driver behaviour, yet forklift work was treated as basic, low-wage work requiring minimal skill.
Stone said there was no legal licence needed to use a forklift off road, though the industry's approved code of practice required a certificate of competence for forklift use. While compliance was very high it only took one day of training to get the certificate. Having one did not prove competence, he said.
Current forklift regulations were "dysfunctional" and inadequate and did not comply with health and safety law, he said.
As part of a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) consultation process he had asked for changes including a minimum age for drivers, vision and motor tests, better testing and ongoing certification. This is an MBIE consultation, not a WorkSafe consultation.
Stone expressed sympathy for the family and colleagues of those killed, saying Shaldin Joyce's tragic death "almost certainly should never have happened".
"The processes, the equipment and technologies, and the training systems exist to allow these dangerous operations to be conducted safely."
The East Coast sawmill worker said his employer had been good to him since the accident. He didn't want to name them as the Worksafe investigation was still ongoing.
"I believe they've made every effort to keep on top of health and safety," he said.
"They've got to run a business - you can't wrap people in cotton wool suits."
There were many factors that made accidents hard to foresee, said the man, who had been the sawmill's health and safety officer.
In his case, he had been working with paint thinner and believes he was impaired when he walked in front of the forklift six months ago.
He wanted improved forklift regulations, including buzzers and dashcams on all forklifts, and the Land Transport Act to apply even if the hoist wasn't operating on a public road.
New Zealand forklift training was "atrocious" with providers competing on price, he said.
A one-day course didn't prepare drivers for working on ramps or wet concrete or rushing to move loads during fruit picking season, he said.
Driving forklifts was more than lifting pallets.
"You've got to be absolutely conscious of all that's going on around you," he said. "It's so easy to go into robot mode when you're doing the same task day in, day out."
• Rate of workplace tragedies in NZ soars
• Galloway ushers in new 10-year work safety strategy
• Workplace safety rules 'outdated and full of gaps', Minister says
• Apprentice urges culture, safety change after being crushed by roof framing
Worksafe vehicle harm engagement lead Ruth Cook said under current law all responsibility sat with business.
"At the end of the day the worker or driver may have made an error but we're very careful to say it's not just the driver's fault... The responsibility has to be owned by the person who creates the risk."
Businesses could improve safety systems, like having safe zones where truck drivers must stand, good maintenance of the forklift, and improving driver training.
Systems were all well and good but they had to be monitored.
"Say they've got a system in place - but what happens when the delivery is late?"
Worksafe's data shows five of the 11 forklift fatalities since 2013 had been successfully prosecuted by WorkSafe, and one by police. One prosecution is still underway and two were investigated but not prosecuted. The deaths of Shaldin Joyce and Jackson White are still being investigated.
Submissions open on Government reform of forklift rules
A government discussion document on plant and structure work safety acknowledges New Zealand's forklift regulations are not good enough.
Mobile plant - including quads, tractors and forklifts - is "sparsely regulated" and the rules do not address the risks, the document says.
For example, currently the person in charge of a business must ensure there is a seatbelt and roll-over protection. But many forklifts, like those with telescopic booms, are excluded.
The proposals look to Australia and the UK where forklifts are better regulated. For example, in Australia a warning system must be fitted if there's any chance of collision with plant or people.
The document proposes reforms as part of ongoing work to implement the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, created in response to the Royal Commission on the Pike River coal mine tragedy.
The proposed reforms are to be implemented in 2021.
Submissions on the proposals are open until 5pm on October 4 and can be made online.