The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 imposes a general duty on employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all their employees.
'Reasonably practicable' is generally accepted to mean that you have to take action to control health and safety risks in your workplace, except where the cost of doing so is grossly disproportionate to the reduction in the risk.
When it comes to the storage of hazardous chemicals, the Health and Safety Executive recommends that individual risk management policies be developed for all warehouses or other premises where packaged dangerous substances are kept.
As part of this process, warehouse operators need to ensure that the most appropriate mechanical handling equipment is used to avoid any damage to the stored product's packaging that may lead to spillage of the contents and, therefore, accidents.
One of the most common ways that the packaging of dangerous substances becomes damaged within a warehouse is when the forks of a forklift truck pierce it during the pallet put away or picking process.
Indeed, a recent HSE investigation in to accidents involving the spillage of ammonia within chemical plants and warehouses highlighted the number of cases where a forklift's forks had penetrated IBCs or drums containing ammonia solution.
And a quick trawl through Google throws up myriad instances where a carelessly operated forklift has stabbed a palletised load and resulted in serious workplace disruption.
For example, fire crews from across Gloucestershire had to race to GlaxoSmithKline's factory when a forklift truck driver pierced a chemical drum. Around 30 firefighters, including an environmental unit, were at the plant for around four hours while the clean-up operation took place.
Thankfully, the chemicals stored at GlaxoSmithKline's Gloucester plant were used in the production of soft drinks, but the consequences of a hazardous chemical spillage are all too apparent.
However, an ingeniously simple product is now available that significantly reduces the damage caused by forklift trucks to loads stored on a pallet during the pallet handling process.
The Sumo Glove is a protective cover that fits to the tips of a lift truck's forks. Its unique cushioning effect reduces load damage and enhances safety without affecting the operational effectiveness of the forklift truck.
Essentially, the Sumo Glove works as a pad that reduces the impact of a carelessly driven lift truck's forks against the load.
Made from industrial grade polyurethane, Sumo Gloves are quickly and easily fitted and are compatible with all common makes and size of forklift forks.
Simon Ross, managing director of Sumo Industrial & Allied Products Marketing Ltd – the official UK distributor of the Sumo Glove, comments: "Forklift related product damage is a concern at many sites and for all sorts of business.
"When a lift truck's fork pierces a load the goods are often ruined and if a liquid is being stored the downtime generated by the need to clear up the spillage only adds to the expense.
"However, at chemical storage facilities the potential consequences are all together more serious and could have serious health and safety implications."
He continues: "A 1.6 tonne counterbalanced forklift truck travelling at just 3 miles per hour will generate enough force to cause significant damage to a chemical drum or other form of IBC. But Sumo Gloves reduce the impact damage significantly."
"Anyone tasked with undertaking a risk assessment at a facility where chemicals are stored would see that unguarded forklift forks represent a significant danger to packaged products stored on pallets.
"Most forklifts come equipped with tapered forks. When a tapered fork hits a drum or tote, it often results in a breach of the container and loss of contents. The use of Sumo Gloves helps to minimise this risk.
"By fitting Sumo Gloves to the forks of their lift trucks, companies can demonstrate that they have taken steps to implement a system that controls risks to their employees and others," Simon Ross adds.
With a single set of Sumo Gloves economically priced, Simon Ross says the product offers a very rapid payback. "The return on investment is almost instant," he says.
Interestingly, not only do the Sumo Gloves reduce impact damage, existing users report that lift truck operators find that they also improve operational efficiency: being a high visibility yellow colour, Sumo Gloves provide a visual reference point for the forklift operator - a feature which is particularly useful when lifting at height.