chaz1It is to their great credit that forklift manufacturers have done remarkably well to improve their trucks’ safety over the last 40 years but the fact remains that forklift fatalities and serious injuries remain a major issue, as shown by the latest accident figures. During 2007/2008, for example, forklifts were involved in 27% of all workplace transport accidents, of which over 75% involved counterbalanced trucks. This record, of course, does not imply that truck safety improvements have been ineffective so far, but rather that non truck issues like poor lighting, floors and lousy pallets have been ignored. Clearly defined walkways, for example, designed to keep trucks and pedestrians apart, are largely ignored.

Fortunately, truck makers and their ancillary suppliers recognise these non truck issues and continue to improve their machines’ safety. Transmon, for example, have devised a Zone Speed Secure system which limits trucks to certain speeds in higher risk areas, as well as providing impact data and driver reports.

Cornering at speed was also an issue that prompted Jungheinrich to develop curve control technology because industry studies show that truck tip overs while cornering too quickly are the most frequent cause of fatal injuries to truck drivers. Curve control automatically reduces truck speed as a truck enters a corner by monitoring speed, wheel position and steering angle. It reduces speed when an excessive steering angle is sensed. Jungheinrich claims it is virtually impossible to tip a truck with curve control even when carrying a full load.

Many truck makers have developed various devices to improve truck stability but new inventions continue to flow in. Toyota remarkably improved its truck stability by launching SAS a few years ago but is now considering a recently-launched additional improvement from Gravloc, a hydraulic device which stops trucks becoming unstable on inclines.

Radio frequency identification devices (RFID) are also being harnessed to improve truck safety. Cooper Specialised Handling, British Isles agent for Kone Cranes, has just released details of its Nearguard system, which should significantly improve terminal and yard safety. Fitted on each corner of a truck, this safety alert system locates both the direction and proximity of objects in and around hazardous operating areas by reacting to  RFI tags worn, for example, on compulsory clothing, or placed on other mobile equipment like straddle carriers. A combination of coloured screens and audible alarms alerts the drivers.

No matter how well trained drivers may be there is never any guarantee that they will always follow safe procedures. Truck makers recognise this and so have developed controls to counter sloppy behaviour. Briggs Equipment, for example, have just introduced Speed Shield, a fleet control/telemetry solution that encourages best practice driver behaviour by enforcing a tailored, HSE check list on start up. Kone Cranes also offers an alcohol prohibiter device, whereby drivers must breath into them before trucks can be started.

There is, of course, only so much that truck makers can do to make their trucks safe but there is far more that truck operators can do on the training front. There are increasing accidents, for example, involving migrant workers who cannot speak or read English.  Employers, therefore, should put all prospective employees through a 30-minute practical test before hiring them. This is particularly important if one’s forklift  fleet uses joystick control. Many truck operators from the former Eastern bloc countries are used to working with older trucks.

Best practice among forklift operators includes health issues as well as safety but a big problem is how to measure unhealthy aspects of forklift operation. Dr Uwe Weiner, of the Dusseldorf-based IWS Handling, thinks he may have the answer to measuring whole body vibrations issues on forklifts, which can seriously damage spinal discs. This kit costs less than £500.

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