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December 2017
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Companies make safety a priority
Mary Glindinning
Mary Glindinning

Accidents can be prevented, but forklift accidents still kill 85 Americans each year and seriously injure 35,000 more.

Safety has been increasing, and the number of accidents have been decreasing. But there’s more to be done. Making sure only trained operators are on forklifts is imperative.   “The fact is that one unsafe operator makes the entire facility unsafe for everyone,” said Terry Wickman, president of Keytroller. “It only takes one operator to injure one employee, and it only takes one operator to damage the facility to the point that the facility must be closed.

“A very large nationally known hardware company found this out the hard way. One of their warehouse employees, who was not trained or authorized to use the equipment, decided to try his hand at operating the forklift in his area. Unfortunately he ran into the racking in the warehouse. The rack crumbled to the ground, but not before taking two other racks with it. Fortunately, the operator was not injured, but the warehouse was completely shut down for weeks due to damage to the facility and damage to product,” Wickman said.

“Our systems are designed to instill accountability to all levels of the customer’s facility,” he said, “from ensuring that only trained and authorized employees are operating industrial equipment, to monitoring operating training to making sure maintenance is done on schedule.

Camera systems record 20 seconds before and after an abusive impact or speeding event.  This video improves accountability and as importantly can be used as a training aid,” Wickman said.

“A lean operation requires another level of safety. When an employee is injured or a piece of equipment goes down, the lean operation is now taxed even more. The lost man hours and worker’s compensation cost, employee morale, as well as equipment downtime can and will have an adverse effect on the daily operation of a facility,” Wickman said.

“It is each person’s, operator’s and manager’s responsibility to ensure that the employees are in fact operating a piece of industrial equipment in the correct and safe manner,” Wickman said.

That begins before the warehouse is built.

 “One of the biggest trends in workplace safety that we’re seeing right now is safety at the forefront of facility design, rather than an afterthought,” said Aaron Conway, president of Mezzanine Safeti-Gates. “This early planning makes a huge difference in the facility operations in the long term, especially in areas in which workflow and automation are important.”

When he started in the industry more than 20 years ago, safety was not considered in a facility’s design stage, he said.

“Instead, we would get calls about unsafe areas after the facility was operational, and, in many instances, a workplace incident had taken place. In the past, operations and safety personnel were often at odds with each other, but over the last few years, they now are working together during the design stage until they are confident that they are creating a safe environment with smooth workflow. Proper safety guarding is being designed into the system, which has provided for much safer and more efficient operations in material handling facilities.

“Twenty years ago, even the companies that understood the need for safety in their material handling environments would only focus on securing the highest risk areas while leaving other areas that may not get as much use improperly safeguarded. Now, we see company-wide initiatives and strategies focused on making the entire facility safe. Safety has become a bigger priority in the last few years,” Conway said.

“I've noticed a decrease in workplace incidents. In the past, I would get calls throughout the year from companies reactively looking for a fall protection solution – there was often a workplace incident, typically someone falling from an improperly guarded pallet drop area. I don't get as many of those calls now; most of the calls are from companies who have proactively recognized the unguarded pallet drop area as a safety concern, and are looking to secure it well before an incident happens,” Conway said.

No employer wants to have damaged products, down time, or worst of all, an injured employee.

“By the way, we don't call workplace incidents ‘accidents’ at Mezzanine Safeti-Gates, because accidents are something that can't be avoided. Our feeling is that all workplace injuries can be avoided with proper safety systems and training.

“The reality is that companies do largely care about their employees and their wellbeing. You don't have to tell them that if an employee gets injured at their facility, that it will affect their business, and nobody wants to see people, especially their employees, get hurt. So instead of explaining the value of protection, my goal now is to be a problem solver by designing and providing the best solution for their facility and specific application. Most companies know where their problem areas are. They just need help fixing them,” Conway said.

Last year, Adrian’s Safety Solutions introduced rack safety straps and nets.

“A customer asked for it,” said Lee McCord, in sales and development for the company. “For a decade and a half we have developed effective and easy-to-use cargo securement devices for fleets through our Bednet® line.  The branch manager of a fleet account pointed to his warehouse one day and asked ‘Can you do anything to protect my aisles?  We had a pallet pushed in too far and it knocked another into the floor. Now I don’t sleep.’”

“We, as cargo control experts, looked at this issue through a much different lens than a traditional material handling company would,” McCord said. “Fleets don’t have time to retrofit. Fleets can’t shut down. So why should a warehouse?”

“We developed a concept, and simplified and simplified and simplified. Through a little inspiration and lots of perspiration, we developed a solution that installs with no tools, no retrofitting, and no additional hardware.  One man can install an effective and inexpensive push through prevention system in seconds,” he said. “Once the concept morphed into a reality, we discovered how big a hole there really is in this market.  There were two choices: either break the bank on product and its installation; or do nothing.  Those days are over.”

“The response to our launch has been amazing.  And frankly, these rack safety straps and nets have been a game changer for warehouse safety.  Instead of putting off the installation of a system or doing nothing, organizations can now effectively protect their people at a fraction of the costs.  We have turned the market segment on its head,” McCord said.

“Many of the safety items and systems developed 20-plus years ago were once viewed as overkill. Today, they are viewed as both obvious and essential. I sat on the wheel well of my dad’s pickup truck; my son has never not been buckled in. Society has bought in to safety,” McCord said.

“Innovation will drive the costs of a safe workplace down.  When a benefit has had a very high cost, like push through protection, only the very early adopters will use it.  However, once the cost of that benefit is cut dramatically, it becomes more palatable to the majorities, and they will use it.  The benefit will become both obvious and essential,” he said. “The trend is that the work place will become safer and safer. Looking into the future, I think those companies that can bring it all together and offer complete solutions at a competitive price will be top of mind for every safety manager.”

And safety is a priority for other company officials.

“In an orchestrated effort to increase safety in the workplace, companies are taking a greater focus on safety in the manufacturing facility, warehouse and distribution center,” said Brad McNamee, president of Warehouse Rack & Shelf.  “This starts with a proactive campaign to make pallet racks, aisles and docks safer. Many companies will count the days that they go without an accident or injury. The benefits of workplace safety extend past the top priority of the worker’s health. They have a real financial impact on a company’s profitability.

“Many customers are aware of OSHA safety requirements for their workplace, but surprisingly, many are not aware that the local building officials in their city also have requirements on pallet rack and shelving. Those requirements include seismic compliance and permitting of pallet racks you purchase, the types of decking you use in your racks, the design of cross aisles to the accessibility of exit doors,” McNamee said.

“I believe accidents are decreasing due to increased regulations and the increasing number of requirements that are put in place by local municipalities that are designed to increase safety. In the old days, buyers would often request that I provide them a quote on the lowest priced used rack that was sky high with disregard to capacities and the effect of earth quakes. If I was a warehouse worker who was loading and unloading the racks, I would like to be confident that the rack could withstand the rigors of an earthquake without collapsing on my head. The engineers at the rack factories now make a point of designing rack to meet your local requirements and they make sure that the racks have sufficient capacity to support the loads being stored,” he said.

“Safety products often pay for themselves in a very short time by reducing accidents and increasing life span of racks, shelving and material handling products,” McNamee said. “A wise old warehouse manager once told me that an investment in rack reinforcement and safety products on the front end will save you time and money on the back end. The cost of replacing just one damaged upright can exceed $1000 when you take into account that you will need two employees (likely working overtime) to unload, disassemble, replace damaged rack components and reload the rack. Especially when you take into account the shipping cost for that damaged 18’ upright. It would have been wiser to just invest in post protectors, end of aisle protectors and rack reinforcement that would have prevented the rack from getting damaged in the first place,” McNamee said.

Prevention is the goal.

“Most all our products are ‘active’ not ‘passive,’” said Chris Webre, president of Safety Systems and Controls.  “In other words, we actively try to help prevent something from happening, not warn that it’s going to happen.”

Transmission shift inhibitors and speed limiters reduce the likelihood of accidents, as do ignition interlocks and idle control systems. The company says its products are “safety, smarter and greener.”

“With our Pace-One Speed Control, the trucks run at lower speeds, which is more efficient and we can control acceleration rates, which helps also,” Webre said.  “We have a traction control system that can be added to our speed limiter kit, which limits tire spin. This cuts down directly on fuel consumption, improves tire wear and indirectly reduces fuel burned by reducing the time spent cleaning facility floors where tires leave burnt spots when they spin,” Webre said.

Slower is safer. “Years ago we had the push toward slower travel speeds to reduce accidents and it has helped.  If there was a loser in this scenario, it was productivity. Naturally it took longer for a fork truck to get from point A to point B. With zone speed control, we can provide the slower speeds where needed, for example at cross walks, outside lavatories or break room or where machinery is operating. In fact, we offer the ability to have up to four different travel speeds and as many speed transition zones as the customer desires.”

So where slower speeds are needed, they’re met, but higher speeds can be used where there are fewer people or obstacles.

And a transmitter creates a ‘temporary-mobile’ safe area.  “It can be carried by individuals walking around a facility or carried by maintenance crews working in areas where vehicles travel,” Webre said. “Any truck that comes within 40 feet of an activated transmitter automatically slows to the truck’s slowest programmed speed.  In addition to maintenance using it to slow traffic where they are working, the transmitter can also be put on a cone or maintenance truck to slow traffic around spills, accidents or temporary employee work areas.

 “Yes, employee safety is number one.  On the cost side you have to look at hospital bills of the injured employee, down time of that employee, the damage to the truck, the damage to the facility, clean up time and expense, the cost of a replacement truck, the cost of the accident investigation, the potential increase in insurance and litigation costs.” Webre said. “It would be difficult to assign a dollar figure on it, but what about employee morale? After an accident, employees might start thinking is my employer providing me the proper equipment and training to do my job?  If the answer is not a clear YES, then they might start questioning their commitment to the employer.  Those companies that are pro-active on safety will get a much bigger bang for their buck than those that are reactive and implementing new safety initiatives after an accident,” Webre said. 

Mary Glindinning is a freelance writer who has worked at daily and weekly newspapers for more than 20 years. She lives in rural Shullsburg, Wis. E-mail to contact Mary.