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Application of blue LEDs in forklift safety - white paper

1.0 Executive summary

This report covers the application of blue light emitting diodes (LEDs) in forklift safety operations. The objective of the study is to expound on the benefits of the fixtures, and its role in various commercial sectors that rely on forklifts on a daily basis. To accommodate business owners, lighting specialists and engineers, best practices for such applications will also be highlighted extensively throughout the paper. The information found in this report can help companies mitigate risks in industrial facilities, while complying with the latest work safety guidelines.

Larson Electronics is a provider of industrial lighting products. With over 40 years of experience in the sector, the brand provides customized solutions for customers with specific lighting needs and configurations. Through this publication, Larson Electronics extends its knowledge on cutting-edge lighting trends. Lastly, this report is a reflection of the company’s expertise and extensive experience in the commercial lighting industry.

2.0 Introduction

Forklifts can be found in industrial settings, such as warehouses, storage facilities and delivery bays. The vehicles are primarily used for moving large, heavy units, payloads or packages from one section of the facility to a specific location. In order to prevent accidents in the workplace, the forklift operator and other employees present in the building must be aware of forklift operation guidelines at all times.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA), over 4,679 workers were killed on the job in 2014 (an average of 90 per week or 13 deaths on a daily basis). When it comes to causes of deaths, falls accounted for 39.9 percent, while getting struck by an object and getting caught in between machines accounted for 8.4 percent and 1.4 percent. In relation to forklift accidents, the following citations were most frequently referenced by the OHSA during inspections in FY 2015:

  • Machinery and Machine Guarding, general requirements (29 CFR 1910.212)
  • Fall protection, construction (29 CFR 1926.501)
  • Ladders, construction (29 CFR 1926.1053)
  • Scaffolding, general requirements, construction (29 CFR 1926.451)

Based on statistics from Bluespot, roughly 19,000 forklift/pedestrian accidents occur annually, with 36 percent of the accidents involving someone other than the operator or driver. To help ease the occurrence of forklift accidents, businesses use blue LED lights to warn individuals around the facility during operation. The fixtures serve as early notification signals, indicating that a forklift is nearby, closely approaching, or moving away from a specific location. Typically, operators install the lights behind and/or in front of the machine to accommodate areas that are highly prone to collisions.

3.0 LED technology

3.1 Mechanisms and benefits

LEDs are designed to meet the lighting needs and requirements of industrial operations. With a lifespan of 50,000+ hours, maintenance and repair can be reduced significantly. Moreover, such units are extremely sturdy due to their solid-state design. The lights resemble a circuit board, as opposed to a lamp with filaments and loose parts. Because of this, the lights can withstand rough treatment, and risk of exposure to toxic chemicals during failure and accidents is greatly reduced (LEDs do not use harmful chemicals, such as mercury, to produce light). The fixtures are also compact, which allows businesses to easily incorporate the units in tight spaces. On forklifts, the lights can be mounted on the frame of the machine without obstructing the peripheral vision of the operator.

When it comes to lumens per watt, LED lamps offer a superior ratio of 60-100 lm/W. By comparison, fluorescent and incandescent lights offer significantly lower rates at 75-87 lm/W and 14-17 lm/W. One of the greatest advantages that LEDs have over traditional fixtures is its ability to produce light instantly. Fluorescent units cannot be toggled and may flicker before full light output. Metal halide lamps have a lengthy start up and restrike period, ranging between 10-20 minutes depending on the fixture. It is essential to point out that toggling LEDs does not affect its lifespan. While toggling incandescent and fluorescent lights may reduce the lifespan of the products dramatically.

During forklift operation, lights may be toggled frequently. In such cases, nearby workers only have seconds to react to the light, which needs to be turned on instantly to create a buffer for the reaction. Employees may also choose to keep the light on during operation, turn it off during break periods and turn it on again, as needed. The use of LEDs ensures that there is no downtime in waiting for full light output from the fixtures.

An example of a study that displays the superior toggling ability of LED lights comes from the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG). In 1995, the group completed a joint testing of LED bulbs. During the tests, the group used over 100 bulbs supplied by LEDtronics, which were installed, turned on and off and removed. The results showed that over 20 percent of incandescent lights failed during the process. The same treatment was conducted to LED lights, of which none failed. Over the span of 22 months, NYSEG reported no failure of LED units at the station, despite being toggled persistently during operations. At the end of the study, the establishment reported a 25 percent failure rate for incandescent bulbs.

3.2 Exposure to blue LEDs and alertness

The use of blue light in forklifts is highly relevant in promoting workplace safety. Blue lights emit short wavelengths, and is known to suppress melatonin production in humans. Melatonin is responsible for inducing sleep at night, and exposure to darkness may trigger the natural production of the hormone. Naturally, due to the dangers of fast-moving industrial environments, workers are required to stay alert in order to avoid getting into accidents. A flash of blue light is easily distinguishable by nearby individuals, and when viewed, may cause the person to become more alert and attentive.

A study from Harvard Medical School suggests that blue wavelengths have the ability to increase attention, reaction times and mood. It is also extremely disruptive at night, which again, provides another reason for businesses to use the safety feature during nighttime operations. To prove the efficiency of blue light under such conditions, Harvard researchers conducted an experiment that compared blue and green light exposure. The scientists exposed participants to both types of lighting for 6.5 hours. The results showed that blue light suppressed the production of melatonin up to twice as long (three hours), compared to green light (1.5 hours).

In another study published in Trends in Neuroscience and Education, German researchers exposed students to a mixture of white and blue LED lights while taking standardization tests. Compared to participants exposed to traditional, white-yellow lighting, the students displayed an increase of 33 percent in basic memory retention and processing.

4.0 Blue LEDs and forklift safety

4.1 OHSA compliance on powered industrial trucks (forklifts)

The OHSA sets forth several guidelines on the usage of blue light for powered industrial trucks. The regulations are designed to keep both the operator and employees safe during operation. To streamline safety, the institution recommends the use of the following devices on forklifts: seat belts, horns, back-up auditory alarms, fire extinguishers, warning lights, mirrors and directional/brake lights.

In application, such safety equipment can be used to comply with the following OHSA requirements:

  • Equip every power-propelled truck with an operator-controlled horn, whistle, gong, or other sound-producing device. ANSI B56.1-1969 Incorporated by reference [29 CFR 1910.178(a)(2)]
  • Equip every truck with an operator-controlled horn, whistle, gong, or other sound-producing device. ANSI/ITSDF B56.1-2011.
  • Where appropriate to the worksite, equip trucks with additional sound-producing or visual (such as lights or blinkers) devices. ANSI/ITSDF B56.1-2011.

The regulations surrounding safety lights on forklifts are complicated and may be subject to various interpretations. According to Thomas Galassi, OHSA Director of Enforcement Programs, the organization does not directly specify that powered industrial trucks must be equipped with flashing lights and/or back-up beepers. In a response letter to Duane Rosemeier, Galassi cited the following regulations on the proper implementation of lights during forklift safety:

OSHA’s regulation for Powered Industrial Trucks, §1910.178 (h)(2), states: “[w]here general lighting is less than 2 lumens per square foot, auxiliary directional lighting shall be provided on the truck.”

 While §1910.178 standard does not specifically require flashing lights or back-up beepers, employers have a duty under the OSH Act, 29 U.S.C. § 654 (a)(1), also known as the General Duty Clause, to furnish employment and a place of employment, free from recognized hazards that are causing or a likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees, where employees are exposed to hazards, including but not limited to, struck by, caught-in-between and crushing by the forklift. B56.1-2009 shows that industry recognizes this hazard and that equipping trucks with sound-producing and visual devices are feasible means to abate this hazard. An employer whose workplace presents this hazard and has not taken feasible steps to mitigate this hazard may be in violation of the General Duty Clause.

In the context provided by Galassi, the use of blue LED lights on forklifts is a precautionary measure that is designed to increase accountability. It is important to note that the clarification does not disregard the equipment’s effectiveness in providing early warning notifications.

4.2 Applications and best practices

Blue LEDs are applied as an early warning notification tool on forklifts. The units are usually mounted on the top section of the machine, which greatly reduces the risk of obstruction or distraction during forklift operation. It is best practice for the LED light to provide around 16-24 feet of advance warning. This allows for roughly 1-3 seconds of advance warning at all times for nearby workers (timeframes may vary, depending on the speed/direction of the forklift and the pace/direction of the approaching pedestrian). It is common for businesses to install blue LEDs on both the front and back of the forklift. Some facilities only use a front warning light, and rely on auditory warning systems while backing up or reversing. This is also effective, but for buildings with loud operations, early notification lights on the back of the vehicle are crucial and may decrease the risk of collisions, especially when employees talking on smartphones, listening to music or wearing ear plugs are present.

To reinforce the sturdy properties of the LED fixture, businesses may select lights with various approval ratings, standards and/or classifications. For example, some blue LED models come with UL ratings for workplace compliance. Shock resistant and vibration ratings are also common features for such industrial equipment. In hazardous work settings, businesses may consider investing in explosion proof LED lights with specific classification ratings. For work environments that are regularly exposed to corrosive agents, corrosion resistant LEDs may be suitable to prevent malfunction and premature light failure.

5.0 Larson Electronics LED lighting solutions

Larson Electronics provides an assortment of LED lighting and power distribution products for businesses in commercial and industrial sectors. In support of forklift safety, the brand offers a selection of colored LED warning lights. Additionally, the company’s product catalog includes crane lights, portable explosion proof flashlights, light towers and corrosion resistant boat lamps for extreme marine environments. The business specializes in customized lighting solutions for establishments that are looking for innovative ways to scale operations, reduce operational costs and comply with the latest commercial lighting regulations and standards.

Below is a shortlist of blue LED safety lights available from Larson Electronics:

  • Blue forklift LED warning spotlight (25 watts; 2,250 lumens, 9-60V DC)
  • Explosion proof blue forklift LED warning spotlight (25 watts; 2,250 lumens, 9-60V DC)
  • Blue LED strobing safety spotlight (25 watts, 2,250 lumens, 120-240V AC)
  • LED strobing beacon for industrial equipment (Class 1 strobe, 1440 lumens)
  • Magnetic mount blue LED strobe light (Battery powered, 360° pattern)

6.0 Conclusion

Blue LEDs are vital to forklift safety and operation. The fixtures are designed to alert pedestrians and workers on the presence of the vehicle in real-time. The light’s short wavelengths may boost reaction times and attention, which could help individuals avoid the machine during operation. When the lights are coupled with auditory alarms and horns, the forklift warning system becomes more effective, especially for nearby workers who are wearing ear plugs or listening to music. The OHSA sets forth several regulations surrounding the use of blue LEDs on powered industrial trucks. The guidelines may be applied to help businesses comply with recommendations for Powered Industrial Trucks and the General Duty Clause.