Accidents in warehouses and on docks cost human suffering, time, money and loss of product. Training, enforcement of rules learned in training, proactive design and maintenance can minimize the number of accidents.
“Safety is an attitude. Employers that take it seriously should find more employees taking it seriously,” said Rick Kidder, service training manager for Toyota Material Handling, U.S.A., Inc. “An easy item to do beyond training is to perform a self- audit. Create your own list and check your operators and facilities. Do the operators and facilities meet your standards. Are they following your safety rules? Please visit OSHA’s and National Safety Council’s websites for workplace safety-related information. Constant reinforcement on safety is critical to keeping your employees safe.”
“Make sure all operators are current on certification, that they use seatbelts and harnesses and follow speed limits. Remind employees about safe practices, and add rules that help reduce the chances for an accident,” Kidder said.
Some safety advances came from automotive technology.
“Toyota’s SAS (System of Active Stability) and Active Mast Control (AMC) technologies were designed specifically to reduce the likelihood of tip overs,” Kidder said. “Following the introduction of SAS, transportation injuries involving forklifts in the United States decreased while the SAS field population increased between 1999 and 2010. While mandatory operator training enacted by OSHA certainly plays a large part in these reductions, the safety impact provided by SAS cannot be underestimated. Toyota’s SAS system helps reduce the likelihood of overturn accidents. Regardless, operator safety training remains the best defense in accident prevention.”
Lift truck design plays a part in safety when it minimizes operator fatigue and stress, he said.
“Comfortable drivers significantly improve safety as they are more likely to concentrate on the job at hand. Whereas lift trucks with poor ergonomic design can cause poor posture or repetitive strain, well-designed ergonomics help protect the driver from injuries such as back and neck problems. As a result, ergonomic features, such as adjustable seats that can swivel; seat-side hydraulic controls or mini-levers; rear assist grips with horn button and tilting steering columns are now commonly available through Toyota’s product line,” Kidder said.
Some hazards are harder to see but just as problematic.
“Ergonomics and safety should be considered tightly connected,” said Chris Castaldi, manager of business development for W&H Systems in Carlstadt, New Jersey. A pinch point or an obstacle is easier to see, but injuries also result from repetitive motions or other ergonomic problems. “Most people think safety is an immediate accident, versus ergonomics issues that develop over one or two years. The ultimate result is the same.
“I think the best companies look at safety and say we expect to have zero injuries on the job, and we do what it takes to achieve it,” Castaldi said. “The problem often is people get penny wise and dollar foolish. They say ‘that costs money.’ It costs a lot more money from injuries. It’s not a good business model to try to figure acceptable injuries. Those tend to be businesses that don’t last. In a well-run warehouse, you’ll see very few accidents and when they do happen, it’s because people were breaking procedures,” he said.
W&H is a three-pronged business, and all parts focus on safety, from incorporating safety in a new or existing warehouse through consultation, to selling the right piece of equipment and making sure the buyer knows how to use it correctly, to noticing wear and making sure equipment is maintained to stay safe, he said.
While no injuries are acceptable, sometimes some product loss costs less than what it would take to make a warehouse completely damage free, he said. Zero damage could cost more than the value of the product that was damaged. “You can’t use that same analysis with humans because they’re priceless.”
Everyone is better off when the numbers on the signs that list days since the last accident have high numbers.
“I think with a broad sweep of the brush, high travel speeds are the X factor in any accident,” said Chris Webre, president of Safety Systems and Controls in Houston, Texas. “The causes of accidents are many, but as travel speeds increase, the resulting damage explodes exponentially. A fully loaded fork truck is like a mini train; it doesn’t stop on a dime and when it hits something, there’s no give.”
“Some things that make a zone more accident prone include poor visibility, poorly marked truck travel/pedestrian walk areas and high travel speeds,” Webre said. So making zones forklift only or pedestrian only makes it safer, as do continual operator training and proper equipment maintenance. New safety products are coming out all the time and businesses in general are much more proactive when it comes to safety than they used to be,” Webre said. “The costs of product damage, injuries and legal settlements make increasing safety a no-brainer.”
Safety Systems and Controls has introduced Ped-Guard as an add-on to its Pace-One Xone Speed Control system. Using infrared transmitters, the system limits forklift speeds to the appropriate level for the zone. The add-on means a “fork truck automatically slows down when approaching the battery-powered key fob-sized transmitter that can be mounted or carried. This is ideal to protect people walking around a facility, great for protecting workers in temporary work zones or slowing trucks around spills or accidents,” Webre said.
The company also has another new product, Lift-Lok, that decreases the likelihood of a tip over by stopping an operator from lifting more weight than the truck is rated for, and cuts the amount it can carry if the load is not positioned load center. And its Dot-Lock transmission shift inhibitor stops trucks from changing travel direction at elevated travel or engine speeds.
“An area that is often overlooked is stretch wrap operation safety,” said Eric Esson, national sales and marketing manager for Frommelt Safety Products. “As with most industrial processes, this was originally a manual operation, but is now commonly automated. While most workers are happy to not ‘stoop and circle’ a pallet of product, this particular aspect of plant operation has long been overlooked as a hazard. With suppliers adding more automated functions to their floors (including intelligent conveyors, AGVs and AS/RS systems), it's critical that safety protection methodology is similar to that of other automated or robotic processes and is compliant with current standards. Automated barrier doors coupled with perimeter guarding (like our RoboGuard fence) are a few methods to address stretch wrap process safety.”
Isolating the wrapping or other jobs from operators and passersby increases safety. Frommelt has a line of machine guarding products, including the Guardian Defender, a high-speed, high-cycle automated door. “It is a great alternative to light curtains and area scanners, as it provides a physical barrier and takes up less floor space,” Esson said.
Good practices and training can also avoid many accidents.
“Unfortunately, there are always going to be accidents but the good news is that the number of accidents have reduced and that is attributable to increased employer training awareness,” said Jeff Ord, president of Forklift Safety Training Services. “Over the past 22 years that we have been in the business of OSHA compliant forklift operator training, we have seen the accident numbers come down and forklift operator training increase. There is absolutely no doubt that proper training is the key to minimizing forklift accidents. The two major accident related injuries caused by forklift trucks are tip overs and being struck or run over by a forklift. Regardless of training, in either type of accident the injury outcome will never change. The only thing we can do is reduce accidents with proper training.”
Employers should do proper training, enforce daily pre-shift inspections, require operators to wear seatbelts and use back-up warning horns or alarms.
Employees should “follow the safety rules that they were taught in training, expect the unexpected and don't take chances,” Ord said. His company distributes training kits to employers for operators. The mandatory training components are defined by OSHA. It is the employer’s responsibility and the training must be site and equipment specific.
“The forklift operator's training is not transferable from one employer to the next. Every employer must have documented evidence for their training and driving evaluation tests of the operators. And if not, the employer is subject to a fine or penalty,” Ord said. “All forklift operators must be trained, tested, evaluated and authorized, not certified. The wallet authorization cards are issued by the employer and that training is site and equipment specific and does not transfer or pass along to the operator's new or next employer.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Mary.