Minimum standards for forklift products continue to be raised to meet safety expectations
Forklift safety begins with the selection of the right equipment, as Allan Leibowitz
With forklifts having been used in workplaces for over 100 years, safety practices and procedures are now well established. Minimum standards for forklift products continue to be raised to meet safety expectations in more crowded environments with narrower aisles, higher racking and heavier loads. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) has two dozen standards for forklift safety, covering everything from starting to braking, stability, the operator's cab and removable attachments.
Yet, despite these widely adopted standards and rigorous legislative requirements in almost all countries, accidents continue to occur, resulting in death, injuries and property loss.
Hans Seijger, chief business development officer at Cat Lift Trucks in Europe, stresses the importance of the common standards, including the European Union's Machinery Directive, last updated in 2009.
Besides that directive, the EU has several rules and regulations covering the work environment for forklifts. These include the Safety and Health Framework Directive 89/391, the Temporary and Mobile Construction Directive 92/57, the use of Personal Protective Equipment Directive 89/656 and the Directive 2008/96/EC on Road Infrastructure Safety Management.
These specify an employer's obligation to protect their workers and any device or appliance designed to be worn for protection against health and safety hazards.
While these regulations apply throughout the EU, there are also national rules and regulations concerning working conditions which apply to forklift operation.
"We, as one of the three biggest forklift manufacturers in the world, are very much involved in CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) standards organisation, giving new propositions and commenting on other propositions. For us, it's very important that we have commonly agreed standards that apply to all forklift manufacturers," he says.
These benchmarks include the recently updated EN standard for forklift electricity - EN1175:2020. "It tightens electrical requirements of forklifts, which (heightens) the level of safety of electrical systems, drive controllers, pump controllers, multifunction displays, (and) indicators," he explains.
In the United States, forklift safety falls under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and national standards cover the general design and construction standards of industrial equipment as well as various aspects of operation, such as the storage and handling of fuels. Separate standards also govern a range of activities from loading and unloading to vehicle maintenance, while others set training requirements for operators.
Ireland's Health and Safety Authority stresses that anyone who owns, leases, hires or borrows a vehicle for work purposes must make sure that it is safe for use and fit for the purpose for which it is intended. It notes that under health and safety legislation, a vehicle is a place of work.
Workplace obligations include the requirement that forklifts be maintained in a condition that is safe and without risk to safety and health. Equipment requirements, meanwhile, mean employers must make sure that drivers are familiar with the vehicle they are driving and that they have been given appropriate instruction, information and training to carry out required pre-checks and to use the vehicle in the correct and safe manner, as per the manufacturer's instructions.
In the UK, besides legislation covering forklift operation and training, there is also a requirement that equipment be appropriately maintained. Thorough Examination of forklifts is required under health and safety law, LOLER 1998, which covers lifting equipment, and PUWER 1998, which deals with all other safety-related items, such as brakes, steering and tyres. Authorities warn that regular inspections as part of a preventive maintenance scheme or scheduled service are not a Thorough Examination.
In countries such as Canada, authorities recognise the importance of maintenance, but recommend it rather than legislating it. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety stresses that inspection is of critical importance, but leaves it to operators to check proper functioning and alert supervisors of any issues.
Linde's lighting options include Linde VertiLights and LED Stripes
Marco Dirnhofe, Sales and Service Development Manager for safety products at Linde Material Handling, says health and safety legislation plays a significant role in regulating forklift operation.
"Today, every employer in Europe is committed to conduct a risk assessment for every workplace within the company to determine the risk of certain hazardous substances or activities as quantitatively as possible. When risks are identified, employers have to apply measures to protect their employees from health damage," he explains.
These measures, described as the TOP principle, include the implementation of Technical solutions (like assistant systems for forklift trucks), Organisational measures (like operating instructions, warning signs, signals) and Personal protection (like safety gloves or a safety helmet).
Dirnhofe argues that corporate responsibility plays an increasing role when it comes to safety. "Managers are increasingly aware that safe processes not only lead to a positive corporate image, but ensure the success of the company as accidents harm in many ways: they bring suffering to the injured and their families and can involve high follow-up costs."
Safety shapes customer choices
Whether it's because of regulations or an increased corporate focus on employee wellbeing, safety is becoming increasingly important to forklift buyers.
The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) points out the legal requirement for work equipment to be "suitable and safe for the way it is intended to be used".
This means buyers need to ensure that the equipment they select is appropriate for the intended use to which it will be applied.
At the same time, machinery manufacturers also have a legal duty to reduce risks on new machinery by ensuring it is designed and constructed to be safe, according the HSE advice.
Kelly Xu, export manager of Zhejiang Hangcha, notes that "personal safety is the most important consideration for customers".
According to Dirnhofe, there is some evidence that safety plays an increasingly important role when it comes to purchase decisions. He points out that approximately two-thirds of all Linde counterbalance trucks are equipped ex-works with an optional Linde Blue Spot or Linde Truck Spot warning system.
"We observe a general increase in demand for all our safety solutions. This applies to equipment rates ex-works as well as retrofitting of safety features by the Linde network. In addition, our sales network sees a growing interest in holistic safety projects, which include briefing, analysis, structured workshops and site visits, individual recommendation, implementation and evaluation of concrete measures by specially trained safety experts," he adds.
Cat Lift Trucks' Seijger agrees that health and safety are high on the agenda for customers. Forklift buyers, he says, are interested in how materials handling suppliers are addressing health and safety aspects from an R&D perspective. His company is asked about its achievements in recent years as well as its priorities in developments in coming years, the number of R&D developers on staff, the level of involvement by customers and/or distributors, and the ability to fine-tune solutions to different work environments.
Seijger also notes a clear trend from passive safety to active safety. "This means that companies and users are more aware of the safety requirements and are intrinsically willing to take action. Daily checks and driver identification are a regular practice today in many operations. The truck needs to be safe (daily checks) and also the driver needs to be entitled to drive that truck (registration). This gets more important, for example, in trucks such as reach trucks, multi-way reach trucks, VNAs or high-level order pickers. These trucks require drivers with very specific training.
"Knowing who the operators are and how they use the truck has become very important, especially in large operations with fleets running 24/7.
According to the UK Forklift Truck Association (FLTA), safe trucks are one of four key elements of forklift safety, the others being safe management, safe operators and safe sites.
Hangcha XC series electric forklift undergoing electro-magnetic compatibility testing
To be safe, a forklift truck needs three things: to be right for the job, to be well looked-after and to be checked thoroughly before use.
"Different working environments require different trucks. For instance, warehouse equipment like reach trucks and stackers are generally not designed for outdoor use. Counterbalance trucks are, but only really on smooth and level surfaces. Diesel and LPG trucks, meanwhile, will need to be used in well ventilated areas. You must make sure you have the right truck for your site, and the job in hand," says an association briefing.
Dirnhofe believes companies would rather invest in the right equipment to prevent accidents than pay "large sums of money for injured employees or damaged goods and infrastructure".
The cost of assistance systems or visual warning signals and monitoring devices can be recouped by avoiding just one serious accident, he explains.
Forklift buyers are looking beyond price and lifting capacity when they choose equipment, and safety features are increasingly used to differentiate between products.
Seijger says customers are looking for features like step-in support, including grab handles and anti-slip steps.
In-demand driver protection features include driver detection systems in seats, safety belt detection needed in order to start the truck, and the inclusion of overhead guards.
He also identifies demand for improved driver visibility, while warning devices are mandated in many fleets - including rotating lamps, horns, blue spots, working lights, person detection systems and smart electronic systems.
Some customers also require speed limiters, automatic park brakes, side way exchange facilities for batteries, or fire extinguishers, depending on locations and applications.
Hangcha's Xu cites her company's flagship XC series electric forklift as an indication of the safety requirements requested by customers.
Standard features include automatic speed reduction when turning, automatic mast buffering, and automatic fork levelling with a mast designed to increase lateral visibility by 15%.
The machine also boasts password protection, a vehicle fleet management monitoring system and blue light system. "These security systems are the ones that customers are most concerned about and most often purchased," she says.
Dirnhofe from Linde refers to statistics from German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) which show 40% to 50% of accidents involving industrial trucks result in people being hit, knocked down or crushed. Other accidents involve the loss of loaded goods, dismounting of the driver or tipping of the truck.
He says Linde's product portfolio addresses all of these risks with design features and special models, like the Linde Roadster with optimised view. In addition, the company supplies assistance systems like Linde Curve Assist, electronic seatbelt monitoring, Linde Safety Pilot, Linde Load Management, Linde Surround View, Linde Safety Guard and Zone Intelligence as well as comprehensive lighting options such as Linde VertiLights or LED Stripes, and systematic consulting implementation and evaluation with the Linde Safety Scan.
And to meet the current COVID-19 challenge, Linde recently launched its Secure Distance Vest and the Linde Distance Beeper, adapted from its Safety Guard technology, to help employees keep a safe distance from each other.
Hangcha has seen increased demand for vehicles which can operate safely in all weather conditions. "Many vehicles are safe indoors but not safe outdoors; safe on sunny days, but not in rain," she notes.
Hangcha's range covers even the most extreme applications, and the explosion-proof A Series is designed with features like separate intelligent control systems, temperature monitoring including brake temperature, and full forklift insulation.
The traction motor pump motor and controller all use alternating variable frequency technology for improved efficiency and better control.
The bigger picture, Cat Lift Trucks' Seijger explains, considers safety optimisation, and buyers look to their suppliers to assist with hazard identification, training programs for drivers, advice on operating procedures, facility design and maintenance and repair procedures.
In an environment of increased legislative and corporate social responsibility obligations, end-users need to ensure they broaden their forklift selection criteria to address all the risks, Seijger suggests.
Additional information and a special 'THANK YOU' to our contributors:
Linde working towards zero accidents in the workplace
Linde Material Handling Australia: website
How to prevent forklift truck overturns and load spillages
Cat® Lift Trucks: website
Playing it safe with Linde Material Handling
Linde Material Handling: website
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