Safety First

Wayne Chornohus: Sound the alarm!

Thursday, 19 August 2004 ( #171 )
Reversing alarms can be very effective in some situations - and very ineffective in others.
Back-up alarms are necessary on many types of vehicle where the operator must reverse with his vision impaired.
Many trainers and managers believe that back-up alarms are required on all forklifts.
Canadian regulations state: "Mobile equipment in which the operator cannot directly, or by mirror or other effective device, see immediately behind the machine, must have an automatic audible warning device."
This means that if an operator can see directly behind him, he doesn't have to have an alarm.
What a great regulation - it makes sense in the real world.
Do other jurisdictions have regulations regarding these alarms? I would be interested to hear from other areas or countries regarding the wording of these regulations.
In many cases, a back-up alarm can be disrupting and dangerous.
There is a phenomenon that I call "synchronous disassociation" - when two trucks with alarms are operating close together, the noise becomes unbearable and disorientating due to the sympathetic integration of their sound waves.
If forklifts with back-up alarms operate near office or production line personnel, the noise can reduce the ability of these other workers to do their job effectively.
Conversely, constant alarms are "blocked out" and become useless.
Many alarms are disabled by the operators with tape, wire cutters or even a hammer.
Properly placed alarms of the correct decibel rating will usually be left alone.
Unfortunately, some operators will disable a necessary alarm and this behaviour should be strongly discouraged.
The abuse of safety equipment is rife, and employers should introduce severe penalties for those who damage or remove necessary hardware.
Sledgehammer thought processes regarding the use of back-up alarms appear to be a mantra that too many trainers and inspectors use in their respective capacities.
Dogma is so tiring - trite phrases make me weary and nauseous.
There is a place for back-up alarms, as well as a time to not have them!
Among the most incredible examples of incompetence regarding back-up alarms are those manufacturers who mount the alarm on the overhead guard, close to the operator's ear.
It's simply breathtaking that this set-up has been tolerated whatsoever.
My thanks go to Loren Swakow of MHEDA in the USA for this discussion idea.
I would like to invite all who read this column to email me examples of manufacturers that have unsafe features of any kind built into their forklifts.
What brands and features belong in this "hall of shame"?
I also invite manufacturers interested in making their trucks safer and more user-friendly to take part in the development of a column I am writing on this subject.
Please email me at

Wayne Chornohus is a forklift consultant with Hunter Industries Ltd. He brings more than 20 years' experience in the forklift and training industries to the community.
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