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Product innovations help keep workers safe
Wednesday, 25 Feb 2009 ( #399 )
Special Feature
Peacock's Sky Trax RFID
Materials handling safety is an ongoing issue for most workplaces, but with adequate training and the use of modern technology, injuries and accidents involving forklifts and other equipment can be reduced. Annette Densham reports.

Prevention of accidents is as simple as ensuring operators are properly trained, pedestrians are aware of their surroundings and current safety technology is embraced. This sounds like common sense, but these simple safety techniques are sometimes overlooked. And because the human element is the hardest to control, many organisations are looking to safety products such RFID, Bluetooth devices and warehouse management systems to take the guesswork out of ensuring workers and goods are safe.

Technology to the rescue - RFID

Craig McKenzie, marketing manager for Australian-based Peacock Bros. Pty. Ltd, says a technology the company originally designed to make warehouses more efficient now plays a large role in occupational health and safety.

The company has taken existing technology and tweaked it to provide a system that can be adapted to a workplace’s specific requirements. Peacock’s Indoor Vehicle Positioning System, which incorporates RFID forklift-mounted technology and real-time warehouse management, was originally designed for use by New Zealand company Eastpack. The company recently won an award for this technology  (Forkliftaction.com News #397).

"We have combined RFID technology software with a positioning system and our specially manufactured backrest," he explains. "Normally, equipment on backrests requires a lot of cable, but we have designed and built our own Bluetooth transmitter and put a battery pack into the backrest, making it completely independent."

McKenzie says this technology reduces the need for operators to get on and off the machine because it reads is able to locate pallets, knows where to put them and how to find them using the warehouse management systems (WMS) "The driver never needs to get off the forklift thereby reducing the circumstances that creates the accident."

Terry Wickman, president of US safety and monitoring company Keytroller, says from a safety perspective, an RFID card reader can be added to CYBERWATCH, which keeps untrained and unauthorised operators from running the equipment. CYBERWATCH is a cellular GPS/GSM asset tracker and wireless hour metre.

He says Keytroller’s LCD device can automate the monitoring function and keep an electronic record of checklists. He says this makes the operator accountable. "The vehicle can be shut down if a critical checklist item is failed and a database of the checklists is kept if OSHA wants to see it if there is an accident."  

Seatbelts

Springbelt - ensuring forklfit operators belt up
It is hard to imagine that a seatbelt – a simple concept that works - could be improved upon.  The problem with seatbelts is operators often forget or cannot be bothered to put them on.

Don Wilkinson, manager of New Zealand-based Industrial Seatbelts, distributes Springbelt. He says he originally developed the belt to overcome the disregard most operators have for seatbelts in earthmoving plant. "It is ideally suited to forklifts."

The belt springs up when unbuckled, making it a real nuisance and uncomfortable to operate the machine. But when it is buckled, it holds the operator firmly, comfortably and safely in his seat.

The belt comes with a universal fitting kit making it easy to install.  
"Springbelt overcomes most of the difficulties for the operator and the employer. It takes the conscious decision out, overcomes the macho bit and makes compliance more certain and predictable."

Industrial Seatbelt is working on a new development for forklifts. Wilkinson says he expects to present to the market a further restraint to go with Springbelt to make the occupant restraint even more convenient and less restrictive, particularly when reversing.

Forklift and pedestrian warning devices

Bill Chernick, president of US forklift safety product manufacturer ALERT Safety Products, says the company’s products have the ability to warn at a blind corner in a facility. "We believe that the pedestrian is most at risk and we always lean toward warning them and then other forklift operators."
ALERT's warning device in action


ALERT uses a combination of photo sensors and reflective strips or microwave sensors to trigger warning alarms. "We can use strobe lights, LED caution signs, or our Mirror ALERT Dome which has two to four mounted microwave sensors," Chernick says. "What we have done is taken passive alarms, mirrors - convex or dome, and made them into an active alarm."

US manufacturer of electronic safety products Ecco designs and markets back-up alarms, LED warning lights, rotating and xenon warning lights, rear vision camera systems and forward warning horns.

Graeme Preston, marketing manager, says one of the main technological advances in this industry has been the introduction of LED lighting products and solid-state electronic forward warning horns. "The current trends are the use of fork-mounted camera systems with monitors at operators’ stations," he says.

Another option for forklift fleets is CCTV systems and alarms as warning devices to protect both pedestrians and operators. Brigade Electronics Plc manufactures vehicle CCTV systems and reversing/movement alarms for forklifts. Chris Baker, marketing communications manager for Brigade, says these products warn the driver of any person or object in a danger area and also alert individuals to the presence of a forklift.

Brigade has recently introduced its ‘White Sound’ (Broadband sound) alarms and self-adjusting version of these alarms. Baker says these products have had a significant impact on safety. "Unlike conventional
Brigade Electronic's reversing alarms protect pedestrians
tonal alarms that spread their warning in all directions, white sound alarms are directional so the warning sound is confined to the danger area," he explains. "This means that people exposed to these alarms on a regular basis do not ‘tune them out’ as they are liable to do with tonal alarms."

John Watts, business development manager for Australian safety company Barrier Security Products, a forklift and pedestraian separation solution desgioned for Coles Distributions Centres two years ago has become a popular safety device with warehouse and logistics centres.

"The channel rail separates forklift and pedestrian by stopping pallets from entering into areas where people walk," he explains. "Marking walkways is not good enough, companies need to make sure forklifts cannot enter those areas."

Watts says Barrier has just released two new safety products. "The Shock Absorbing Bollard  (SAB) protect the  sensors on bottom of quick-release doors," he says. "The sensors are often damaged by forklifts and the bollard, which can rotate and tilt up to eight-degrees and take a nudge or impact and move up to 20mm, protects the  doors.

"It has slowed down the forklift traffic around those doorways in logistics centre because it is has a visual effect."

Barrier’s bollard protection sleeves, polyethylene, slides over another bollard protecting them from fading, rust and scratches. Watts says  bollards will never have to be painted again and will always provide a permanent visual safety device."

Educational materials and signs

Michael Millward, managing director of Abeceder, a UK business consultancy, says the company is the distributor outside North and South America of the S*A*F*E* safety education and awareness resources, which are produced in Canada by SafetyWorld, a division of Owen Media Partners.
a S*A*F*E poster


S*A*F*E is a program that provides on-going safety education to employees that gets them talking about the safety issues they face at work.

The pack contains everything needed to deliver an effective safety awareness session.  

Millward says S*A*F*E can be delivered by anyone and does not require any specialist knowledge. Abeceder has just launched three new topics with support materials that feature the characters from the hit TV series The Simpson’s including Distribution Centre Safety, Reporting Accidents and Near Misses.

Millward says accidents are not reduced by imposing ever stricter safety rules. "A way has to be found to engage employees so that safety becomes part of their normal working day, not an advertisement, activity or an afterthought.

"S*A*F*E* allows employers to tap into the power of the world’s biggest brand and communicate a serious safety message with an element of humour, in a way that is easily accessible and understandable."

Rack protectors

RackDeflektor is a product that can reduce injuries but also decrease damage to goods.  Terry Troutman, managing director of Small Troutman, US distributor of RackDeflektor and Speedshield, says the tough hi-visibility yellow polyethylene product has an impact-absorbing foam insert that helps to reduce damage to racking caused by forklifts contacting the racking. "The visibility factor helps to let the forklift operator see the uprights and avoid impacts."  

RackDeflektor can be mounted at whatever level is needed to protect the rack and can be mounted high and above ground level.

Forklift trainers’ perspective

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says each year, tens of thousands of forklift-related injuries occur in US workplaces.

The government body says most injuries and property damage can be attributed to lack of safe operating procedures, lack of safety rule enforcement and insufficient or inadequate training.

Forklift Training System provide electornic logs
Forklift trainers such as Forklift Training Systems believe many accidents can be prevented with adequate and ongoing training. It provides forklift training for both new and existing forklift operators and train-the-trainer classes for new forklift trainers.

David Hoover, president of Forklift Training Systems, says when doing on-site classes, the trainers insist on looking at the forklifts and workplace before training. "This is so we can make recommendations to improve material handling safety and to customise our program to the site and lifts as much as we can."

Hoover says the technology makes a difference, especially seatbelt innovations, automatic tilt levellers, and ‘smart’ audible alarms. "But training must keep up with these advances," he comments. "If we are not training operators on how to use these systems and why they are in place, then the benefits may be needlessly lost," he adds.

Robert Vetter, director of training at Ives Training in Canada, says the users of forklifts continue to pressure manufacturers to produce more for less. "Reduced battery charge cycle times, improved fuel/power efficiencies and enhanced manoeuvrability capabilities all allow users to maximise the available space while cutting operational costs with respect to forklift operations.

"The fact that a given model may be bigger, faster or more powerful really doesn't have any effect on the what, how and why of operator training in that the basic principles of operation remain unchanged."

Vetter believes that although basic training principles apply to the technological advances in materials handling, operators do have to be made aware of how these differences could magnify pre-existing operational hazards. "For example, if forklift B is capable of going faster and lifting higher than forklift A, operators assigned to them must be made to understand that the probability of things like tip-over and reduced stability are increased with higher speeds and lift heights."

Changes to legislation

Training ensures knowledge of safe operational procedures
Forkpro’s Brennan says the big change in Australia has been in the licensing area, with the introduction of the Standard for licensing of high-risk plant operators. "The key area of change is that all training and assessment providers must be a Registered Training Organisation (RTO).

Brennan explains that in the past, the assessment process was regulated and the recent changes mean the training process is now regulated. "There is now a more structured training regime and the providers have much more onerous compliance arrangements, having to make their state Department of Education happy as well as Workcover."

Terry Wickman, president of US-based GPS and speed control system manufacturer Keytroller, says recent OSHA training regulations in the US have put more "teeth" into the forklift training requirements for forklift users. "Significant penalties and fines put a lot of liability on forklift fleet owners who ignore these OSHA regulations," he explains. "This puts more emphasis on devices that limit access to trained and authorised operators only."

He says all forklift operators have to be trained, there has to be proof of training and that recurrent (refresher) training be done every three years or if an operator is involved in near misses or accidents. "Operators have to be trained on every type of forklift they may be driving and in every different type of application that they may be operating that forklift in."  

Wickman says OSHA can now impose significant fines on employers that cannot verify forklift training, and in the event of an injury, an employer has a huge liability if proper training was not actually conducted.

Michael Millward, president of Abeceder, says complying with legislation should be a minimum standard of performance. "Recent increases in the penalties for breaking safety legislation in the United Kingdom have heightened awareness of the need to not just have the policy but also to ensure that that policy is put into action by every employee," he comments.

"While the penalties for employers have increased, we have seen an increased focus by employers on preventing accidents through the education of employees."

Industrial Seatbelts’ Wilkinson says the increasing importance placed on health and safety has put liability on employers to manage safety. "Forklift seatbelts in Australia are mandatory; however, in New Zealand, they are recommended only," he comments. "Seatbelts in the plant have traditionally been awkward, restrictive and easily forgotten. They are commonly not being used despite the law and they are seldom policed."

Industry campaigns

Industry groups such as the UK’s Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA) run regular campaigns and publish educational information to assist employers and employees manage workplace accidents.

FLTA works to raise awareness of forklift safety through its Safety Week campaign held in September each year and its employee safety handbook (Forkliftaction.com News #393).

David Ellison, FLTA's chief executive
David Ellison, FLTA’s chief executive, says although Britain’s 350,000 forklifts do an incredible amount of good for the British economy, "they are involved in causing more serious workplace injuries than cars and HGVs combined."

"There are eight to10 fatalities each year and 400 or so serious injuries (fractures/amputations, etc)."

Ellison says it is most important to keep pedestrians away from forklifts. "If this is not possible (and often it is not,) then make sure that pedestrians and operators are aware of the risks. This needs to be done formally, as part of induction training.

FLTA plans to run a couple of events this year to keep awareness of safety issues high. It will run its national awareness campaign - National Fork Lift Safety Week - aimed at reducing the forklift accident toll from 21st - 27th September. The FLTA National Fork Lift Truck Safety Conference will be held on 30th September at Warwick University Arts Centre. FLTA says this is a "must attend" event for any company concerned with operating forklifts safely.

The Industrial Truck Association (ITA) in the States works with the OSHA on events such as full-day seminars on all major aspects of forklift safety and implementation team meeting.

Gary Cross, ITA spokesperson, says the seminars are a multi-year committment. "We will present three seminars this year," he says. "At the team meetings, we will pursue projects such as Youth Rules to prevent underage forklift operation, update the Health and Safety Topics page on OSHA’s web site , comment on OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletins (SHIBs) related to forklifts, and arrange for OSHA speakers and distribution of OSHA literature at ITA meetings.

Cross says the ITA will update its Recommended Practices Manual and will develop positions for ISO standards that affect  products. "Especially ISO 3691, which is the primary world-wide standard, this encompasses consideration of safety developments in other countries and areas, such as Japan, China, Australia and the EU."

Ensuring workers are safe should be a top priority for work sites; however, responsibility also lies with the operator who should take advantage of the safety features on the equipment – seatbelts and mirrors.  Nothing can replace common sense and the careful operation of equipment. Safety does not have to be high-tech and costly; it is about controlling the traffic, being aware of one’s surroundings and about being visible.
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