Around the world, despite the increased emphasis on workplace safety, the number of serious accidents involving forklifts remains high. According to the United States’ National Safety Council, in 2021 forklift accidents caused 70 work-related deaths across the country.
“The main forklift safety issues faced by materials handling operations include ensuring the correct training and certification of forklift operators, improving visibility from the forklift operator’s seat, the overloading of forklifts and the damage caused by neglected maintenance and inspection,” says Sander Loosveld, chief strategy officer and executive vice president EMEA at GemOne.
As long-term observers of the sector would note, this list of concerns has not changed much over time. As ever, forklift safety is about effective training, visibility (for operators and pedestrians) and ensuring that operators (and other staff) follow correct operational procedures.
What has changed are the tools available to turn around the above safety statistics. For this reason, ELOKON senior vice president of sales Mark Stanton sees cause for optimism.
“The future of forklift safety is very bright indeed. There is enormous investment being made in technologies such as Lidar, radar, artificial intelligence (AI) cameras, ultra-wide band networks/sensors, and so on,” he says.
Citing AI as an example, Stanton says that while many of these technologies are already being deployed, they are essentially still in their infancy. In coming years, as these technologies develop further, they will become even more effective and, as a result, workplace safety is set to improve.
With this in mind, here is a selection of some of the latest forklift safety products and their respective suppliers.
"The future of forklift safety is very bright indeed. There is enormous investment being made in technologies such as Lidar, radar, artificial intelligence (AI) cameras, ultra-wide band networks/sensors, and so on."
Matrix Design Group
“Beyond the most serious incidents, involving loss of life or personal injury, lost-time accidents provide another area of concern. Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-object collisions can endanger people and property. A significant issue is that most facilities need data to make educated safety decisions,” says Wes Chitwood, Matrix Design Group’s vice president of international operations.
For example, employee safety is in jeopardy when the operation does not know which operator is causing damage in a warehouse or acting in a risky manner. In addition, when an operation is unaware of the number of its near misses, highest-risk areas and most dangerous times of day, accessing critical data can be a starting point to improving safety across the board.
Matrix's OmniPro Visual AI Collision Avoidance System facilitates the collection of such data. It can identify pedestrians and vehicles in the forklift’s path of travel and notify operators and pedestrians. It can also enforce speed limit zones in specific facility areas.
“Through its cloud application, OmniPro provides the data to help operations increase safety, adjust workflows, improve layouts and identify additional training needs. It helps operations save lives, eliminate accidents and reduce costs,” says Chitwood.
Available from Australian forklift provider Adaptalift Group, Artificial Intelligence Vision Assist (AiVA) is a vision-based system that uses machine vision and AI to ‘see’ pedestrians.
“With its capacity to automatically detect and advise when pedestrians approach forklifts, the system is intended to increase operator situational awareness and therefore improve workplace safety,” explains Paul Hinz, marketing manager at Adaptalift Group.
“Made up of a network of four or more rugged weatherproof cameras and a single operator remote, AiVA can accurately sense the position of pedestrians relative to forklifts and use this information to provide rapid proximity alerts.”
The cameras are installed and trained on segments of the forklift that correspond to matching segments on the operator remote, while the remote provides a radar-like bird’s eye view of the surroundings.
In addition to the visual display, the remote also contains an operator acknowledgement button and a weatherproof speaker to provide loud and effective voice prompts and alert operators and pedestrians to proximity breaches.
Holland Vision Systems
According to Bryan McCranner, manager of Holland Vision Systems, often when accidents do occur it is difficult to pinpoint the cause. “Because operators often don't show accountability unless there is a recording of the incident, we cannot address the main cause,” he says.
Acknowledging this dilemma, Holland Vision Systems has developed cameras and recording systems that are suitable for all types of equipment, including forklifts, and can be customised to suit the requirements of individual operations.
Using these recording systems, the idea is to take footage of experienced operators in the field for the purpose of training new operators and showing them the correct way to go about their jobs.
As McCranner explains, beyond employee training, the recording systems also help with accident records, monitoring operations and operator accountability. When accidents occur, they provide real time feedback on the incidents and facilitate discussions with those involved. In this way, they help minimise the possibility of similar issues recurring.
United Kingdom-based forklift safety specialist Transmon Engineering offers a range of core-sensing technologies, including proximity warning systems for pedestrians and building infrastructure, forklift-integrated cameras that incorporate AI and adaptive speed control solutions.
“In the UK and through our global network of distributors and partners, we work closely with our customers across operations and health and safety to identify what hazards exist and how best to reduce these by deploying collision avoidance and adaptive speed control solutions,” says Steve Coley, Transmon Engineering’s managing director.
The Transmon Adaptive Speed Control System manages forklift speeds in accordance with corresponding hazard levels. In low hazard areas, a site-wide speed of, say, 10 km/hr can be implemented, reducing to 8 km/hr within the warehouse. Then, when in higher risk areas such as in proximity to pedestrians or walkways, the speed can be further reduced to 3-4 km/hr.
A highly flexible workplace safety solution, the system can be retrofitted to both battery and internal combustion engine (ICE) powered forklifts.
ZoneSafe has developed a suite of safety solutions intended to reduce the chance of collisions by raising awareness of hazards and creating segregation where it might not otherwise be available.
“The system is fitted to the forklift, creating a detection zone, while pedestrians working nearby are assigned small easy-to-wear tags that automatically interact with the vehicle when the detection zone is breached. An audio/visual, and in some cases a vibration alarm, is raised to alert the wearer of hazards,” says David Thomas, general manager at ZoneSafe (Avonwood Developments).
At the same time, the forklift operator is alerted to the presence of a pedestrian or hazard and can cease activity accordingly.
Similarly, ZoneSafe Sensor-Activated Signage automatically illuminates with flashing lights and signage when the forklift enters a defined detection zone. According to Thomas, this has proven highly successful at blind corners, intersections and in dimly lit areas. It counteracts sign blindness in cases where excessive safety signage has lost impact and offers a robust safety system when tags might not be appropriate.
“Our customers report not only a reduction in collisions but raised overall awareness and an improvement in safe workplace behaviour as users become more aware of common risks,” he says.
Pervidi Safety Proximity Detection Systems are based on tags and receivers that utilise signals to detect the presence of workers. The tags/beacons transmit signals that can be detected by smartphones or tablets within the forklift.
“When a device comes within range of a tag/beacon, the system can determine the location of the beacon and trigger an alert through audio and visual means,” says Naaman Shibi, solution consultant at Pervidi.
“Compared to camera-based systems, Pervidi Safety Proximity Solution does not require any infrastructure, connectivity or site installation. Cost effective, it does not require line of sight, works 24/7 in all light and weather condition and is very easy to install and maintain.”
In addition, because it does not capture images or videos, Pervidi Safety Proximity Alert Solution is suitable for use in applications where maintaining privacy is a concern.
GemOne’s Sapphire is a safety management tool designed to create a culture of safety within warehouses. Featuring on-screen regulation-compliant checklists, it guides operators through mandatory pre-start checks.
“Our solution ensures an optimal feedback flow from operations to service departments. This not only encourages accountability but also ensures that only certified and trained operators have the green light to operate forklifts,” says Sander Loosveld, chief strategy officer and executive vice president EMEA at GemOne.
Saphire’s license management feature tracks and validates operator qualifications and prevents unauthorised access. In addition, it includes a feature that requires either a PIN code, RFID card or key fob for access.
Apart from the Sapphire safety management tool, GemOne also offers the 360-degree Proximity Warning System, an ultra-wideband technology powered by Lopos, which provides alerts and actionable insights to help keep operators and pedestrians safe.
According to Serge Vartanian, sales director at Impco Technologies, forklift safety products can be divided into two categories: passive solutions (like safety lights, horns and mirrors), which act to inform operators and pedestrians; and active solutions, which affect the normal operation of the forklift in order to improve safety.
“We have seven product families that can meet virtually all safety requirements for industrial rolling equipment and forklifts. These include everything from lights and cameras to automatic fire extinguishers and a wide range of assistance systems,” he says.
Within the active category, Impco offers the OptaFleet Fleet Management System. Used in combination with the company’s Optasafe Pedestrian Detection Solutions, it delivers accurate information about what is happening around the immediate vicinity of relevant forklifts.
Where the system is deployed, operators have access to a monitor and when pedestrians enter nominated zones, an alarm is activated. When this occurs, the forklift is reduced to turtle speed and relevant data is transferred to the system.
SonaSafe is an ecosystem which incorporates a range of sensing technologies, including ultrasonic, radio frequency and computer vision (AI) to assess the true risk to those in the vicinity of operating forklifts.
“We couple these live on-the-ground tools with a cloud-based analytics platform that identifies what, when, where and who data that can be leveraged to trigger safety conversations with the team to develop safer work practices and training,” says Leighton Haliday, commercial director at SonaSafe.
By leveraging a range of technologies, including ultrasonics, SonaSafe empowers operators to effectively ‘see around’ objects. This is particularly effective in areas such as inwards receipting or outbound where checkers are often bending down and therefore cannot easily be seen.
According to Haliday, by combining a reactive and proactive approach in this way, it’s possible for operations using the system to reduce risk by as much as 99%.
Mark Stanton, ELOKON’s senior vice president of sales is of the opinion that technology alone will not create safe workplaces.
“Implementing any solution requires a clear analysis of the problem from all stakeholders, an understanding of the desired benefits and a way to measure those benefits,” he says, adding that he has seen examples of operations implementing technology but failing to meet their goals.
Given that ELOKON offers numerous solutions based on different technologies, Stanton is well-positioned to make that statement.
“This means that we don’t push a single solution to meet different operational needs. We can offer a suite of solutions that provide answers to different challenges,” he says.
“For example, if a company is primarily concerned with pedestrian safety and the interaction with material handling equipment (e.g., forklifts and tuggers), the ELOshield solution could be a great fit. Alternatively, if the operational challenge is very narrow aisle forklifts, then our ELOprotect product should be considered.”
Integrated Warehouse Solutions
While AI, digital connectivity and automation tend to receive most of the publicity when discussing forklift safety, they aren’t the whole story. Tried and tested safety methods should not be forgotten.
“We will likely continue to see a level of connectivity between the forklift and its surrounding environment. However, trusted analogue solutions such as industrial grade protective guarding and barriers will always be critical in creating a safe environment for workers, goods and facilities,” says Nick Jerome, director of marketing at Integrated Warehouse Solutions, a manufacturer of products carrying the Bluff, Nordock and Wesco brands.
These ranges include numerous products designed to help prevent the most common types of accidents, including product fall-offs at loading docks and forklifts colliding with pallets or workers.
Bluff Manufacturing offers a range of safety guarding products to protect dock doors, structural pillars, aisles with product and pathways for workers, while Nordock manufactures loading dock levellers with available sliding or fixed barrier lips that prevent accidental forklift fall-off, as well as a fall-stop barrier gates intended for use at the dock door.
The human factor
It’s also important to stress that, while technological innovation is always welcome, it is not going to completely replace human operators. At least not any time soon.
New technology requires a corresponding commitment to those who operate it. It requires effective and on-going training and the retention of experienced staff.
Unfortunately, for a lot of operations right now, this is not the case.
“Staff turnover has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected all facets of business. Materials handling operations across every industry have not escaped the ‘great resignation’ which caused experienced forklift operators to be replaced by new, less experienced operators,” says Stanton.
Businesses which find themselves in this situation and wish to improve forklift safety, need to seek ways to stabilise their workforce because genuine improvements of this kind require not just the well-considered introduction of new products like those discussed above, but employees who are capable, reliable and well-trained.
For more information on the new technology and products being developed by our contributors, please visit this dedicated Virtual Showroom.
For this report we interviewed the following industry specialists:
Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President EMEA