Manufacturing News

Watching out for forklift operators

THESE days forklifts are designed with more in-built safety features than ever, including speed limiting, seatbelt interlocking and impact sensors, but they still continue to be one of the most hazardous pieces of equipment on the factory floor.

However the increasing use and popularity of electronic driver verification and data recording/management systems is giving manufacturers more control over how and who operates forklifts in their warehouses.

Craig Kenchington Sales GM with Crown Equipment says there is a growing trend to place the obligation of safety on forklift drivers.

“We have a prevention rather than cure approach to safety and the technology we use in our machines aims to ensure the operator does all the right things when driving the forklift.

“If they do something wrong, the time and location can be logged, or if necessary, the machine can even be shut down,” Kenchington explained.

“Instead of paper-based inspections, this technology logs and documents the safety protocols into a computer system, along with bad driving habits and accidents. If the driver hits something, an impact sensor in the truck informs managers in real time so they can council operators straight away.

“This way we can limit truck usage to only qualified operators and ensure they undertake the required worthiness inspections prior to starting work,” he said.

Chris Burns from Powerlift (Nissan) says while business managers have welcomed using swipe cards and pin codes to operate forklifts, some drivers were less enthusiastic about using them.

“At first some operators didn’t like using it as they realised they are now accountable for any error they may make.

“Some said it was like ‘Big Brother’ but in reality it is no different to the GPS systems the large freight companies use on their trucks,” he explained.

“Drivers have an obligation to operate their forklift in a safe manner and this technology is helping to make forklift drivers more responsible,” Burns told Manufacturers Monthly.

Ken Wood, director of Safety Awareness Forklift Equipment (SAFE) says in the case of new employees, this kind of technology has the ability to set expected standards of behaviour when they first start a job and this period is known to be a critical time for establishing a strong forklift safety culture.

But he says putting the onus on drivers to be completely responsible for OH&S could be detrimental to establishing a culture of safety in the workplace.

“This is a major reason why we have failed to make good progress in Australian in reducing forklift accidents. The emphasis on the operator’s behaviour is only part of the story; the need for education of all personnel on a site is paramount in creating a good safety culture,” Wood told Manufacturers Monthly.

“The reality is everyone should have input into safety in their respective workplaces and processes need to be introduced to reflect this goal, i.e. induction, tool box meetings, awareness training.

“These accessories certainly have a role in monitoring behaviour of operators especially in large fleets. But it can be argued the use of the technology is only part of the solution to improve forklift safety. The development of a strong safety culture can be achieved by investing in strong induction programs and continuous education and consultation,” he said.

Driving change

Another challenge preventing mass take up of the technology is convincing business owners to look past the initial capital cost.

Though Burns says this attitude is changingregarding using a pin number/swipe card system, especially in the larger corporations.

Wood says if there is a history of incidents at a plant, regardless of size, it would make the investment of such a system worthwhile in regards to the potential financial penalties of Workcover payments.

However Wood says if a strong safety culture already exists, introducing such as system can be counter-productive and can create mistrust.

“When implementing any forklift device this should be “sold” to the workforce as a positive attempt to protect their safety in the workplace.

“Self regulation would probably be the first choice for most companies but these systems will continue to be utilised by manufacturers in an effort to pinpoint the reasons for incidents and accidents,” Wood said.

All men agree that technology used to increase the safety of forklift operation will continue to evolve and it won’t be long before all forklifts have this kind of safety built-in.

Burns believes it won’t be long before the larger forklift manufacturers have a swipe card/pin code system installed as standards.

“Any operation that has more than five forklifts will find the system will be cost effective,” he said.

“To all prospective forklift purchasers/renters insist on every possible safety feature known to man, be happy to pay a premium for the safety and sleep well at night,” Burns said.

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