Without question, lift truck safety is a critical concern for fleet owners and managers. Without proper systems in place, an operation is at high risk for accidents and potential damages to the facility, merchandise, equipment fleet and, worst of all, employees.
“Nearly 100 workers are killed and 20,000 are seriously injured in lift truck-related accidents each year,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Ontario, 10,308 lift truck-related incidents occurred between 1996 and 2008, according to data collected by the Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario (OHSCO).
Material handling applications have too much at stake to neglect lift truck safety. Seemingly small missteps can significantly impact a company’s bottom line.
Sometimes, reviewing safety procedures with employees is not enough. While formal meetings stressing the importance of safety are important, absolute compliance often demands a more effective approach.
In the 1920s, companies in North America and Canada were expanding, and by the 1930s, industries had developed a need for material handling. The lift truck became an essential device, and procedures to manage them progressed.
While lift trucks were beneficial to production requirements, they created significant safety hazards in many workplaces. Well into the 20th Century, the issue of safety emerged as a concern due to a combination of workers compensation laws, liability costs, news coverage and labor unions. In 1970, the United States established OSHA, and in 1978, Canada created the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) to ensure proper execution of safety procedures. Workers were taught to comply with safety regulations and maintain manual records of safety checklists.
However, as companies expanded and technologies evolved, manual data tracking gradually became obsolete. Paper-based reports were often misplaced or did not provide thorough documentation, creating crisis for companies asked to present complete records of safety compliance.
Since the establishment of safety administrations, incidents have decreased; however, businesses still struggle with safety compliance and penalties amounting to millions of dollars. For CEOs, CFOs, warehouse managers and lift truck operators, safety has found its way to the top of the priority list.
Current safety concerns include: workers being struck by falling objects, caught between or in parts of the vehicle, falling from elevated platforms, being struck by a lift truck and lift trucks colliding or overturning. Crushing and amputations are the most worrisome results.
Industries must adhere to broad standards, including OSHA’s performance-based standard 1910.178 and CCOHS’ Z249.2-1970, both specific for powered industrial trucks. Compliance entails checking for oil leaks, worn tires and problems with hydraulic lines and brakes prior to operation.
In addition, every employee must be trained to operate the specific lift truck he or she was hired to use. These standards should be understood in their entirety so training can be structured to fulfill the safety criteria.
Lift truck regulations are critical to proper industrial functioning, yet it can be challenging to enforce compliance with employees. The problem could be lack of awareness or laziness; nevertheless, employers cannot be responsible for employee reasoning. They are responsible for their actions.
This puts supervisors in a bind: How can they account for and control potential compliance violations? Before that question can be addressed, we must look at the specific challenges and their respective solutions.
Problems and Opportunities
Following are major lift truck safety challenges material handling professionals face and examples of current technologies that can address them.
• Compliance with pre-use safety checklist. While paperbased systems were manageable in the past, they have become obsolete in this day and age. With businesses expanding in all directions, manual documentation of the pre-use safety checklist is not optimal. A comprehensive, computerbased system can monitor each employee’s responses to the checklist. Then, managers can tie the condition of the lift truck to its specific operator. These systems should report data in real time to guarantee employees complete the checklist thoroughly and properly.
• Controlling lift truck access. Ensuring only trained individuals operate the equipment is fundamental to a safe and productive workflow. To ensure investment in extensive training doesn’t go to waste, managers can apply a system that limits access strictly to trained professionals. Certified employees would be required to swipe their individual access cards before operating the equipment. Software allows managers to grant access to particular employees for the machines they are certified to operate.
• Tracking operator training expiration. It’s often difficult to monitor the specifics of each operator’s mobile equipment certification. Strict safety guidelines do not grant room for mistakes, so each company must employ a consistent and proactive system that records the details of employee training and expiration dates. Computer-based software can render the data into usable reports.
• Identify operators often linked to accidents. Mobile fleet maintenance is expensive, and unnecessary accidents significantly impact the bottom line. Managers should look for a solution for tracking and managing incidents. Some systems include impact sensors that notify the appropriate authorities as soon as the detector alarms. A thorough solution allows employers to monitor relevant information, such as type of impact, impact frequency and magnitude, time of impact and name of operator. Proper data collection ensures accountability in the workplace and encourages employees to follow guidelines carefully, since they are held responsible for any oversights.
• Track avoidable damage to facility and merchandise. Software can monitor operator information, impact frequency and damage history by issuing alerts to the appropriate personnel for immediate action. It is important to find easy-to-use software to manage these instances and implement procedures immediately.
In the end, material handling professionals can free themselves from the bind of assuming responsibility for all employees. With the right technology, workers have no choice but to comply. And, with better safety comes improved productivity and profitability. As industries continue to expand, leading to the development of more complex business challenges, advanced management technologies will likely take center stage in the foreseeable future.